DENVER - It is the hidden problem waiting to happen. Beneath the streets and highways, all across this country, pipes carrying water to residents are aging and getting a day closer to failing.
"The system was designed for about a 50 to 100 year lifetime and many of them were put in shortly after World War II," said Ross Corotis, an engineering professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "They've reached really the end of their aging life span."
A ruptured 12-inch water main on Sheridan Boulevard between Fourth and Fifth Avenues is representative of the problem. The pipe was installed in 1952.
The pipe ruptured and created a sink hole approximately 27 feet long, 15 feet wide and 10 feet deep on Sheridan Boulevard. It forced the closure of northbound Sheridan between First and Fifth Avenues and southbound Sheridan between Fourth and Fifth Avenues.
Denver Water expects the repairs to be completed and the road reopened by midnight. The water main break left one building and 16 residential customers along Sheridan without water.
"You see this and you say this is a shame. But it is not unexpected. In a statistical sense it is going to happen," Corotis said.
Earlier this month, a major water main break left tens of thousands of residents in Prince George County, Maryland without water for days.
While Corotis says the problem of an aging infrastructure is a national problem, Denver Water is among the most aggressive in addressing the situation.
In 2010, Denver Water ramped up a rehabilitation and replacement program for the 3,000 miles of pipe in the system. They are planning to spend more than $100 million to repair, replace and maintain the infrastructure in 2014.
"We have a very proactive rehab and replacement program and this is what we really invest in every year. We have over 3,000 miles of pipe so obviously we're not able to go in there and just update everything all at once," Denver Water spokesperson Travis Thompson said.
Corotis says the challenge is to get residents to recognize the scope of the problem.
"They turn on the spigot and the water comes. They turn on the switch and the lights come, and they don't realize that they may be nearing the end of the life of some of these systems," Corotis said.
Corotis says Denver Water's program is the model that is necessary to extend the life of infrastructure systems. By investing in the rehabilitation and replacement of aging pipe, the life expectancy of the infrastructure can be extended.
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