5 Threats to Our Water Infrastructure

The Infrastructurist has identified five major threats facing our water infrastructure today.

Dams in Disrepair
More than 4,000 of the 85,000 dams in the U.S. were ranked as deficient. Of those, 1,819 are classified as high hazard potential, meaning there is anticipated loss of life in the case of a failure. Age, deterioration, and maintenance all factor in to a dam’s deficiency ranking. The average age of dams in the U.S. is 51 years, and only 50% of high hazard potential dams nationwide have Emergency Action Plans. Many dams are exempt from having regular inspections. It’s evident that the development of effective inspections and funding for maintenance is needed, and that dam infrastructure policy needs updating.

Hydraulic Fracturing
 The process of hydraulic fracturing yields two products: natural gas and contaminated water. This method of natural gas extraction involves shooting 6-8 million gallons of freshwater deep into the ground to break up shale gas. The freshwater is tainted with over 750 chemicals and components including biocides, neurotoxins, and carcinogens such as benzene and lead. Furthermore, leaders in the industry have fought against publicizing what chemicals are injected into the ground, and many components of the produced water remain unknown. This tainted water can seep into the groundwater, causing negative health and environmental effects. Another potential hazard is methane gas leaking into water wells, which has the potential to either explode the well, or give effected residents the ability to light their water on fire. Oh, and it might also cause earthquakes. Despite massive campaigns against hydraulic fracturing all around the country, this practice is ongoing in 34 states and the EPA currently endorses it, stating on their website: “Natural gas plays a key role in our nation’s clean energy future and the process known as hydraulic fracturing is one way of accessing that vital resource”.
Oil Pipelines
 The recent protests against the Keystone XL pipeline that drew over ten thousand people to the White House certainly put oil pipelines on the radar. There are currently 2.3 million miles of pipeline across the US, carrying oil and natural gas, so what makes this one so special? The Keystone XL pipeline will be transporting tar sand oil, which is heavier and more corrosive than conventional oil and, many agree, more prone to cause leaking. One recent example of a pipeline rupture occurred in July of this year in Montana. The ExxonMobil pipeline running under the Yellowstone River burst, spilling crude oil into the river and forcing evacuations. ExonnMobil recently estimated that it will pay $135 million to clean up the river, which is 3 times its original estimate.
Mountaintop Removal
 Mountaintop removal, also called strip or surface mining, is kind of self explanatory. The excess earth from the mountain is dumped into neighboring valleys. This leftover soil has buried over 1,000 miles of streams in Appalachia. Processing the coal afterwards results in a by-product known as coal slurry, which is a mix of water, coal dust, clay and toxic chemicals such as arsenic mercury, lead, copper, and chromium. Coal slurry can lead to groundwater contamination when its improperly disposed of in abandoned underground mines, or when the dams holding back the storage lagoons fail. Additionally, the blasts from the explosives can crack water wells in surrounding communities, which can expose the water supply to bacteria and pathogens.
Natural Disasters
 In the wake of Hurricane Irene, there was a lot of hype over securing New York City. The city got through the event unscathed, but the effect inland was much more severe, with a slow recovery from the disastrous flooding. It was also another huge strain on FEMA’s limited resources, which is a real problem, as more disasters means less resources for FEMA to allocate for planning and preparedness efforts. Hurricane Irene is just one recent examples of the extent of unpreparedness for natural disasters, which have been growing in intensity due to global warming.