31 March 2010

Aging infrastructure and beauty contests

DL* and several others sent me this story on infrastructure from the NY Times (another dispatch from their interesting, but increasingly inaccurately-named, series on "Toxic" Waters).

The story tells us that much of the Nation's water and sewerage infrastructure is overdue for maintenance and replacement. That part is true, but why?

The first reason is simple: Politicians prefer to keep water and sewage prices down, which means less money for maintenance and replacement.**

The second reason is more subtle. In the past, there was plenty of water. With enough water, leaks did not matter for two reasons: Water losses did not result in shortages and pressurized pipes meant that leaked water went out, without contaminants coming in.

In recent years, the end of abundant water means that losses are now more important. Water managers need plug leaks, to make their limited water go farther and keep systems that are running at minimal volume from getting infiltrated and contaminated.

Bottom Line: The cost and benefit of conservation depends on how many resources you have.
* DL makes the excellent point, that "the ageing infrastructure nightmare [of water systems, roadways, bridges & tunnels] with the best PR spin will get politicians' attention." I totally agree -- while noting that PR often exists in a fact-free environment.

** For an interesting - and financially astute -- comment in this issue, read this short piece at Global Water Intelligence.

1 comment:

  1. My company provides economic analysis to support aging infrastructure planning. www.advantagebis.com/projects_industry.html

    In our experience, the Chicken Little scenarios about old infrastructure are often overblown.

    There is no law that says a hundred-year-old pipe has to be replaced. (Well, actually, in some places there is a law, but you get the point.) Often, the best strategy is for the utility and its customers to simply to absorb the cost due to increasing failures and leave well enough alone.

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