News Feature | July 15, 2015

Cincinnati On Brink Of Infrastructure Disaster

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Cincinnati is undergoing a water infrastructure crisis, and it is unclear where it will find the funding it needs to make upgrades.

“A massive problem — growing out of sight in Greater Cincinnati — is draining government coffers, squeezing family budgets and threatening the future of a system we can’t live without.

Hidden beneath our homes, schools and businesses are thousands of miles of aging and crumbling water mains — some of which are so old they’re made out of wood,” WCPO reported.

The city has had 18,000 water main breaks over the last 10 years. It is trying to replace 1 percent of the pipe per year. The city has already spent considerably in recent year to overcome the problem. About 40 percent of Cincinnati’s pipes are over 105 years old.

“In the last 10 years, Greater Cincinnati Water Works has spent more than $75 million just to fix [water main breaks], a WCPO analysis of records shows. The pricey patchwork is on top of another $40 million spent annually to replace at least 1 percent of the system’s worst pipes – the average age of which was 102 years in 2014,” the report said.

Federal funding is scarce, so rate hikes are on the way. Cincinnati decided on rate hikes in June.

“After much debate, the City Council in a 5-4 vote raised water rates 5 percent next year. Council axed the 6 percent increase, even though Tony Parrott, who oversees the water department, explained the rate increase would allow the city bond needed repairs to the system. The average customer's quarterly bill will increase from $59.96 percent to $62.95 – $3 a quarter,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

Parrott gave the state of the city’s water infrastructure a “D minus,” WCPO reported. But Cincinnati is hardly alone. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, "At the dawn of the 21st century, much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States."

In a report card judging the state of U.S. infrastructure, the society gave Ohio a C minus. The state reported $12.2 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the two decades, and $14.2 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs over the same period.

For more on planning to repair or replace utility assets, visit Water Online’s Asset Management Solutions Center.