The Disintegration Of US Infrastructure: Quarter Million Water Main Breaks A Year

September 19, 2016

The United States is sitting on top of a massive amount of aging infrastructure that continues to disintegrate at an alarming rate.  According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the U.S. suffers from 240,000 water main breaks a year.  That’s roughly 700 water main breaks each day.

Some of these water main breaks can be quite large.  Here is a picture of water main break that took place on Howard Street in Baltimore.

Furthermore, according to the the Water Main Break Clock, it costs approximately $3 billion a year just to repair the water main breaks in North America (USA & Canada).  In addition, a congressional study estimated that water pipe corrosion in the United States costs $50.7 billion annually.  Since 2000, the total U.S. water paper corrosion cost is a staggering $674 billion.

To replace all the water pipes in the U.S. would cost over $1 trillion.  Moreover, experts estimate water main breaks and leaking pipes waste 1.7 trillion gallons of water in the country a year.

Here’s an old picture of a water distribution main being constructed in Philadelphia in 1946.  These older iron pipes have a life expectancy of 75-100 years:

(courtesy of

However, corrosion can cause iron pipes to fail before their full lifespan.  I did some research and the average lifespan of a iron pipe water main in Boston, was 83 years.  This water main shown above is now 70 years old.

A comprehensive study done in 2012 called, Water Main Break Rates in USA & Canada provided the following data on the aging water infrastructure in North America:

The study reported that 68% of the water pipes in the U.S. in 1980 were in excellent condition, while only 5% were poor and very poor.  Twenty years later, the pipes in excellent condition fell to 42% while those in poor and very poor condition increased to 16%.

Unfortunately, ten years later… the U.S. water infrastructure has disintegrated considerably:

The water pipes that are in excellent condition have fallen to 32%, down from 42% just ten years ago.  However, U.S. pipes that are in poor and very poor condition have jumped up to 36%.  What a change in 30 years.  In 1980, the condition of U.S. water pipes in poor and very poor shape was only 5% and now it’s 36%.  And, we must remember, this was based on data for 2010.  I would imagine that poor and very poor condition has increased closer to 40% now.

The continued disintegration of the U.S. water infrastructure is due to the Falling EROI- Energy Returned On Investment.  Of course it is true that Local, State and Federal Governments are funneling a lot of tax payer money to corrupt institutions, highly paid retried pensioners and to pay debt or interest on debt.

However, the Falling EROI of U.S. oil is not allowing enough profitable barrels of oil to maintain our infrastructure.  I believe the aging U.S. infrastructure will continue to rot, especially when the next financial and economic collapse occurs.  There just won’t be the available surplus funds to replace or repair all this massive aging infrastructure:

(courtesy of Civil Engineering News)

This is a picture of the underground infrastructure on Route 9 by the World Trade Center in New York.  As we can see, the massive complex older infrastructure has to be dealt with extreme caution.  Just think about the miles of water pipes, sewer, electric lines and etc, just underneath New York City.

Americans need to understand the huge problem growing beneath the surface.  Again, U.S. infrastructure will continue to disintegrate and become increasingly unreliable in the future.

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