By: Tim Kilbane, PMI President and National Sales Manager, Symmons Industries
Recently the country watched as one of our most well-known colleges was flooded with a reported 10-20 million gallons of water within moments. UCLA, a campus known for its education programs, sunny California weather, and Pauley Pavilion, where each year thousands gather to partake in the basketball games of March Madness, watched instead as a different sort of madness hit the campus. In the midst of one of the worst droughts on record, that has California in a state of emergency, severe water restrictions, and legislators considering further reductions to the amount of water used by plumbing fixtures, a single pipe bursting was able to waste a reported 35,000-75,000 gallons of water per second!
Reports on the actual amount of water lost during the water main break vary, but everyone agrees that within minutes the single burst pipe was able to do massive amounts of property damage and undo conservation efforts to save badly needed water. This one broken pipe flooded not just the campus but surrounding areas, firefighters were called in to rescue people from a nearby parking garage where hundreds of cars could be seen floating in the water, and crews scrambled to shut off the water that gushed more than 30 feet in the air. One single pipe bursting cost the city, the college, and residents massive property damage, loss of productivity in school and their jobs, and worse, posed a serious risk to their health and safety.
The events in California made national news mostly because UCLA’s campus was so badly damaged, but burst pipes often don’t make the national news, and even in their own towns are most often covered by traffic reporters trying to help commuters avoid delays on their way to and from work. The truly shocking part is the USA alone experiences 240,000 water main breaks per year! That is equal to 657.5 breaks per day according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The numbers were reported in their 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure which gave drinking water a D. Although they praised the fact that our drinking water scores high in health and safety, its low score mostly comes from the crumbling pipes used to deliver it. PMI has been closely following the issue and even had Brian Pallasch, Managing Director, ASCE to our 2013 Fall Conference to speak about the issue.
PMI has been promoting retrofits as a way for the country to save water as part of our “Let’s Chase Gallons, not Drips” campaign. By our calculations, if every pre-1992 plumbing fixture was replaced with a WaterSense compliant model the nation could, conservatively, save three billion gallons of water per day, about 7% of total publically supplied water. That is a large number but it is dwarfed by the estimated 17% of water that is said to be lost due to crumbling pipes before it even reaches the consumer.
Plumbing is an industry with a great responsibility to protect the health and safety of individuals, and educate them to responsibly use water. As manufacturers we are doing our part, but with such a massive system, all parts will need to be considered: consumer actions (retrofitting old products), consumer behavior (using products correctly), and infrastructure (promoting the need to update). Manufacturers have made products that greatly reduce water consumption while maintaining performance, however their potential market penetration remains low. There is a great opportunity for growth! Rather than looking to further reductions in new products, we need to take advantage of the great, high efficiency products that are already available and address the crumbling water delivery system that continues to waste water before it even reaches these fixtures. The cost of repairs to our infrastructure is massive but experts agree that those costs are rising sharply each year. It’s time to look beyond just the currently available water conserving products that give the consumer a performance assured product for retrofit installations into their own homes… It’s time we address the entire delivery and removal system and plan ahead for our future. After all, our children and grandchildren have the same right to the same clean water as we have enjoyed in our lifetime.