Active Rain August 15, 2011

What the Recent Sewage Leaks Tell us of Our Infrastructure

Old FoundationWater created the Grand Canyon. Anyone who has ever seen a house with a leaky roof or basement appreciates this. And sewage is mostly water. It erodes. While sewage didn’t cause the recent leaks (really massive spills) in Harlem and now Ossining, it is clear that external damage, such as a fire or tree falling, will cause massive destruction to the corroding, crumbling conduits through which we have managed our waste the past century. And we don’t have the money to fix it. All that has been done is repair the damage to stop the spill and dump bleach in the waterways to manage the bacteria. Does that make you rest easy? 

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and at a time when we should be investing in shoring up and updating infrastructure throughout New York, we instead fix problems as they occur and put off the inevitable. Today it is the sewers, which is kind of icky. But tomorrow it might be the roads, which if you haven’t noticed are often in deplorable condition around Westchester. By roads I am also including our nearby Tappan Zee Bridge, which is past its life expectancy and in poor shape. With the volume of traffic that travels over the bridge each day, a catastrophic failure of tragic, epic proportions becomes more likely each day. 

Like a house or a car, municipal infrastructure requires maintenance and at some intervals, wholesale replacement. Our local roads, waste management, drinking water, recycling, and energy systems are decades and in some cases approaching centuries old and there is no plan in place to do the big ticket work that is inevitable. Worse than no plan, there are no funds. 

Part of managing a business, a family, and a community has to involve a capital fund or savings of some sort so that there is a rainy day fund to handle and pay for the next crisis. Borrowing is no longer an answer, as we are right now under crushing debt at almost all levels of government, and we can’t sustain the current liabilities. Something has to give. 

While I don’t have an answer, the first step is to acknowledge the facts and live in the question. Our infrastructure is aging and in some cases failing, and we don’t have the plan, logistical or financial, to address the problem. Think about that next time you swerve to avoid a pothole.