Bridge collapses, levee failures and water main breaks .. OH MY!

July 23, 2008 at 1:43 am 3 comments

By Carol Metzner, President, The Metzner Group, LLC and Managing Partner,

All around the Maryland/DC area, water main breaks should come as no surprise to residents; but, we are all amazed each time it happens! And…it is happening with alarming frequency.

In mid June water main breaks in the Maryland suburbs triggered several smaller breaks throughout the lines in the County leading to the loss of more than 100 million gallons of fresh water before repairs could be made. More than 700 restaurants and tens of thousands of residents were forced to boil drinking water as a precautionary measure. Many restaurants, already affected by the slowing economy, had to close their doors for a period of time.  The agency responsible for oversight, inspection and repair, Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) is the 8th largest water and wastewater utility in the country.  As of July 15, they still cannot assess what caused the break.

This past week WSSC, echoing other public agencies across the US, discussed the need for more money. We heard the now familiar chant “We need more money….more funding”.  WSSC reported that due to budget constraints, the line that broke in Maryland was never inspected prior to the break. It is reported that the line that broke was 38 years old, while some lines in the county are 90 years old. After the break, inspectors found four other sections nearby that needed reinforcement.

Here is where it gets dicey: it is documented that for the past two years WSSC has had the budget to replace 27 miles of water main a year, but it replaced only 16 miles of pipe in fiscal 2007 and is expected to fix 25 miles of pipe in fiscal 2008.  What happened?  They had the money….had the funding.  Where did it go?

We are seeing increases in taxes, electric bills, gas, water. The war has cost more than anyone wants to wrap their minds around.  Who is overseeing the money that the agencies are getting? Who is accountable?  And, where are they now?


Entry filed under: Civil Engineering Issues, Failing US Infrastructure, Uncategorized, US Infrastructure. Tags: , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Andres  |  August 1, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    Here in NJ, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has brought the message of a crumbling infrastructure to our law-makers doorstep. The 2007 Report Card on New Jersey’s Infrastructure clearly outlines nine areas of the infrastructure in mediocre to poor condition. Pertinent to this discussion, Drinking water earned a grade of C and Wastewater earned a grade of D. Infrastructure that serves as a lifeline to our citizens is being neglected. As engineers and leaders of our community, we must raise our collective voices and lead our community to a better quality of life.

    Ok – I’m off the soap box. Thanks for the opportunity.

  • 2. Iftikhar Barrie - SIRTA  |  August 1, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Bridge Collapses: Isnt it time we had the relevant technology to monitor potential cracks in the structure 24×7? Nothing is perfect, but a system that collects relevant information that can be viewed on demand is better than having nothing at all. With the right information readily available, disasters could be reduced greatly or even completely eliminated.

  • 3. Stephen Hinton  |  July 23, 2008 at 7:27 pm

    A big negative driver in the Water utility industry is the low availability of funding through bond issues because of “creative” financing. Check out what happened to the Water utilities in Birmingham, AL.


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