The water infrastructure that was designed to keep us all hydrated is in trouble everywhere, not just the Detroit water crisis.
Grist.org – Detroit did most of its growing in the 30 years between 1920 and 1950 – the population nearly doubled, from 994,000 to 1,850,000 (It’s now about 685,000). This is the same time window during which much of America’s water infrastructure was being laid out: people were moving from the country to the cities, and there were generous federal subsidies that helped put those pipes in the ground.
Other cities that put in a lot of water infrastructure during this time, like Los Angeles and Chicago, can expect to see the same problems, since everything built during that 20-year period is going to break more or less all at once. Writes The New York Times:
The oldest cast-iron pipes, dating to the late 1800s, have an average useful life of about 120 years. For cast-iron pipes installed in the 1920s, that drops to about 100 years. And pipes put in after World War II have an average life of only around 75 years. The upshot is that all three vintages of pipe will need replacement in a short stretch of time.
The EPA has been writing reports for years about how America’s water infrastructure is old, leaky, and generally unsafe, and how it’s going to take New Deal-style funding to get it back in shape. The bad news is that, as a country, we’re more excited about building new things than fixing old ones.
But then there’s the good news: With so much water infrastructure across the country in need of repair, there’s real opportunity to design and experiment with systems that are better adapted for drought, heavy rainfall, sea-level rise, and the extreme weather events that climate disruption is already laying on us. While Detroit is dealing with the worst of it, these questions are ones we should all be thinking about.