Aging water systems
3:33 pm
Tue August 26, 2014

Water Utilities Push For New Infrastructure, Rates Could Rise

Water pipes in the St. Louis area are old … and getting older.

A report published Tuesday by a consortium of five St. Louis-area water utilities shows much of the area’s water system has outlived its expected lifetime:

  • Life expectancy for reservoirs and da
    An infrared photograph shows a water main leak in Webster Groves. Water utility companies photograph roads at night to determine which pipes may be in need of repair.
    Credit courtesy of Missouri American

    ms ranges from 50 to 80 years. The average age of a St. Louis-area reservoir or dam is 80 years.

  • Pumping stations are intended to last for 25 years. On average, stations in the St. Louis area are 35 years old.
  • The age of regional distribution mains are built to last 60 to 95 years.  The average age of the region's distribution mains ranges from 55 to 65 years, on average. 
  • The St. Louis region replaces about 0.4 to 0.7 percent of water mains every year. General industry standards suggest a replacement pace of 1 percent annually. But reaching that pace would require an additional $34 million a year, or $62 per consumer.

"Areas where pipes are 60 to 100 or 120 years old are where we find the most of our main break activity. It’s just because they’re wearing out, they’ve been in place the longest,” said Missouri American Water president Frank Kartmann. 

The Metro Water Infrastructure Partnership’s five utilities are the Illinois American Water Company, City of Kirkwood Water Department, Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, Missouri American Water Company and the City of St. Louis Water Division. The group hopes to fund infrastructure repairs and replacements through graduated increases of utility rates. Those rates would need to be approved by city and county governing bodies, which means public opinion will play a role.

Experts seated on a panel at the St. Louis Regional Chamber wrestled with that topic during a seminar Tuesday morning.

Associated General Contractors president Len Tonjes (left) and Jennifer Obertino of URS Corporation speak on a water infrastructure panel with St. Louis Deputy Fire Chief Brian Walsh (not pictured).
Credit Durrie Bouscaren / St. Louis Public Radio

Jennifer Obertino, vice president at engineering firm URS Corporation, said drumming up public support is difficult for water utilities, because many people take access to water for granted.

“We can’t get our rates increased, and we don’t have the public support until there’s an issue. And then there’s an issue and the concern is, you didn’t have a plan,” Obertino said.

But the increasing frequency of water main breaks is something that could bring the issue to the forefront, Obertino said. On Monday, a 21-inch main break near Lindbergh High School in  St. Louis county disrupted service for hours. Administrators dismissed classes for the afternoon.