“Water Woes”

Water Woes,” U.S. News and World Report, June 4, 2007

The nation’s hidden water problem rushed into the basement apartments of 51st Street in West New York, N.J., last February 9, shortly after 4 a.m.

That’s when a 2-foot-wide pipe ruptured under Bergenline Avenue, New Jersey’s longest commercial thoroughfare. Water burst through the asphalt with the force of a geyser, then cascasded downhill. “It came down the street like rapids,” says Anthony Avillo, the deputy fire chief on the scene.

Families were awakened by water cresting over the sides of their beds or by neighbors screaming. In the 18-degree cold, North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue Crew members lowered themselves chest-deep into the drink and deployed life rafts to help people escape.

“We had one woman holding a baby and offering it up from the water like Moses,” Avillo recalls. Miraculously, no one was seriously hurt in the deluge, but 31 people, including 14 children, were forced from their homes—some for almost a month. And as is often the case with a major water-main break, the impact rippled far beyond the uprooted families. Water service abruptly stopped for 200,000 people in five of the nation’s most densely populated towns, directly across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Even when the taps began to flow again, residents were warned to boil water because a main break can be a gateway for harmful bacteria. “It was really a nightmare, and it was dangerous,” says Christopher Irizarry, chief executive of the North Hudson Community Action Corp., which assisted the stranded residents. Read article.

020812usThe Coming Water Crisis,” U.S. News and World Report, August 12, 2002

By Marianne Lavelle and Joshua Kurlantzick

The tap water was so dark in Atlanta some days this summer that Meg Evans couldn’t see the bottom of the tub when she filled the bath. Elsewhere in her neighborhood, Gregg Goldenberg puts his infant daughter, Kasey, to bed unbathed rather than lower her into a brew “the color of iced tea.” Tom Crowley is gratified that the Publix supermarket seems to be keeping extra bottled water on hand; his housekeeper frequently leaves notes saying, “Don’t drink from the faucet today.” All try to keep tuned to local radio, TV, or the neighborhood Web site to catch “boil water” advisories, four of which have been issued in the city since May to protect against pathogens. “We’ve gotten to the point where I’m thinking this is just normal,” Evans says. “It’s normal to wake up and take a bath in dirty water.”

In a nation where abundant, clear, and cheap drinking water has been taken for granted for generations, it is hard to imagine residents of a major city adjusting to life without it. But Atlanta’s water woes won’t seem so unusual in the years ahead. Across the country, long-neglected mains and pipes, many more than a century old, are reaching the end of their life span. When pipes fail, pressure drops and sucks dirt, debris, and often bacteria and other pathogens into the huge underground arteries that deliver water. Officials handle each isolated incident by flushing out contaminants and upping the chlorine dose (Atlanta says its water meets health standards despite its sometimes unappetizing appearance), but no one sees this as a long-term solution. America’s aging water infrastructure needs huge new investment, and soon. Read more.