Opinion: a mostly hidden problem wastes appalling amounts of water

Photo: A worker uses a vacuum truck to suck up water that flooded an area at George English Park in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after a main break on Feb. 24. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

When Americans turn on their faucets, they shouldn’t have to think about infrastructure. A well-run system for clean drinking water ought to be the bare minimum of what the government delivers.

But virtually every part of the country is struggling with aging pipes, which are wasting billions of gallons of water every day. Some utilities are losing as much as half or more of their water supply to leaks. Worse, most states don’t know the scale of the problem and are doing little to find out, threatening their residents’ wallets and their health.

This issue is mostly hidden — until there is a serious problem. Water main breaks, for example, can tear up roads and damage property. These occur somewhere in the country every two minutes, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers . Sometimes, these massive leaks force cities to ask residents to boil their water before using it, as happened in the Baltimore area last month, since the leaks could potentially contaminate the water supply with dangerous pathogens.

And it can be a vicious cycle: The more water utilities waste, the less cost-efficient they become. That means they have less money for maintenance. Chronically neglected systems […]

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