Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Water Water Everywhere

And not a drop to drink? How about when it's running down the street as has been happening on a regular basis in Los Angeles this month? According to KTLA news, the DWP has recorded 35 "major blowouts" in its water system in which streets were flooded and pavement buckled since Sept. 1.By comparison, there were 21 in all of September 2008, 17 in September 2007 and 13 in September 2006. There's a question about whether this is due to the mandated two days per week that landscape sprinkling is limited throughout the city, or whether it's simple old age.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has been issuing annual reports over the years that basically give a failing grade to infrastructure across the US. Water infrastructure gets a D- for example, and these reports point out that US investment in infrastructure is a fraction of that of the countries in Europe. Our infrastructure is built out over huge distances, and is not as old as European infrastructure which has been in repair mode for centuries under systems of government that tax heavily to maintain it.

But an awareness is building that the infrastructure must not only be maintained, it needs to be replaced with more efficient systems in these times of drought and population demand. A systems analysis is necessary to understand the problem; it's done with GIS software and lots of data collection. This does present the opportunity to improve existing systems by integrating them with natural gradient flows and topographic modifications so that natural processes do some of the work and less money is spent on propping up existing equipment. The tradeoff is more labor for regular maintenance of supply piping and basins, cleanouts and drains, but that's what green jobs are for, right?

A more compact urban distribution system would be effective, especially if subdivision sprawl can be cut back. Many cities are starting to take a look at what they can afford to maintain. It may become very expensive to be long distances from main distribution lines, and there are already some examples of local water sourcing by recycling it into aquifers, rather than importing it over long distances.