Thursday, August 14, 2014

Infrastructure Crumbling: 20 million gallons of water lost in Bay City, Michigan, and Maryland residents told to boil their water after another water line break in Prince George's County

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Between Saturday, August 9, and Monday, August 11, 2014, Bay City, Michigan lost about 15-20 million gallons of water from a broken water main. City crews had a hard time finding the leak, and discovered that the offending pipe "wasn't registered in the city's list of infrastructure." David Harran, the Bay City Public Works director, said, "It must be something that's very old" ("From search to discovery: Bay County water emergency solved with community effort").

And yesterday (Wednesday, August 13), Maryland residents & businesses in parts of Prince George's County were told to start boiling their water, for fear of contamination, after a 44-year-old water line broke ("WSSC issues boil-water advisory for southern Prince George’s after main break"). And this occurred only about a week and a half after another water main break in Prince George's County, where the rupture of a 73-year-old water line caused the loss of 6 million gallons of water ("Huge water main break floods major Hyattsville road with 6 million gallons").

(Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA made many infrastructure improvements across the nation. Here, WPA laborers are constructing a new storm water drain in Baltimore, Maryland, in June of 1936. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

America's infrastructure is falling apart and, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, "There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States." But don't expect any solutions, because (1) Republicans have made a habit of blocking legislation to improve infrastructure in an effort to protect super-wealthy Americans from tax increases (see, e.g., "Senate GOP Blocks Obama's $60 Billion Infrastructure Plan"), (2) the right-wing Koch brothers are now extending their financial & political influence into local affairs and thwarting bills aimed at municipal improvements (see, e.g., "How The Koch Brothers Are Organizing Against Your Local Zoo, Transit And School Board"), and (3) many American corporations have little or no interest in the health of America's infrastructure, as the Urban Land Institute has correctly highlighted: "A short-term focus on immediate shareholder returns and lowering corporate tax burdens apparently takes precedence over ensuring the country has adequate transport systems, energy networks and logistics facilities for businesses to compete effectively in the decades to come" ("How the U.S. Is Turning Into a Banana Republic").

During the New Deal, America's infrastructure was repaired, improved, and expanded on a scale not seen before or since. For example, the WPA alone installed 16,000 miles of new water lines. And this New Deal infrastructure served as the backbone for America's post-World War II economic boom. The economy expanded along New Deal roads, across New Deal bridges, and out of New Deal airports.

What a shame that we're moving away from the principles of the New Deal, and instead convincing ourselves that we just can't afford to improve our nation's infrastructure (as we simultaneously lose hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenue--every single year--via tax evasion, tax avoidance, and historically low tax rates on the super-wealthy).

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