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Water distribution happens above and below the surface

By: Jack Flobeck
July 25, 2013 Updated: July 25, 2013 at 4:20 pm
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Research is good... if you look into it... Yogi Berra is either blamed or complimented for an amazing number of stimulating comments, and I don't know for sure whether he said this or not; but it's highly appropriate when considering water questions.

We all have to look under, around, behind, and deep into the perplexity of drought and water shortage. We can't take a superficial look, and nowhere is this more important than in the distribution systems for our life sustaining necessities, our pipes.

To give you a snapshot to help understand the gravity of the situation across the U.S.; Water Efficiency Magazine's July feature article tells that the America Civil Engineers estimate that there will be 240,000 utility water main breaks next year. To make matters more severe, they estimate that the cost in ensuing decades will be at least $1 trillion to replace pipes. The central theme learned from these grim statistics, is that both leak detection and water audits are of primary importance, especially in the arid West.

The national, trade, and water magazines have all recently run features about "failing infrastructure," ominously detailing the breakup of water pipes from New York to California. This would seem to be a simple matter - just fix them.

However the inside story is that in the older cities on the both coasts, pipes that had an original estimated life of 100 years; are now over 100 years old, and what's simultaneously ironic as well as sad is that we have now engineered stronger, lighter and safer pipes with lifetimes of 70 years; but, yes, they too are now over 70 years old. It's become so desperate that in cities like Buffalo, N.Y., that each night fleets of electronic listening trucks go out to locate only the worst leaks, as Buffalo simply can't afford to fix all the leaks it finds. The same situation exists in other eastern cities like Baltimore and Cleveland.

Two hours north of New York City, a new football-field-sized marsh has sprung up, attracting an army of visitors to see and drink the crystal clear water. It's really not a new spring, but a 36-million-gallon a day leak in one of the main tunnels supplying New York City's water.

In Chicago, a 25-foot sinkhole appeared in a neighborhood, where thousands of gallons of water were leaking from an 80-year-old water main; while in Denver, 4 million gallons burst from a ruptured 30-year-old pipe, digging a sinkhole, and closing three lanes of I-25 for weeks.

It seems no one or no geography is exempt, but we are truly lucky to have a water utility in Colorado Springs that is well organized, plans for the future and is efficiently replacing old worn out pipes. Nearly 99 percent of the old cast iron pipes in the city have been replaced and there is a comprehensive plan to stay ahead.

Next time you are downtown, look across the street, don't be distracted by trees, flowers, autos or shoppers, but look down and imagine the 2,400 miles of water pipes that run under your feet.

It's always easier to criticize than compliment - especially difficult when facing drought, browning lawns and higher bills - but it's also fair and reasonable to try to put all the facts into any popularity equation. Our Colorado Springs Utility, which provides us with heat, electricity and water 24/7, along with their dedicated people, surely ranks quite high on any national utility scorecard.


Jack Flobeck is the founder of Aqua Prima Center, a nonprofit think tank for water research. Readers may contact him at

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