Calling All Plumbers

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Science  17 Feb 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6070, pp. 777
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6070.777-c

Societal water infrastructure is in dire need of rebuilding and modernization in consideration of economic as well as human safety concerns (see Caldwell, Editorial, Science, 21 October 2011). For example, leaky pipes result in the loss of 7 billion gallons of clean, treated drinking water every day in the United States alone. Water distribution networks are a hodgepodge of aging original pipes, replacement pipes, and pipes made from new materials; moreover, external pressures change over time. It is therefore difficult to predict when a system—let alone an individual pipe—will fail. Malm et al compared two statistical models of future replacement rates in Gothenburg, Sweden, based on historical data: one that includes over 100 years of data from city archives and water utility reports, the other based on a more detailed 15-year modern record. The long-term historical model more accurately predicts some factors, including the percentage of original pipes remaining in the network; however, in the absence of archived data, service life predicted using the shorter data set was still satisfactory. Overall, system replacement needs are largely reflective of how frequently pipe rehabilitation occurred in the past, and the reasons for replacement (e.g., pipe failure versus city expansion).

Water Res. 10.1016/j.watres.2012.01.036 (2012).

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