Basic Utilities May Be Our Most Vulnerable Infrastructure

Ideas and Issues

New Orleans    Every time a bridge falls down, we think, darned, what about the infrastructure fixes that were promised by the president and just about everyone else from top to bottom in government.  Increasingly though, I’ve come to believe that even though our bridges may be rickety from place to place, basic utilities may be our most vulnerable infrastructure.

Sure, New Orleans streets are full of potholes, but boil water advisories have also become commonplace.  A generator will fail for an inexplicable reason and shutdown a pump somewhere, and boom, boil water, baby!  Yes, New Orleans has a municipal Sewerage & Water Board, but the problem is as often with Entergy, an investor owned utility like so many that dominate this space, and they just can’t get the power to the places we need.

They aren’t alone.  The backstory on the fires in California is all about Pacific Gas & Electric, PGE, the infamous investor owned utility in that state.  Some of these deadly and devastating fires may have been sparked by faulty transformers.  Climate change is going to test the infrastructure and response from all utilities, if it doesn’t bankrupt them and us.

There were also aged gas lines that had not been replaced.  Recently, our neighborhood in New Orleans found sidewalks torn up block by block replacing gas lines.  I talked to one of the contractors as they got ready to break up my street.  He and his team were from Jalisco, Mexico.  They had been working on these contracts since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and had two or three more years to go.

These are basic investments of course, and many of them are just not made so investors can be paid.  Entergy refused to put sulfur scrubbers on their giant White Bluff coal plant in Arkansas more than forty years ago, and now they are having to mothball the plant itself, because it would cost billions to do the retrofit now, and, hey, who wants to save a coal-fired plant anymore other than President Trump.  Penny wide, pound foolish.

Lead continues to be in water everywhere.  The largest housing authority in the country in New York City continues to be in denial about dealing with the issue even after their false fix reporting was exposed.  Cost money, you know, but the problem is everywhere and too many public authorities are not safeguarding the public.

Even modernization of basic utility infrastructure isn’t a cure all.  The geek squad claims that the country’s computerized water and other utility systems are easily hacked and could be taken over by anyone with mischief or mayhem on their minds.  Folks were asleep at the switch when it came to security.

I’ll be honest.  I’ve come to depend on basic services and living on the grid.  I like turning on the lights and seeing something happen.  Turning on the faucet and having a glass of water.  Turning on the stove and making the magic happen.  Silly me!

Turns out in modern America, we’re becoming suckers if we count on these things, unless public and private interests look after our futures and not just their own paydays.