Thursday, August 28, 2014

657 Water Line Breaks Per Day: Businesses flooded, traffic disrupted, schools closed, water wasted, and roads ruined. A new WPA could help with that.

(In the CNN video above, we see the enormous water main break near the UCLA campus on July 30, 2014.)

Some water main breaks... from just the past three days:

August 26: In the midst of a drought, a water line broke in San Francisco. A resident said, "At a time like this it's kind of unfortunate to have all of this water being wasted. So I actually grabbed some buckets and tried to capture as much as I could of it." A public utilities spokesperson said, "Right now there are still old pipes in the system and this is what happens. They last a long time but sooner or later they do actually fail due to age" (article). 

August 26: In Kansas City, Missouri, a water main break knocked out service for some businesses. It was reported that "Kansas City had 77 water main breaks so far this August, and is on pace for 99. The city had 100 water main breaks last August. The record number of breaks in August is 316" (article).  

August 26: In Bloomfield, Connecticut, a water line installed in 1933 broke and a "water wagon" had to be dispatched to bring water to affected residents (article). 

August 26: In Echo Park, California, a water line installed over a century ago broke and flooded several businesses and, amazingly,  "The same pipe burst last year and flooded the same businesses" (article).

August 27: In Boulder, Colorado, a Department of Motor Vehicles office was closed due to a water main break (article). 

August 27: In Missouri, a state university was forced to close because of a "break in Cape Girardeau's water system that feeds the main campus" (article).

August 27: In Honolulu, a water main break shut off water to area businesses (article).

August 27: In Geneseo, Illinois, officials told residents to boil their water after a line broke (article).

August 28: In Pittsburgh, "a massive water main break" broke a hole in a road and disrupted traffic (article).

August 28: In Oklahoma, "A 16-inch water main break has flooded a Tulsa street and is expected to significantly impact morning traffic" (article).

August 28: In Harrison, Ohio, a water main break disrupted traffic (article).

August 28: In Mitchell, Indiana, schools are being forced to delay their start times due to a water main break (article).

The above breaks are just the tip of the iceberg. According to statistics from the American Society of Civil Engineers, the U.S. averages 657 water main breaks per day.

(Poster created by WPA artist Earl Kerkam, between 1941 and 1943. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

During the New Deal, a tremendous amount of time and money was invested in America's infrastructure. For example, the WPA paid unemployed Americans to install 16,000 miles of new water lines, construct 276 new water treatment plants, dig 4,000 new water wells, and build 3,000 new water tanks & reservoirs. Even "limited-government" icon Ronald Reagan was impressed with the WPA's accomplishments, writing: "The WPA was one of the most productive elements of FDR's alphabet soup of agencies because it put people to work building roads, bridges, and other gave men and women a chance to make some money along with the satisfaction of knowing they earned it" (see Reagan's autobiography, Ronald Reagan: An American Life). 

Unfortunately, even as 23.5 million Americans can't find full-time work, and even as youth unemployment remains in the double-digits, and even as we experience hundreds of water line breaks every single day, we're not about to create a new WPA. Instead, we'll let the lines break, shut off water to low-income Americans, block infrastructure bills, let the un- and under-employed continue to be financially devastated and, all the while, watch 18-wheelers truck in nice fresh water for the super-wealthy as those around them must learn to do without.

Isn't that amazing?

(WPA workers building a reservoir in Frederick County, Maryland. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

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