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Aging Water/Wastewater Infrastructure Forces Utilities to Make Hard Choices

Categories: Water/Wastewater

Aging Water/Wastewater Infrastructure Forces Utilities to Make Hard Choices

 

The Miami-Dade Commission approved $1.6 billion over the next 15 years to repair and update the county’s aging water and sewer pipes. That sounds like a big commitment, and it demonstrates a step in the right direction.
 

But take into account that the county’s sewer director, John Renfrow, estimated in September of 2012 that upgrading the entire system—which includes renovating six water/wastewater treatment plants—will require $12 billion over the next 15 years.
 

Dade County’s issues represent a common theme faced by many utilities—an aging infrastructure and a lack of funds to make the necessary repairs. A lack of funding, particularly over the past five years, has been a big impediment to improving existing infrastructure. In the years prior to the recent economic downturn, water/wastewater issues simply weren’t a priority. With the threat of a global water crisis bearing down quickly on society as a whole, the issues have now become a primary focus.
 

Present reality will no longer allow the “can” to be kicked down the road. City and county residents across the country will be placing a great deal of faith in their local utility management to help address the urgent water needs of their communities—immediately.
 

The City of Columbus, Ohio OARS project provides an innovative solution to CSOsThe City of Columbus, Ohio sought to continue a commitment to environmental stewardship with the OARS project. Get more details about the project »

Citizens will expect problems to be solved, but may not be so supportive of the rate increases or funding mechanisms required to fix existing problems. Renfrow predicts Dade County residents could see their water bills “double or triple” over that same 15-year time period. Customers also expect the fixes to provide long-term value. Quick or isolated repairs that temporarily alleviate problems for a few weeks or months will not be acceptable.
 

Positive solutions to current water problems will require decision-makers to move outside their comfort zones. Alternative delivery methods and bidding practices will need to be explored. The cheapest price to perform work today does not always translate into the best long-term value 20 years from now. Innovative problem solving and engineering will be required. 
 

All of this will occur in the midst of a public attitude expecting accountability for budget and timelines. A certainty in the ability to deliver and avoidance of risk will drive much of the decision making surrounding future water projects. This means a great deal of trust will be placed in capital project partners.
 

In short, capital project partners—no matter their role—will need to be extremely reliable and dedicated to the organizations they assist. Without those types of relationships, existing critical issues could become even larger economic and/or social problems no one wants to be forced to address.