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Industry: $1 trillion needed to replace water lines

Monday - 2/27/2012, 7:27am  ET

waterman repairs (WTOP Photo/Kristi King)
It will take $1 trillion to replace aging water systems over the next 25 years. Water lines that are old tend to break. (WTOP File/Kristi King)

Neal Augenstein, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Your water bill will be going up -- and will likely stay up -- as the water industry struggles to replace aging and failing water pipes.

A new report by the American Water Works Association, which is funded by the nation's water utilities, estimates $1 trillion is needed over the next 25 years to replace water systems that are coming to the end of their useful lives.

"It draws a parallel to the story we tell on a daily basis," says Jerry Johnson, chief executive officer of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

"Every day we are working on plans not only to ramp up the number of miles we can replace, but how to pay for it."

Much of the D.C. region has older water mains and pipes, and most local water main breaks are caused by pipes that fail due to age.

WSSC, which serves Montgomery and Prince George's counties, says 26 percent of its 5,600 miles of water main are more than 50 years old.

Spokesperson Lyn Riggins says WSSC will replace 41 miles of water main this year. By 2015, the utility plans to replace 55 miles.

The report, entitled "Buried No Longer: Confronting America's Water Infrastructure Challenge," says household water bills will go up, especially in areas already dealing with pipe failure.

"The level of investment required to replace worn-out pipes and maintain current levels of water service in the most affected communities could in some cases triple household water bills," the report warns.

In areas with fast-growing communities, smaller water mains will need to be replaced with larger mains to keep up with demand, the industry says.

Delay in funding the replacement projects will make the problem worse and more costly, according to the report.

The industry also says money spent on emergency repairs, health screening and treatment, firefighting and drinking water fixes could dwarf the cost of timely replacement.

Read the report below:

Buried No Longer

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)