It's going to get worse before it gets better.
That was the consensus of officials at Plastics Pipe XIII who spoke about North America's aging infrastructure and the mounting costs of keeping our water and sewer systems operating efficiently.
Networks of cast-iron and asbestos-cement pipe are failing with predictable frequency. About 700 water-main breaks occur daily in North America, or about 250,000 a year, said Bob Walker, executive director of the Uni-Bell PVC Pipe Association in Dallas.
Breaks and leaks in corroded pipe cost about $36 billion per year in the U.S. alone. Lost water adds up to about 6 billion gallons daily, Walker told the 420 attendees at the Washington event, held Oct. 2-5.
``This amount of lost water would satisfy the drinking water needs of every man, woman and child on earth for a year,'' he said.
According to Walker, a National Research Council of Canada study found that ``for each 100 kilometers of water distribution pipe laid, PVC had only 0.7 breaks per year,'' compared with 35.9 for cast iron and 9.5 for ductile iron.
Andre Scheelen, with chemicals maker Ineo Group of Malakoff, France, spoke on advantages of polyethylene pipe, including low leakage and lower energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Large-diameter PE pipe, he said, is well-suited for dealing with the salt water/fresh water balance in desalination plants.
In the conference keynote address, explorer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau spoke about the global water supply.
``Seventy-two percent of the Earth's surface is covered by water. So how come we're running out of water?'' he asked. ``Mismanagement, waste, misuse. A misunderstanding of the way nature works. We need a new water culture. We must seize the day.''