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Brown delivers keynote on water infrastructure and public health

Monday, November 3, 2014

(Photo Courtesy of Scutter via Flickr.)

The American Water Works Association gathered in Atlanta last week for its first-ever conference on the nation’s water infrastructure, inviting Joe Brown from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering to deliver a keynote address.

Brown, who specializes in part on water and sanitation technologies, connected water infrastructure and public health in his speech.

The problems facing the nation’s water and sewer systems are broad — and expensive. More from NPR’s David Schaper:

Imagine Manhattan under almost 300 feet of water. Not water from a hurricane or a tsunami, but purified drinking water — 2.1 trillion gallons of it.

That's the amount of water that researchers estimate is lost each year in this country because of aging and leaky pipes, broken water mains and faulty meters.

Fixing that infrastructure won't be cheap, which is something every water consumer is likely to discover.

In Chicago, fresh water is drawn into water intake cribs in Lake Michigan and piped to the enormous Jardine Water Filtration Plant on the lakefront, adjacent to Navy Pier.

Jardine is the largest water filtration plant in the world by volume, pumping about 1 billion gallons of purified drinking water out through hundreds of thousands of miles of pipes to 5 million people in Chicago and 125 surrounding communities.

But not all of that treated, potable water makes it through the system to homes and businesses. In fact, quite a bit of it is lost.

The Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology, a nonprofit focused on sustainability, recently put out a report that estimates "about 6 billion gallons of water per day may be wasted in the U.S.," says Danielle Gallet, the group's water supply program manager.

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