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Navigating the Infrastructure Replacement Era

It's no secret that our nation's hard infrastrcuture—roads, rails, bridges, and pipes included—is aging, and with that comes daily inefficiency and occasional catastrophe.  This is certainly true for our drinking water and wastewater systems.  Water mains installed in the 1870s are just now being replaced.  Of course, due to shoddy materials, pipes installed in the 1970s are also being replaced.

If you ever want some interesting reading, check out the City of Chicago Dept. of Water Management's web site.  At the bottom there is a list of current or recent repair projects, each giving the age of the pipes being replaced, as well as some fun facts about what was going on in the world when that stretch of pipe was originally laid.  For instance, in 1900, when a water main was installed beneath 50th Street, from Leavitt to Damen (Ward 16), the hamburger was created and the first electric bus went into operation in New York City. 

From 1880 to 1920, the City of Chicago installed an average of 75 miles of water pipe (see slide 12 from this presentation), all with about 100 years of expected usefulness.  Well, now it's 2010, and it's time for many of those pipes to go.  That story is true in older cities throughout the U.S., and in many of the older suburbs of Chicago.  We're are rapidly moving into the Infrastructure Replacement Era, and if we don't do things right, it will be a very, very expensive time for all of us.  Chicago's efforts to maintain its system were explored in the November installment of the What Our Water's Worth newsletter.

There are ways to stretch the life of existing systems, mostly by reducing demand, and there's a straightforward way of paying for all this rehabilitation and modernization: charge water rates that reflect the true cost of service, including new capital investment and ongoing maintenance (full-cost pricing has the added benefit of reducing excess demand).  We know what we need to do, so the question is "How?" 

That's why I'm excited about the Save the Date I just received from the Center for Neighborhood Technology.  I've pasted it here in its entirety.  I'll be there on February 4, and I hope to see you there too.



Navigating the Infrastructure Replacement Era: How efficiency, appropriate rate setting and demand-side management play a key role in addressing future costs within the water industry
The water service sector is a rising cost industry. As stated by the AWWA we are in the dawn of the replacement era for water and wastewater infrastructure. Now more than ever efficiency, rates and demand-side management are necessary in order to continue to provide safe, reliable and affordable water services.
Come join an interactive workshop and discussion with fellow practitioners, decision-makers and industry experts in addressing opportunities and barriers to more sustainable water resource management.

Topics will include:

  • appropriate rate setting approaches
  • various demand-side management strategies
  • general efficiency practices

Friday, February 4, 2011
9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (Registration at 9:00 a.m.)

Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP)
233 S. Wacker Drive
Suite 800, Willis Tower
Chicago, IL 60606
This Event is FREE. Seats are limited and registration is REQUIRED. Lunch will be served.  ISAWWA is a publicity sponsor - participants can earn up to 6 PDHs or RTC hours.

Please RSVP by Monday, January 24th to Danielle Gallet at (773) 269-4004 or

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