Monday, 12 June 2017

InsideSources/Patrick Hogan: Philadelphia: From Wood to Ductile Iron – A Leader in Water Infrastructure Innovation

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Philadelphia: From Wood to Ductile Iron – A Leader in Water Infrastructure Innovation
Posted to Politics June 09, 2017 by Patrick Hogan

Not long after the Liberty Bell rang out the fledging United States’ victory over the British monarchy, enterprising minds in Philadelphia constructed a water main system using pine logs. These wood pipes carried water into the growing city, giving residents and businesses clean water. The pipes lasted only about two decades before they were replaced by cast iron, but that spirit of innovation remains strong today in the City of Brotherly Love.

The American Water Works Association will be in town soon for its 17th annual conference that will look at a broad array of issues surrounding water systems, be they drinking water, reuse, waste- or stormwater. As sponsor of the Pipe Tapping Competition, the Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association (DIPRA) welcomes conference attendees to Philadelphia.

The issues surrounding safe water delivery have never been more pressing than they are right now. We’ve seen the tragic consequences of faulty systems. We understand how critical it is for our communities to have access to safe drinking water and how important it is to have confidence in the pipes that lay under our cities and towns. That’s why the member companies of DIPRA embrace that same spirit of innovation that early Philadelphia engineers had. Ductile Iron Pipe is an advanced material that is proven to be resilient and durable. The research and testing that has gone into developing this product means that utilities and municipalities that invest in it are assured that it will last for generations.

Philadelphia recently decided to replace its aging cast-iron mains with Ductile Iron Pipe. We’re proud to be part of the city’s pipe legacy. This project comes during a time when replacing aging infrastructure is a national conversation. State governors, U.S. Senators, and other influential persons are all making the case for federal dollars to help in the replacement and construction of roads, bridges, ports, highway, and rail systems, among other priorities. The pipes that run under our communities cannot be forgotten.

Indeed, the EPA has announced that it will provide $1 billion for water infrastructure projects and, through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), has been petitioned to fund a number of projects already. Earlier this year, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt encouraged attendees at the National League of Cities’ Congressional Cities Conference to broaden their infrastructure requests to include water projects. He said, “I want you to know that I am committed to working with Congress and on behalf of the White House to ensure that water infrastructure grants are effectively used to help you at the local level ensure safe drinking water for your citizens. … It is very important … that we do approach this discussion with a more broad-minded view beyond roads and bridges. … Those things are important. But water infrastructure is equally important.”

The fragmented nature of water systems makes it near-impossible for municipalities and utilities to achieve economies of scale for funding. Multiple jurisdictions can band together to replace highways and bridges, but water projects have unique aspects such as soil type, natural barriers and acidity levels that make them singular projects. Montgomery County can help share the costs with Philadelphia for repairs to the Blue Route, but how Philadelphia constructs its stormwater infrastructure may not be the same as in Plymouth Meeting or Flourtown.

The fact is, we have a real need for smart solutions to the very serious issues we face with replacing water infrastructure. Clean, safe water is a requirement for healthy communities. This is one of the rare issues on which there is bipartisan and universal agreement. Philadelphia’s wood pipes are fascinating artifacts of the early days of water infrastructure in our country. DIPRA’s promise is that we will continue to innovate so that the pipes our members manufacture will keep our communities safe and healthy for generations to come.

About the Author
Patrick Hogan
Patrick Hogan is president of the Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association.

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