Water utilities across the country are preparing for investments to soar over the next thirty years to combat an aging infrastructure. The major culprit – pipes laid at different times in our history have different life expectancies and will need to be replaced at roughly the same time. Nationwide, this problem is projected to cost ratepayers $250 billion. For some water utilities that have not begun a water main renewal program, expenses will be exorbitant.

The Portland Water District implemented a water main renewal program in the mid ’80s and in 2002 initiated a study that determined what the impact would be to Greater Portland. The study concluded that roughly $100 million in investments would be needed over the next 20 years to upgrade aging infrastructure. These upgrades come at a time when demands for water are beginning to tax the system, requiring additional investments of $85 million to resize mains, install pumping stations, upgrade the water treatment plant to meet future regulations, and improve fire protection and capacity to growing areas.

While the Portland Water District has focused on becoming more competitive over the last 10 years and subsequently reduced water rates twice, the upcoming investments will most likely result in rate increases.

The increase in water main renewals presents additional challenges – who will complete the work? Rather than increase staffing levels for seasonal work, the Portland Water District has elected to train current employees to inspect projects and manage hired contractors to do the work.

“This approach lets our crews focus on preventative maintenance and emergency repairs, while using outside firms to increase the amount of renewals we can perform. And we’re able to keep the same level of quality work by having our experts oversee construction,” stated Executive Director of Operations James West.

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