Environmental Protection

Water main breaks are a big problem in the United States.

Website Tracks Water Main Breaks, Costs of Water Loss

The PVC Pipe Association says polyvinyl chloride pipe won't corrode and can last more than 110 years.

Every day, 850 water main breaks occur in North America at an annual repair cost of more than $3 billion. A new website, www.watermainbreakclock.com, was launched to track the cumulative price tag to taxpayers of repairs, replacement and more, according to the PVC Pipe Association.

Corrosion of old-technology pipe materials remains the leading cause of leaks and breaks that are degrading the water delivery and sewage treatment systems, which are critical to public health and the environment. According to a 2002 congressional study, corrosion costs U.S. water and wastewater systems more than $50.7 billion annually, or more than $1 trillion dollars over the next 20 years.

“The costs are astounding, not just in repairs, but emergency equipment, depleted water supply, traffic disruptions, and lost work time,” said PVC Pipe Association Executive Director Bruce Hollands. “Equally astounding is the fact that some local governments and utilities continue to use the same outdated, costly pipe material that corrodes over a very short period of time.”

Hollands notes that today's corrosion crisis is occurring due to the materials used in America's underground pipe networks over the last 100 years. At first, cast iron was used, with ductile iron gradually replacing it. Both now suffer from the ravages of corrosion.

Corrosion-proof technology exists. According to the association, PVC pipe is a proven and extremely durable alternative to traditional corrosion-prone piping materials. A review by Engineering News Record in 1999 found PVC for water and sewer pipe to be one of the top 20 engineering advancements in more than a century. An American Water Works Association Research Foundation study confirms the life expectancy of PVC pipe to be in excess of 110 years.

Unfortunately, some local governments and utilities continue to rely on outdated procurement practices that ignore proven materials like PVC pipe. Closing bids to qualified products prevents informed decisions from being made, resulting in higher costs. With the price tag of water main breaks on the rise, Hollands says this must change.

“With government budgets depleted and debts spiraling out of control, the corrosion crisis is a ticking time bomb,” Hollands said. “PVC’s cost-effectiveness and sustainability are important qualities that city and local lawmakers should be considering – and taxpayers should be demanding. Local governments must first repair outdated procurement practices before repairing our critical infrastructure.”

Source: PVC Pipe Association

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