The Ontario Sewer and Watermain Construction Association today issued an advisory to residents and motorists in Ontario–expect significant disruption and delays resulting from broken water pipes over the next six weeks.

“Just as we have a flu season and a mosquito season, we have a burst watermain season in Ontario and we’re just now heading into it,” noted Frank Zechner, executive director of OSWCA.

The thawing and freezing that take place through March and into April play havoc with the older water pipes still in use. In some municipalities, parts of water systems date back to the nineteenth century. This is the case in Ottawa, where some of the watermains went into the ground in the 1870s. In Toronto, there are roughly 500 kilometres of pipe more than a century old.

Toronto alone has more than 1,500 burst watermains a year, and Ottawa has more than 300. These numbers are expected to increase as the water infrastructure continues to age. It has been estimated that an additional $18 billion will be needed in the next 15 years, over and above current expenditures, to modernize the water infrastructure in Ontario.

Burst watermains are the most obvious manifestation of a neglected system. Underground, the pipes may leak for years, and many drinking water distribution systems have leakage rates ranging from 10 to 30 per cent of throughput. This represents an enormous waste of resources as all that treated water is lost. A study commissioned by OSWCA estimated that leakage is costing ratepayers across the province more than $160 million a year–money that could be better used in maintaining and upgrading the system.

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OSWCA is urging municipalities to make water infrastructure a higher funding priority. Municipal Councils have the final say for the capital budgets of most municipal water systems, and sometimes sewer and water systems don’t have the political sizzle of a new recreation centre or other municipal investments.

“We are heartened, however, to see more municipalities moving to full-cost pricing so that residents are paying the real cost of water, including the costs associated with maintenance and upgrades,” noted Zechner.

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