Some of our water problems are pretty well-known; most people know that we’re steadily polluting the lakes, rivers, and oceans that we ultimately drink out of. But there are some things that are more localized, closer to home. Being an Urban Studies major, I’m interested in the challenges that cities face, so here’s one: in many of America’s major cities, including Pittsburgh, the water and sewage systems are outdated to a point of consistent malfunction.
Many water pipes are over 100 years old, some dating back to the Civil War. Because systems this old were not built to handle the water needs and waste output from modern, super-sized cities, a lot of water gets wasted or polluted. According to the EPA and the New York Times, a water main break occurs somewhere in the United States every two minutes. And when wet weather hits, sewage systems overflow into surrounding waterways. Basically, the combined water and sewage system sends so much stuff down the drain during wet weather that the pipes usually used to drain sewage end up filling up before they can swallow it all, and the leftovers go through the overflow pipe and into the river. This is a current problem in Pittsburgh, where wet weather is a regular occurrence. Here’s a diagram:
A lot of people are working on this. The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority is working on a plan to fix the system, but there are funding issues. The Clean Rivers Campaign has a lot of ideas, too–there are techniques for planting trees and gardens and building roofs and sidewalks that can help solve the problem. This is an issue of the public raising a fuss and the government realizing that the issue is worth spending resources on. Many don’t know or mind the state of things; but we drink the water from these rivers. What’s happening now can’t continue.