Water is an essential part of life. Yet, our pipes across the United States are aging and there are 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States. These are more than an inconvenience, as leaky water pipes and water shutdowns will cost businesses $147 billion and households almost $60 billion by the year 2020. In addition, continual droughts are wreaking havoc on water supply in some southern and western states. How are leading agencies and engineers tackling these issues amid constrained budgets?
Wasn’t that street just under construction? Infrastructure is often built up like a layer cake – water pipes go in the ground, electrical and gas lines, and roads are at ground level, and more electrical lines hang in the air. When an agency goes to fix one often it may make sense to do other work too – from coordinating the permitting, to construction, and even clean up. Every company can be susceptible to the silo effect, but coordinated construction between disparate agencies in a city or municipality can result in increased productivity and savings, and decreased angst from citizens.
The greatest water resource in the world is the ocean, but you can’t drink it—a fact that has been taunting scientists and thinkers as great as Aristotle for generations. However, today between 10 and 13 billion gallons of water are desalinated worldwide per day. That's only about 0.2 percent of global water consumption, but with new advances in the membrane technology and reducing the energy needed, a 61 percent growth rate is expected for the desalination market by 2019. U.S. desert climate states and other countries are leading the way with research, and it could change drastically if we “crack the salt code.”
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and it turns out wastewater doesn’t have to be tossed aside so quickly. Water facilities are using new processes to harvest heat and power from the solids left over after treating the wastewater. Facilities save on their energy costs, waste is disposed of sustainably, and the remaining byproduct is often a sellable fertilizer.
What if the greatest improvements in infrastructure are happening underground? Whether it’s creating a tunnel or getting a clear picture of inventory, there are several promising projects and techniques that can be done without ever having to disrupt the surface in order to fix a problem. Finding ways to assess buried assets deep underground, from sensors to monitors to detection systems, shows great strides are being made to make the invisible, visible.
A typical American uses 80 to 100 gallons of water a day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. In total, the U.S. uses about 323 billion gallons per day of surface water and another 84.5 billion gallons of ground water. Every drop of water that goes to a tap in the U.S. gets treated to drinking water quality standards, but there’s a cost to treating that water. What if every drop of water we clean could be used twice? With continued water shortages, utilities are starting to look harder for opportunities to reclaim and reuse water before it gets cleaned to drinking water standards again.
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States. And the damage is not relegated to certain areas. One-third of flood damage occurs outside of designated floodplains, according to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
Many of our most densely populated areas are in coastal zones, or along water sources prone to flooding. In addition, sea-level rise, aging levees, and a changing climate and increased storms will require that we reevaluate the risk of flooding in many areas and respond accordingly. Natural disaster-related damages totaled more than $26 billion across the U.S. in 2009 alone, and are expected to double every decade. How will we respond? As we reflect on the ten-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in 2015, new technologies hold promise for assessing risk, strengthening levees, and reducing the probability of damage or loss due to flooding.