Getting Better Than “D+” On Our Pipe Infrastructure

pipe infrastructure grade

On any given day, driving over countless potholes and past crowded construction sites, it’s easy to see that our country’s physical infrastructure is in need of repair. Your car’s shocks tell you. What we don’t see or feel however, is our country’s underground pipe infrastructure – the source of life itself, our water supply and its accompanying wastewater pipelines – is just as old and deteriorated as the surface roads. It’s so bad that the American Society of Civil Engineers has given the United States a grade of “D+” for our drinking water infrastructure.

Civil engineers estimate 60% of infrastructure repair costs consists of underground piping, so it’s as clear as the water we drink, we should place more emphasis on utilizing advanced materials (such as PVC and HDPE) if replacing the outdated pipelines that run throughout every city and town of our great country.

HDPE Pipe infrastructure

As we saw in places like Flint, Michigan and Sebring, Ohio, letting pipelines deteriorate further, we risk long-term contamination of our water supply, and the health of American communities. Plus, it costs more the longer we wait.

So, what can we do to reduce the burden of needed repair that the American Water Works Association estimates will cost $1 trillion for drinking water alone by 2030?

We can demand the most appropriate materials for these projects. The first rule is simple: local governments should allow open competition when replacing and repairing existing pipe infrastructure. Many jurisdictions keep using the same stuff year after year, restricting any new materials, for no other reason than: “It’s the way we’ve done it in the past.”

Competition allows all different types of materials like plastic, steel, concrete, and iron to compete to meet standards and engineering qualifications. All materials should be able to compete on any given project, based on what is the best fit for any given job. Local engineering decision-making is preserved. This can reduce the overall price of a project, foster new high-tech engineering skilled labor, and ultimately create the long lasting, durable pipe infrastructure our country needs now.

PVC Pipe infrastructure

Everyone agrees: Leave infrastructure choices to local officials, they know the local soil conditions. No one is asking to limit local autonomy. But, allow healthy competition, it’s the American way and competition sharpens everyone’s pencil to drive costs down overall. Preserving “old pipe laying methods” when “new pipe technologies” can meet standards and qualifications, is not right for our families or communities. New materials can last in the ground just as long or longer, resist corrosion, leak less at connections, and disrupt less traffic during installation. It just doesn’t make sense to collar competition. Your jurisdiction can adopt a model policy written by the American Legislative Exchange Council, called “The Open and Fair Competition Resolution for Municipal [or local] Water and Wastewater Projects.” Suggest this model code to your municipal leadership and legislators. Request common sense as they press for sound engineering solutions; tell them to allow open competition for pipeline materials.

Pass it on. It’s important to understand that a fair and open competition model like this is key to finding the right materials with the least impact on our pocketbook and the least impact on traffic as we move from our current “D+” level of underground infrastructure repair to a solid “A” in all our futures.