20th Century Infrastructure, 21st Century Breakdown

Progress Michigan intern Tiffany Silgas blogs today about the recent water main break in Los Angeles and the need for increased spending on our infrastructure.

When I resided at the UCLA student-housing co-op, I had an ideal student life. I always had a hot meal and rent was cheap. I worked four-hours a week to supplement the cost-of-living. I would always have a new roommate every quarter, sometimes even a completely different room. My days were fairly routine at the UCLA co-op.

This past Tuesday was not a routine day on the UCLA campus when a water main burst creating a 30-foot geyser. Approximately 35,000 gallons of water gushed out of the broken main on Sunset Blvd per minute, totaling 8 to 10 million gallons of lost water for the city of Los Angeles. It impacted various buildings and structures around campus. Pauly’s Pavilion, the historic UCLA basketball arena that had recently completed a $136 million renovation, was flooded. While the costs of just this one flooded building are not yet determined, I can imagine that fixing an aging water main would have been much cheaper.

So, was the break caused by overuse? No, the water main break was caused by a failure to invest in infrastructure. The facts are evident that a pipeline nearly 100-years old is bound to break. According to a study in 2012, by the Water Main Break Clock study, water infrastructure installed between the 1800’s and post 1945 will fail within a lifespan of up to 100-years. The causes vary from age, corrosion, inadequate design, or poor installation. Second, the material the water infrastructure is made out of is a factor in the actual average lifespan, estimated to last between 41 and 60 years. That results to 49.8 percent of all water infrastructure to ultimately fail. Lastly, in a conducted survey, it asked what percentage of water mains last beyond its useful lifespan that have never been repaired/replaced, the answers ranged from zero to 75 percent exceeded its useful lifespan.

It’s not just our water mains that are in dire need of repair. Michigan, like Los Angeles, has our share of much needed infrastructure investment. Our roads are among the worst in the nation. However, our legislature decided that tax cuts for CEOs were more important and then chose to take a summer vacation instead of fixing our crumbling roads.

The answer is clear, it is not the Los Angeles residents fault that the water main burst and it’s not Michigan’s motorists fault that our roads are in horrible shape. It is the lack of accountability from our elected officials to properly invest in our nation’s future. When I lived at the UCLA student co-op, students were fined if they failed to work their required shift to keep the co-op sustainable. In government, we elect leaders to make the right investments and so far it’s clear that they would rather play politics than invest in much needed improvements. It’s time that we hold politicians accountable for their failures as well. If we don’t the repercussions could be worse than a geyser in the middle of Los Angeles.

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