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Looking at the news story on television two days before Christmas, helicoptor rescues of people standing on their cars, emergency reponders pulling people to safety, I thought there was a terrible flood from heavy rain or snow-melt.

Instead, the news reporter stated the torrential rapids were due to a broken 66-inch diameter water main, just outside Washington, D.C.

Frigid water trapped 9 people in their vehicles, as flows of up to 150,000 gallons per minute turned River Road into the real thing, pulling up 6-foot asphalt chunks and slamming them into cars. Schools closed and two hospitals were affected by water outages.

Miraculously, no serious injuries occurred. Crews had the water main repaired by New Year’s Day–after replacing five 16-foot sections of pipe weighing 14 tons each.

As bad as I feel for the residents and the work crews affected, there’s something good about this potential disaster.

It brings to light our aging infrastructure–a drum I’ve been beating for years. And right at the time–when we’re hearing about a massive stimulus plan on infrastructure repairs.

I’ve been concerned about the stimulus plan, because most of what gets printed in the papers refers to roads and bridges. The underground utilities seemed forgotten–out of sight, out of mind. When in fact, there are hundreds of thousands of miles of aging and deteriorated water, sewer and storm pipe in the ground.

This water break, though sensational, was not an isolated event. Officials have warned for years that the system needed repairs. Last year they reported a total of 2,129 water breaks.

Hopefully, the publicity of this water main break will remind our public officials that if we don’t fund maintenance of our underground utilities, we’ll pay later.


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