Houston's boil notice highlights bigger issue: Aging US water infrastructure needs repair

Civil engineers say America's aging water infrastructure is in dire need of repair

People in Houston now have clean drinking water, after having to boil it for a day. Civil engineers say this challenge has highlighted a big issue: the pipe systems that are failing across the U.S.

We’ve seen people in cities across the country without clean drinking water for weeks or months at a time. Some civil engineers say that most of America's U.S. pipe systems need repair or replacement.

Jackson, Mississippi; Baltimore, Maryland; Odessa, Texas; and now Houston, are just a handful of cities across the U.S. where pipe problems have left people without clean drinking water.

A public health crisis in and around the city of Jackson, Mississippi, began in late August 2022 after the Pearl River flooded due a failed water pipe system. 

A public health crisis in and around the city of Jackson, Mississippi, began in late August 2022 after the Pearl River flooded due a failed water pipe system.  (Joy Addison/Fox News)

Greg DiLoreto is a past president for The American Society of Civil Engineers. He says that people who have been without clean drinking water are looking for solutions to prevent this in the future. 

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"It has been, for the last few days, on the tops of the minds of folks in Houston. It was on the top of minds of people in Flint and Jackson and any other place that has experienced a water main break," DiLoreto said. 

A water main break can cost cities severely, because businesses, schools and industries often shut down.

On last year’s America’s Report Card on Infrastructure, The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a "C-" in drinking water and a "D+" in wastewater systems. DiLoreto says that was due to poor maintenance. 

"They’re low, frankly, because of our underinvestment in the system and because of the condition of the systems," DiLoreto said. 

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Civil engineers say most water pipe systems in the U.S. are in need of replacement or repair. 

Civil engineers say most water pipe systems in the U.S. are in need of replacement or repair.  (Joy Addison/Fox News)

According to The Natural Resources Defense Counsel, deteriorating and poorly maintained underground drinking water pipes cause about 250,000 to 300,000 water main breaks a year. 

"It actually translates to a break every two minutes," DiLoreto said. 

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He says the A.S.C.E. asks cities to stay on top of pipe maintenance, instead of waiting to make repairs after pipe disasters, by using asset management tools to keep track of pipe system conditions.

"Asset management programs are computerized programs that allow them to predict when water main breaks will occur, so they can start making repairs sooner than waiting for the replacement," DiLoreto said. 

Water aqueducts collect water flowing through pipe systems

Water aqueducts collect water flowing through pipe systems (FNC)

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The American Rescue Plan Act allows states to use funds for water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure projects. According to the National Association of Counties, about 200 counties with outdated water systems have announced that they will be using these funds for pipe repairs or system replacement.