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Protecting our Water Infrastructure

in Associations/News

At River Event, Officials Underscore the Need for Massive Upgrades 

Recent events such as multiple hurricanes and even the water crisis in Flint, Michigan have underscored the importance of access to clean, safe drinking water.   The message seems to be getting through, as a packed crowd of government officials, engineers, public safety officials and concerned citizens gathered to learn more about how reliable our water sources are.

Metro Water Infrastructure Partnership (MWIP), a group of area utilities and professional associations, sponsored the event.  The group hosted a riverboat tour last week to discuss the area’s aging pipes and water systems, and the increasing frequency of water main breaks across the St. Louis Metro region. Water pipes in St Louis are rapidly reaching or exceeding their average life expectancy and need to be addressed: some of the region’s water flows through pipes that are more than 100 years old.

“Our water infrastructure is old and some components are reaching end-of-useful-life. Many elements are waiting to fail and need to be fixed,” said  Curt Skouby, City of St. Louis Director of Public Utilities .  “We can’t continue to do nothing. We aren’t in a crisis yet, but ignoring aging infrastructure has serious consequences.”

Cheryl Norton, president of Missouri American Water, also noted the importance of improving infrastructure and being prepared for natural disasters like earthquakes and tornadoes.

The frequency of water main breaks varies from year to year, but has been steadily increasing since 1970. Changes in infrastructure management have limited the increase of water main breaks, but they still occur on average five times more frequently than in the past. “The loss of funding for proactive replacement programs can lead to significantly higher replacement costs – up to 10 times as expensive, says St Charles County Public Water Supply District #2 General Manager Ron Smith, who presented at the event.

The MWIP says the St. Louis Metro region needs to roughly double the pace at which it replaces water pipelines in order to reach the industry standard of a one percent replacement rate, which is just fast enough to swap out each pipe by the time it hits 100 years old. This would cost about $34 million more per year, raising the average water bill over the next 20 years to around $80 per month from about $30 per month.  On a positive note, this effort would add to the more than 13,000 jobs currently attributed to water utilities in the region.

MWIP is an organization dedicated to advancing community conversations about the importance of investing in our region’s water and wastewater infrastructure. MWIP member utilities provide water and wastewater service to approximately 1.5 million people in Missouri and Illinois. MWIP member organizations include:

For more information about MWIP, visit: www.mwipartnership.com.

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