News Feature | November 6, 2014

Drought Worsens Water Infrastructure Problems

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

The drought in Oklahoma is not just hurting the water supply—it is hurting water infrastructure.

Many of the water lines in Chickasha, OK, "were laid as much as 80 years ago, making them susceptible to leaks and breaks. As severe drought has taken hold in Grady County, dry, shifting soil has caused the city’s aging water lines to leak and break," The Oklahoman reported, citing Chickasha City Manager Stewart Fairburn.

“Our guys are running around fixing leaks,” Fairburn said, per the report.

In turn, water infrastructure problems take a toll on the water supply.

"The water line breaks mean lost water at a time when the city is already in drought. Nearly all of Grady County, including Chickasha, is experiencing severe drought conditions, according to [the U.S. Drought Monitor]," the report said.

Over a 90 day period, Chickasha received just 5.3 inches of rain, according to the report. It is one of the driest areas of Oklahoma.

For water utilities, the link between drought and water infrastructure is clear-cut, according to Fitch Ratings.

"California utilities that have made proactive, long-term investments in water infrastructure are better equipped to deal with water supply pressures during drought," a recent release from Fitch said.

Kathy Masterson, a senior director at Fitch Ratings, explained the correlation.

"When cities make long-term investments in water infrastructure, not every drought turns into a fire drill for conservation," she said. "The fact is that droughts are cyclical and careful planning can help offset or delay some of the resulting stresses like water restrictions."

Oklahoma has reported $4.1 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next two decades, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

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