Our U.S. Water Infrastructure Strategy is full of holes; 240,000 new ones each year. How are we going to fix our water infrastructure problems? The Third Option
By Robert Simmons
Part II: Water Infrastructure Problems: How can water infrastructure be improved?
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gives America’s drinking water a D on their Infrastructure Report Card, which, let’s be honest, is not who deserves the grade. Government is failing us yet again, but unfortunately, we cannot really blame them either. Government is us, the American People; we get the big fat D, for Doing nothing to fix our Government, so it better serves our needs. Water infrastructure is just another item on a long To Do List that all share the same heading: Basic Human Rights.
Since they have been keeping track (January of 2000), corrosion in our water and wastewater systems has cost us nearly $700 Billion, plus another $53.5 Billion to repair a staggering 5.4 million broken water mains during this same period. Even in the most publicized fiasco, the Flint Michigan water crisis, where corrosion required 20,000 homes to have their pipes replaced, the city has only managed to finish half the repairs in four years. Unfortunately, Flint is not an isolated incident.
Pittsburg, San Diego, Jackson, Danville, Aiken County, Miami-Dade County, all across the state of Texas; reports continue streaming in about undrinkable water. Meanwhile, water main pipes just keep on breaking (about 240,000 each year). It is time for government to get the lead out. The private sector will always rush in where the People fear to tread, and are cutting deals with towns who can no longer wait for government to get it together. The One Trillion dollar question is: should the People pay private sector prices in order to secure the right to our most basic need of all, drinkable water?
How are we going to fix our water infrastructure?
There are still 1.6 Million miles of Water and Sewer pipes that need replacing. The private sector plastic and iron industries are lobbying Washington, in the hope of getting their hands on a $300 Billion contract designed to replace water pipes over the next decade. Two thirds of this pipe is very old cast iron or steel, and word on the street is that PVC pipe has the inside track to replace most of it, even though PVC is the same plastic that is known to leach dangerous chemicals into certain foods.
Decisions like these, that affect all of us, must be decided by Government; it alone has the regulatory power to ensure things are done in the people’s best interest. How can we help reorganize our Government so this finite list of basic human rights does not need to be debated on the floor of Congress?
Since social security was established, Government has managed it well enough; it could manage our other basic human needs, too, if given the chance.
Step one is to create a National Public Bank, so that whatever the cost for water infrastructure, our monthly water bill will cover it. Next, the people need to decide which kind of pipes they want delivering their water for the next 100 years. All politicking aside, HDPE (High Density Poly-Ethylene) pipe is the best mix of affordability, sustainability, and compatibility (with both people and the planet), and is a great fit for all our needs (water mains, sewer mains, stormwater and drainage, plus electric and communications conduit that The Third Option recommends running alongside water / sewer lines).
Some of the selling points for HDPE are:
- It has high impact resistance and flexibility, which make it a good choice in more “dynamic soils” (for instance, earthquake prone areas)
- It has a high level of impermeability (plus a strong molecular bond), which make it suitable for high pressure pipelines. HDPE pipe can handle occasional “surges up to 2 times its pressure rating”, plus can handle much higher flow velocities compared to other potable water piping systems.
- HDPE’s Fused joints are as strong as the pipes themselves, which eliminates potential leaks and reduces installation time; little-to-no maintenance is required, and because the need for anchors / thrust restraint blocks are eliminated, material costs and installation time are also greatly reduced.
- The fused joint creates a totally leak free system, and makes it possible to pull long lengths in “trench-less” installation practices, including HDD (Horizontal Directional Drilling), pipe bursting, and slip-lining. For this reason, it is also very cost effective to install, and easy to maintain, saving money in the long term as well.
- It has high durability (could last 100 years) and high flexibility (with a bend radius up to 20 times the pipe diameter) This also makes for easier installation.
- It is completely resistance to corrosion, and considered a low-toxin plastic by environmental groups; it is also less likely to have problems with root intrusion, and keeps its integrity even when installed in unstable soils.
- It has a very low thermal conductivity, so it can maintain more uniform temperatures. It can handle temperatures ranging from -40°F to 140°F, makingit suitable for use with hot or cold water. It can handle repeated freeze/thaw cycles without incurring damage.
- It has a relatively small carbon footprint when compared to iron and concrete pipe.
- “Because food grade polyethylene virgin material is used to fabricate HDPE pipes, they are safe for the transfer of potable water”.
- Because is has a lower weight per foot, it is less costly to transport to job sites (ability to “nest” smaller diameter pipe within larger pipe).
- Corrugated HDPE pipe is already popular for storm sewers and highway drainage systems.
- Superior resistance to failure / rapid crack propagation (RCP). These are essential properties for HDD applications where scratching and gouging of the pipe are a fact of life. HDPE pipe can be gouged up to 10% (some studies have shown 20%).
- Nearly 90% of new pipe installation in Europe is HDPE (and those Europeans are pretty smart sometimes)
How much does water Infrastructure cost?
With a National Public Bank, the logistics are simplified. Banks create money, loan it out, and when it gets paid back, interest has accrued. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) thinks it would take $1 Trillion to replace the entire water infrastructure.
The American people use 118 Trillion gallons of water each year, and pay about $1.50 for every 1,000 gallons they use. If we took over the Water Business, we would make $177 Billion a year at this price, but only need $57.3 Billion a year to cover the Bank Loan. If we all collectively put $1 Trillion in the pot, via our income tax (versus “create the money out of thin air”), in 30 years, we would have $1.72 Trillion sitting in the Bank ( which represents the original loan at 4% interest), plus another $3.6 Trillion in “profit” (of course some will get eaten up in maintenance costs). Because this Public Bank is owned by the People, every American would receive a $16,000 Return on Investment for our 30 years in the Water Business. The next 70 years after that, our Water Business would be making pure profit, and provide everyone a continued stipend of $360 a year. Water is a human right, America is collectively owned by Americans, and Americans put up the original $1 Trillion investment; try to argue that this is not a fair arrangement, without starting a revolution please; those can be so messy.
Right now, tucked within our government’s Department of Energy, are 17 National Laboratories that we are already paying for each year in taxes. They include:
- Argonne National Lab (ANL)
- Brookhaven National Lab (BNL)
- Idaho National Lab (INL)
- Lawrence Berkley National Lab (LBNL)
- Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL)
- Los Alamos National Lab (LANL)
- Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL)
- Pacific Northwest National Lab (PNNL)
- Sandia National Lab (SNL)
These are basically sweat shops for scientists to come up with all sorts of technology, most of which is given over to the private sector, so they can charge us to use it. Instead, we could utilize these labs to focus on all our human rights issues: we could make our own pharmaceuticals, green energy, driverless technology, Communication Grid cybersecurity, smart roads, vertical farming; anything we need, they could design, and because we pay them, we would own it for ourselves.
Water infrastructure is a perfect metaphor for a new economy. Water is a finite resource, but by recycling it through a closed loop system, it could infinitely provide for all of us. Money, if cycled in a closed loop, could continually provide us with our most basic needs as well. Recyclability is key to Sustainability.
The Third Option will be heading to Washington in 2021, to propose a National Public Bank. Stay tuned for what you can do to help.