NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — December’s winter weather blast exposed problems with systems buried underground.
Middle Tennessee’s water system overflowed with problems causing low pressure, broken pipes, and boil water notices.
News 2’s Alex Denis spoke with an engineer who urged local officials to do more now in order to keep the system operating in the future.
“The recent problems are always on everybody’s frontal lobe, the fact of the matter is, is this has been happening a lot – all the time,” said George Garden, who recently retired as the chief engineer for the division of water resources at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Garden acknowledged the water infrastructure struggles to keep up with an almost double-digit population increase in the last decade.
“One of the most important things too, for a utility, whether it be Metro Water Services, which is one of the largest in the state, or whether it’s a small town, you have to use development money to keep your system up-to-date because the water and sewer fees are hard-pressed to keep up with the maintenance load,” he explained.
But, that advice is a little too late for some towns struggling to maintain aging infrastructure during extreme temperature swings.
“Just like pavement on roads, winter is rough on infrastructure.” He continued, “There’s a false assumption that if you bury a pipe in the ground, nothing’s going to change. Well, that’s the farthest thing from the truth.”
The changes underground were highlighted in the recent pipe break beneath the Cumberland, which leaked millions of gallons of water.
“That was a big pipe and a big break,” said Garden.
He thinks relying more on technology will help mend mishaps sooner than later.
“Technology gives you the ability to track data in wastewater in particular, also in water; we don’t do a good job in that regard,” he said.
Garden would like to see elected officials take a more proactive approach to procuring funds, but he fears the current system encourages frugality at the expense of aging infrastructure.
“How do they get reelected? They get reelected by keeping rates low. So, while bad weather and crises identify problems, the fact of the matter is that we have in place a governmental and political infrastructure that rewards people for not doing any work that they absolutely don’t have to, which means that you build this bow wave in the future of deferred maintenance, that you eventually have to climb over,” he said.
That climb, Garden believes, is just the beginning.