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Aging Water Systems: An Opportunity for Greener Infrastructure

Aging Water Systems: An Opportunity for Greener Infrastructure

Conversations about making municipal infrastructure greener are ripe with many different possibilities. The aging water systems found across North America are one of these, and currently receiving a lot of attention. Besides just reaching the end of their practical life, evidenced by leaks and cave-ins, many water systems are showing evidence of negatively affecting public health. From First Nations communities to cities like Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey, communities are struggling to address the need for safe drinking water. For many, it’s far more complicated than turning on the tap and filling a glass.

It’s no secret that lead is extremely poisonous for people, particularly children. Even in trace amounts, it can cause significant damage. Cities nationwide are starting to discover that old pipes are leaching lead into their drinking water.

Safe drinking water is a top priority for most communities, not only from a human ethical perspective but also from a financial perspective. Healthier citizens mean more economic prosperity and citizen satisfaction. 

Drinking Water Problems Are a Crisis

Many communities across Canada are facing significant financial challenges when trying to provide a safe water supply. First Nations communities like Grassy Narrows have faced long standing water issues, and many others have boiled water advisories in effect. Some of these communities have been in this situation for decades. 

When the City of Hamilton, Ontario discovered that 20,000 homes in the city had lead pipes contaminating the drinking water supply it estimated it will take up to 40 years to overhaul the parts of the system that are the city’s responsibility, which are the pipes up to the water main. Homeowners are usually responsible for the pipes coming from the water mains into their homes. Not only is replacing pipes an extremely expensive process for the municipality - most likely requiring tax increases - completing the process then falls to the homeowner, and that’s also prohibitively expensive for many citizens. Recently, a major spill of untreated sewage and stormwater runoff into the city’s Chedoke Creek further added to its infrastructure and water security challenges.

Greener Solutions for Aging Water Systems

image7-4There are no easy or cheap ways to solve the problem of aging water systems across North America. The planning required to overhaul these systems is daunting and complex. But more environmentally conscious water solutions for the future can be integrated into that planning. 

Eco-friendly ways to supplement new systems, like rainwater harvesting, are showing potential. Rainwater harvesting can supplement municipal demand and reduce the amount of water entering stormwater systems. Rainwater harvesting also helps to protect waterways, wetlands, watersheds, and nearshore environments. Municipalities might also consider rain gardens to help recharge groundwater levels. 

Market intelligence will be a crucial part of water planning and infrastructure upgrades for the future. Solid data should inform all future decisions about water infrastructure to ensure communities receive the best value for their tax dollars.

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References: 

https://www.punctualplumberdallas.com/blog/what-are-pipes-made-of/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/10/02/canada-blind-eye-first-nation-water-crisis

https://www.waterworld.com/drinking-water/distribution/article/16190115/solving-the-aging-infrastructure-problem

https://www.thestar.com/news/investigations/2019/11/04/20000-hamilton-homes-have-toxic-lead-pipes-carrying-water-to-taps-the-city-says-it-will-take-40-years-to-fix-the-system.html

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