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Water loss is a growing problem, especially in shrinking US cities

Older industrial communities often don't have the revenue to keep up aging oversized water infrastructure.
A fire hydrant in Pritchard, Alabama
Posted at 10:41 PM, Mar 04, 2024

Communities across the U.S. are losing trillions of gallons of drinking water from old, leaky infrastructure, according to new reporting from The Associated Press.

Some of the hardest-hit communities are in older industrial communities, where declining job prospects and declining populations have reduced available municipal funds and left aging, oversized water infrastructure behind.

Some places in Chicago lose 40% of their treated water to leaks. Some systems in Georgia lose as much as 80%. 

In Jackson, Mississippi, the water system failed for more than 100,000 people in 2022, leaving them to rely on bottled water for more than a month.

Civil experts tell the Associated Press communities often have to spend dwindling resources on other priorities, like fire departments.

John C. Young, who oversees the water and sewer board in Prichard, Alabama, calls it being stuck "between a rock and a hard place." 

That community loses roughly 60% of its treated water.

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Water lost in this manner is not federally measured or regulated. Only about a dozen states require losses to be tracked.

In Illinois, officials want to have dedicated staff who track water use and loss from Lake Michigan.

“It’s a huge problem because infrastructure is rapidly deteriorating,” Loren Wobig, director of water resources at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, told The Associated Press.

Experts think tackling the problem is going to take significant state and federal money.

Jackson's water troubles illustrate the scope: The city is slated to receive $600 million to address its crumbling water infrastructure. The first $115 million payment was announced in June of 2023.

In February of this year, the Biden administration announced $5.8 billion in new federal funds for nationwide water infrastructure improvements, bringing the total amount granted to states to $22 billion.