Clean Water Challenges: Solving Drinking Water System Issues

In summary, Des Moines Water Works is facing a number of problems with its failing infrastructure, including cracked water mains, rivers that are increasingly polluted, and a $150 million treatment plant that the city doesn't know how it will afford. The Clean Water Act is not encouraging folks to maintain clean, or cleaner rivers, and the city doesn't have enough money to maintain its infrastructure or replace it. Privatization of the infrastructure might make sense in some cases, but it also has serious potential problems.
  • #1
Astronuc
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Drinking water systems imperiled by failing infrastructure
http://news.yahoo.com/drinking-water-systems-imperiled-failing-infrastructure-140117243.html

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Deep inside a 70-year-old water-treatment plant, drinking water for Iowa's capital city is cleansed of harmful nitrates that come from the state's famously rich farmland.

Without Des Moines Water Works, the central Iowa region of 500,000 people that it serves wouldn't have a thriving economy. But after decades of ceaseless service, the utility is confronting an array of problems: Water mains are cracking open hundreds of times every year. Rivers that provide its source water are increasingly polluted. And the city doesn't know how it will afford a $150 million treatment plant at a time when revenues are down and maintenance costs are up.
So, it appears that the Clean Water Act is not encouraging folks to maintain clean, or cleaner rivers.

I don't think bottled water is the answer.

How should state and local governments deal with imperiled infrastructure? Increase taxes? Or sell off the infrastructure to corporations?
 
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  • #3
Astronuc said:
How should state and local governments deal with imperiled infrastructure? Increase taxes? Or sell off the infrastructure to corporations?

Any way you look at it the citizens will have to pay for it.
 
  • #4
Could have been part of a jobs bill, stimulating the economy by hiring people to work on repairing existing infrastructure and building needed new one when necessary.
 
  • #5
It seems like they really should start to figure out why these works projects are so expensive. 150 million for a water treatment facility is absurd, how much of that is regulatory compliance, studies or unneeded bureaucratic processes? What about excessive salaries for board members or other areas of waste? Public works and infrastructure projects projected budgets seem to increase each year at a greater rate then inflation, why is that?

Further, how much was the current water treatment facility squirreling away for maintenance each year from consumers? Why does it always seem like these utilities never budget for infrastructure overhaul? Not saving money from rate payers to replace infrastructure just seems criminal.
 
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  • #6
Student100 said:
It seems like they really should start to figure out why these works projects are so expensive. 150 million for a water treatment facility is absurd, how much of that is regulatory compliance, studies or unneeded bureaucratic processes? What about excessive salaries for board members or other areas of waste? Public works and infrastructure projects projected budgets seem to increase each year at a greater rate then inflation, why is that?

Further, how much was the current water treatment facility squirreling away for maintenance each year from consumers? Why does it always seem like these utilities never budget for infrastructure overhaul? Not saving money from rate payers to replace infrastructure just seems criminal.
Do you have examples of fraud or financial waste?

I ask because non-financial waste gets more complicated every year. Filters which worked well 50 years ago might not filter today's chemicals (particularly pharmaceuticals). Designing new treatment methods requires high tech mojo, including university education, patents, financial investments, etc. This isn't cheap in any industry, and without the profit incentive provided by the free market costs won't be driven down. (And free markets have problems with self regulation, so selling our water supply might not be the best solution.)

It's a complex problem.

It is a subset of the meta-problem of regulatory capture. IMO regulatory capture is the biggest problem facing humanity. It touches nearly every other problem from war (weapons spending) to global warming, including clean water.
 
  • #7
$150 million could be reasonable for a large sewer/waste water project. I would suggest a combination of federal financing assistance and a small raise in taxes or utility rates. Consider that it services 500,000 residents - for simplicity let's assume that meant 150,000 households and businesses. That's $1000 per customer, but that doesn't have to be paid all at once. Consider that the plant might last 50 or 100 years. Perhaps they could arrange it be slowly paid off at a cost increase to a household of maybe $20 per year.
But even such a modest increase may not be necessary. Federal government has a lot of power to provide assistance for this sort of thing, which they aren't using as much as they should. These type of projects can employ many people and aid the economy as well.
A fair number of major U.S. cities are in need of a major sewer/drainage overhaul. It might make sense to try and ensure new infrastructure is low maintenance and built to last, even if it means greater initial cost. I am not an expert on sewer systems, but I imagine this is a concern.
Privatization of the infrastructure might also make sense in some cases. There are certainly examples of privatization causing serious problems (Enron for an extreme example). But in some cases it might work well. But, I don't think it is necessary to do this on a large scale anymore than we are already.
 
  • #8
MisterX said:
Consider that the plant might last 50 or 100 years. Perhaps they could arrange it be slowly paid off at a cost increase to a household of maybe $20 per year.

I think it is called issuing bonds.
Student100 said:
Why does it always seem like these utilities never budget for infrastructure overhaul? Not saving money from rate payers to replace infrastructure just seems criminal.

I live near Baltimore and it has sewer issues. Its system is over a 100 years old as many of our large cities and it is sorely in need of repair. It is intending to spend $1.5B http://www.marketplace.org/topics/s...timore-sewers-time-bombs-buried-under-streets

As the article states the national cost of such repairs is currently estimated at $1T. This country is suffering from an infrastructure crisis. An that does not even include roads and bridges.
 
  • #9
gleem said:
I live near Baltimore and it has sewer issues. Its system is over a 100 years old as many of our large cities and it is sorely in need of repair. It is intending to spend $1.5B http://www.marketplace.org/topics/s...timore-sewers-time-bombs-buried-under-streets

As the article states the national cost of such repairs is currently estimated at $1T. This country is suffering from an infrastructure crisis. An that does not even include roads and bridges.

I'm just shocked that they don't budget for major overhauls in their rates. When we build infrastructure two things should be obvious, you need to maintain it, and you need to plan for overhaul at end of useful life. If you need to raise rates every year with inflation to maintain these budgets that's a better outcome then raising rates at 10% a year until you can afford to replace it at a greater cost and more of a shock to your rate payers.

Also, how are they determining 1.5 billion, it's certainty not the materials cost. Is labor that expensive?
 
  • #10
It makes me cringe when I see people in public bathrooms being extremely careless, leaving the water running for minutes while
they wash their hands ( or sometimes brush their teeth, believe it or not), instead of lathering on soap first and _then_ turning on the
water. Few seem to take water conservation seriously. Pretty sure they do the same at home. Imagie the billions of gallons wasted that way.
 
  • #11
Student100 said:
I'm just shocked that they don't budget for major overhauls in their rates. When we build infrastructure two things should be obvious, you need to maintain it, and you need to plan for overhaul at end of useful life. If you need to raise rates every year with inflation to maintain these budgets that's a better outcome then raising rates at 10% a year until you can afford to replace it at a greater cost and more of a shock to your rate payers.

Also, how are they determining 1.5 billion, it's certainty not the materials cost. Is labor that expensive?
In a democracy, budgeting like that doesn't work. Where do you put the money that piles up? There's no way to invest it where someone won't steal it.

Deficit spending works well. It leaves those with foresight (bondholders) invested in the community. People care and work to protect their money.

Compare that to a community with a couple of billion dollars lying around designated to be spent in twenty years. Everyone and their mothers will be begging the city government to invest in their business, which will conveniently go bankrupt while paying large salaries, etc. Now people with foresight fight for control of the money at the expense of long term planning.

IMO, rather than relying on people's good natures, we should set our governing system up to encourage good behavior. Deficit spending used in moderation does that. Leaving money lying around rewards betrayal.
 
  • #12
Jeff Rosenbury said:
In a democracy, budgeting like that doesn't work. Where do you put the money that piles up? There's no way to invest it where someone won't steal it.

Deficit spending works well. It leaves those with foresight (bondholders) invested in the community. People care and work to protect their money.

Compare that to a community with a couple of billion dollars lying around designated to be spent in twenty years. Everyone and their mothers will be begging the city government to invest in their business, which will conveniently go bankrupt while paying large salaries, etc. Now people with foresight fight for control of the money at the expense of long term planning.

IMO, rather than relying on people's good natures, we should set our governing system up to encourage good behavior. Deficit spending used in moderation does that. Leaving money lying around rewards betrayal.

Huh, I fail to see where democracy or any other form of government comes into play. There is nothing intrinsic to democracy that suggests budgeting appropriately is undo-able. Where do you put the money? Stocks and bonds obviously. What do you do when people want to use that money for something else? Use common sense and ask them if they still want clean water in 20 years.
 
  • #13
Student100 said:
Huh, I fail to see where democracy or any other form of government comes into play. There is nothing intrinsic to democracy that suggests budgeting appropriately is undo-able. Where do you put the money? Stocks and bonds obviously. What do you do when people want to use that money for something else? Use common sense and ask them if they still want clean water in 20 years.
A good household water purifier costs maybe $10,000. That still leaves the thief with $1,499,990,000 to spend on sewers, trash collection, a Bugatii Veyron, and an island in the Caribbean to drive it on.

While the vast majority of people are honest, there are more than enough crooks in the world. Rewarding the dishonest at the expense of the honest seems like a good way to encourage lawlessness.

Stocks and bonds work because there is something approaching a free market. Smart people watch their money and hire honest men to help them. But politicians have historically been less than honest. So who do we hire to pick stocks?

If you think large companies are honest, or that accounting firms watch them, look at the history of Enron or the 2008 financial meltdown. Corporations are as honest as they need to be to protect their bosses, no more. If we don't watch them, dishonest men will control them and they will control us.

Let's not go out of our way to create moral hazards.
 
  • #14
More than 800 billion cubic gallons of waste water goes into US streams untreated and the mud goes into growing our veggies. Fish, frogs and marine species are terrible affected. Some cities get their drinking water from these rivers. I wonder what it will do to people. All this from a 300+ Million people. Will it be necessary to clean the water at the molecular level too? Is there a real solution to this? I will not hold my breath. To add more wood to the fire, are we eating fish affected by the Hukoshima radioactive spill? :rolleyes:Mmm. No wonder some "clean" parts of the world are now touristic destinations, and "real clean" water from so and so mountain is for sale. Best wishes for future generations.
 
  • #15
Jeff Rosenbury said:
A good household water purifier costs maybe $10,000. That still leaves the thief with $1,499,990,000 to spend on sewers, trash collection, a Bugatii Veyron, and an island in the Caribbean to drive it on.

That is a quite drastic happening, but you are right, the temptation is just too great to have money lying around for the taking.

The usual justification for deficit spending and project capitalization of public works through borrowing is that present and future generations will benefit from the service, and rather than have user fees ( which is one way of paying off the debt ), the service is paid through the taxes. Privatization, and its variations, are other options, but in the end someone has to pay for the service and that is you.

Maintenance of public works, though, ends up in the "kick the can down the road" category, that being sadly the nature of political decision making and voter preferences.
Public works are not glitzy campaigning platforms and not too good either for ribbon cutting ceremonies, except at inception.

Any budgeting surplus at the end of the year might be used to pay down some of the accumulated debt, or perhaps lower the mil rate, or other responsible financial activities from responsible people in power. Keeping a surplus - some body will always bring up that the mil rate is too high, that money is the taxpayers, and should be given back.
 
  • #16
Student100 said:
Also, how are they determining 1.5 billion, it's certainty not the materials cost. Is labor that expensive?

Doing the math can be unsettling.
If something cost 20$ million in the 60's, 1.5$ billion now is not that far off from being a realistic.
Forget that the initial 20$ million cost looks like a bargain price. That was expensive back then too.Reparation becomes more expensive over time for two reasons -
- deterioration of the system, even if linear with time, brings more and more cost as the years go by.
- evolution of the surrounding area ie more houses, more businesses, more people, less free land space, requires workarounds from the best direct design. To accommodate, temporary bypass systems might have to be built, and then torn down.
 
  • #17
Student100 said:
Where do you put the money? Stocks and bonds obviously.
The point is that that the government can, at will, cash in stocks and bonds and spend them immediately, and they do so with little political pain compared to that incurred by raising taxes. Large deficit spending is theoretically another comparatively low-pain alternative and the recognition that deficit spending would be abused without limit has led to balanced budget requirements in many state and local governments.
 
  • #18
There was an interesting show on NPR the other day revealing that Saudi Arabia, after devastating its own levels of groundwater with an "insane" plan to grow wheat in the desert, has now purchased large tracts of land in Arizona and is proceeding with the same plan there. They are in other words purchasing land and water rights in places where people are unaware of the potential harm to their supply of groundwater and using it to waste that water by growing wheat in deserts for export.

The following article states that the Saudis had in 2012 already pumped out roughly 80% of the groundwater from their own aquifer. Now they are doing the same to the aquifer in Arizona.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/...tures-greening-desert-irrigation-water-grabs/

Heres a more recent account:

https://www.revealnews.org/article/what-california-can-learn-from-saudi-arabias-water-mystery/

and another:

http://robinwestenra.blogspot.com/2012/12/saudi-harebrained-scheme-to-grow-wheat.html
 
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  • #19
I couldn't find any mention of the Saudi's intention to grow wheat in Arizona in those links; some new wheat there would be unremarkable as http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Arizona/Publications/Current_News_Release/2015/AZ_Crop_Production_01122015.pdf One of those links does state a Saudi company has "purchased 15 square miles of farmland [9834 acres] in the Arizona desert to grow alfalfa ." Az's hay/alfalfa acreage is currently http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Arizona/Publications/Bulletin/11bul/pdfs/56-field%20crops-narr.pdf ; the Saudi purchase would be a large increase (up to 28%).
 
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  • #20
The npr show detailed the "city of wheat" piled high at the location in Arizona owned by the Saudi dairy. However you make a very good point. That show implied the practice was somehow new and due to clever Saudis exploiting naive Arizonans. It seems Arizonans have also been doing this for years, in full awareness of the harm, but big money still wins. I guess the link with Saudi Arabia was used partly because they are an illustrative example of how harmful this practice can be to a region's aquifer. The Saudis are just another big money farmer exploiting Arizona's willingness to sell off its limited water supply.

https://projects.propublica.org/kil...-drought-california-arizona-miscounting-water
 
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  • #21
A ban to wheat exports! a ban on wheat irrigation, a ban on misused natural resources, a ban on depleting aquifers.
:D, there it go the smarties do not want to buy our wheat production so they come and grow their own. So how about buying Saudi land and produce our own oil. Agree with Mathwonk, but I do not think it is naivete, I think the issue here is the free market concept, but is Saudi Arabia a free market as well, is it a democracy, do their citizens have the basic constitutional rights equivalent to our Constitution? if not why we are even doing deals with them to start with?
In case of drought use your Swimming pools as a back up, it already has the Clorox! :oldruck:
 

Related to Clean Water Challenges: Solving Drinking Water System Issues

What are the common challenges in providing clean drinking water?

Some of the common challenges in providing clean drinking water include contamination from pollutants such as chemicals, bacteria, and viruses, aging infrastructure, lack of access to clean water sources, and limited resources for water treatment and maintenance.

How do we solve these challenges?

Solving these challenges requires a multi-faceted approach that includes investing in infrastructure upgrades, implementing stricter regulations and monitoring of water quality, promoting sustainable water management practices, and providing education and resources to communities in need.

What are the health impacts of drinking contaminated water?

Drinking contaminated water can lead to a range of health problems, including acute illness such as diarrhea, as well as chronic conditions such as cancer, kidney disease, and neurological disorders. Children and vulnerable populations are especially at risk.

What role do governments and organizations play in addressing clean water challenges?

Governments and organizations play a critical role in addressing clean water challenges by setting and enforcing regulations, providing funding for infrastructure and research, and promoting sustainable water management practices. They also collaborate with communities and other stakeholders to develop solutions that meet the unique needs of each region.

What can individuals do to help address clean water challenges?

Individuals can help address clean water challenges by conserving water, properly disposing of hazardous materials, and supporting initiatives and organizations that work towards providing clean water for all. They can also educate themselves and others about the importance of clean water and advocate for better water management practices.

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