In Many Cities, Water May Be Sitting in Systems Too Long

A recent Salon article authored by a trio of professors in environmental engineering and health sciences called attention to a potential problem with America’s water systems that may be lurking on the horizon. According to the article, many major U.S. cities that have been decreasing in population may have drinking water sitting inside old systems for extended periods of time—which could lead to contamination or other health issues.

The authors summarize the problem in this way: “Water systems are typically designed for growth, not shrinkage. Oversized water treatment and distribution systems are common in shrinking cities that experience less water demand than they did decades ago. Consequently, shrinking cities can have drinking water sit in their old and corroded distribution system pipes longer than desired.”

They note that the potential impact of this is currently being studied by professionals, but that the issue is notable enough to send up some red flags. It is an issue they say warrants attention and concern now before it causes larger problems down the road—as these water systems continue to age and more cities struggle to find the budgets to upgrade them.

Some of the cities noted in a graphic in the article as experiencing the greatest reduction in population since the turn of the century include Detroit and Flint (Michigan); Cleveland and Toledo (Ohio); St. Louis (Missouri); Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania); Chicago (Illinois); and Baltimore (Maryland).