California is parched.
Amidst the worst drought in the state's 164-year history, 38 million residents are two months into historic water conservation rules to reduce urban consumption by 25 percent compared to 2013.
The city of San Jose bans residents from washing their cars at home and filling new pools and hot tubs. The Santa Clara County Water District issues rebates to convert lawns to drought-resistant plants. And, water wasters face more than fines as public reprimands mount under the hashtag #DroughtShame.
The goal is to safeguard California's remaining potable urban water supplies in preparation for a possible fifth year of drought.
However, Los Angeles-based pipe manufacturer JM Eagle — the top ranked company in Plastics News' new list of the largest North American pipe, profile and tubing manufactures — is pushing for what many in the industry say is a longer-term solution: Save water with plastic pipes.
More than 2 trillion gallons of treated water is lost every year in the United States due to pipe leaks and breaks, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates. That's about 16 percent of the nation's purified water — enough to put Manhattan under 300 feet of water by one account.
What's to blame? Old pipes in more 51,000 water systems in which the dominant pipe material has been metal that corrodes and fails.
Could concerns about water scarcity be the conduit in which plastic pipes, namely PVC and high density polyethylene, gain wider acceptance and overcome what some call the “habituation factor” of using “legacy” materials like ductile iron?
With an estimated $2.5 billion of sales in 2014, JM Eagle kept its top spot. Sales are up $150 million from 2013. To appeal to more customers, the company launched a new educational program to raise awareness about the benefits of plastic pipe.
Initially targeting civil engineers and contractors in California and 10 other western states dealing with extreme drought, about 1,500 public sector employees have clicked on the training course since it went online in April and a “significant number” have taken it, according to Neal Gordon, JM's vice president of marketing.
Gordon said in a telephone interview he believes the program is the first free, accredited online course about plastic pipes that provides the continuing education credits engineers and contractors need to keep up their professional licenses.
“Every day we have conversations with cities across the country like Los Angeles encouraging them to switch to plastic,” Gordon said.
JM Eagle is promoting the benefits of plastic pipe with the course that covers the pros and cons of various pipe materials, installation methods, types of pipe failure, corrosion, joint leak prevention and cost comparisons. The course also says PVC and HDPE pipes meet industry standards for product leaching but not ductile iron pipe unless it is lined with another material.
“As the leader in the industry we feel it's our responsibility to expand the industry and encourage the shift from ductile iron and other materials to plastic pipe,” Gordon said. “Last year we took the message to the nation with a national advertising campaign — a 60-second commercial — that ran over 4,000 times on air. We overlaid the TV campaign with a digital campaign targeting engineers and contractors and we touched base with close to 100,000 of them across the country.”
Making the case