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I was reading about the Water Mafia that is now controlling parts of the largest cities in India and Pakistan and wondering how long before the same thing happens in the USA?

What is the Water Mafia?

The term Water Mafia refers to criminal enterprise that capitalizes on water shortages and water infrastructure issues to extort outrageous profits for water from tanker trucks from the helpless population. In India, the water mafia is a combination of the normal black market criminal element, water department employees and corrupt politicians who are using their influence to manipulate water issues and provide protection for criminals.

The situation has reached critical levels in major cities like Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai (Bombay). In these cities even upscale communities and businesses are being held hostage and forced to pay ridiculous sums of money for what we consider an inalienable right to.

What Caused the Water Mafia to Emerge?

The cause for India’s water problem was not brought about by drought. The causes are something every American municipality faces to varying degrees today. The primary factors include:

  • High growth without proper consideration to water infrastructure or asset management.
  • Watershed mismanagement.
  • Water systems on the verge of collapse because of a lack of maintenance management that has persisted for decades.
  • Significant portions of new construction (up to 40% in Delhi) are without adequate access to water lines.
  • Water supply losses from leaks and theft of up to 40% and plants that have not seen repairs in over 50 years.

The Water Mafia in Action

Capitalizing on this situation is the Water Mafia which runs a parallel private network of water tankers that visit the deplenished neighborhoods and businesses.

The Water Mafia has also learned how to make the water problems more critical. There are reports by Indian news agencies and the AP that the Water Mafia is taking advantage of the lack of asset planning and asset maintenance to make the situation worse.

The criminals have learned that by tapping/breaking into existing water lines and stealing the water they can not only make water shortages worse but place the cities in a situation where maintenance and repairs cannot be kept up with. All this adds to their profit.

USA Situation

The thought that this could happen in the USA is not as far-fetched as you might think. Our nation’s water infrastructure is crumbling in city after city.

“There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States. Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA)….”

Source: American Society of Civil Engineers

Given that most of our nation’s water infrastructure was built right after WWII, it is not surprising that each year our water systems require more and more maintenance and repairs. The increase in needed maintenance has become more visible as water utilities struggle with budget cuts and a lack of quality asset and maintenance management.

Fortunately, our nation has generally been historically blessed with ample water resources. Unfortunately, this is the same reason water infrastructure maintenance has normally not been given a high priority.

However this is rapidly changing. Many Western and Southwestern States are in the midst of a historical drought. The drought combined with population growth and agricultural needs are forcing States to take extreme measures to obtain or protect water rights.

Water Scarcity Examples

  1. Texas has already taken Oklahoma and New Mexico to court over water rights and is currently arguing with Mexico over waters from the Rio Grande. The state is also having huge internal water battles as biggest cities in Texas battle for rural watersupplies
  2. California is essentially in state of emergency as groundwater levels continue to fall and water districts do not have enough revenues to pay for backup water supplies or repair failing equipment.
  3. The Colorado River Basin which supplies water to 40 million people across 7 states is just a fraction of what it used to be.
  4. It is illegal for many Colorado residents to collect rainwater in rain barrels. Why? – The answer is it is a battle over water rights.

There is no doubt that Mother Nature is playing a catalyst to our nation’s water woes. There is also no doubt that virtually every state, municipality or water supplier can be doing a better job maintaining their water systems.

Since we cannot control Mother Nature and the population is not likely to decrease anytime soon; any efforts to address the worsening water situation should be focused on improving our water infrastructure. This means paying much more attention to asset management and maintenance management.

Water Utility Change Starts with Asset Management
Crumbling USA Water Infrastructure

The two biggest challenges to water systems are finding the money to make capital improvements and being able to ensure that proper preventive maintenance and repairs are being done before small problems turn into gigantic nightmares.

In the near-term, capital improvements will have to be generated from changes in capital budgets (State or local levels). In the long-term, capital improvements to water infrastructure can be planned using Enterprise Asset Management (EAM).

Getting the money necessary for making capital improvements is only half the battle. Making sure that asset is used according to plan and is properly maintained over its entire lifecycle is the other battle.

EAM Maintenance Functionality is Critical

It is the implementation of good maintenance (the core function of any quality EAM) that will determine how long an asset will last for. The longer asset’s last, the less is needed for capital improvements.

Too many of our water suppliers rely on spreadsheets and manual processes for handling preventive maintenance and repairs. The result is a continual and growing loss of water supplies due to leaks.

EAM provides the tools to:

  • Identify each and every asset, its location and condition.
  • Automate the handling of work requests and work orders enabling water maintenance staff to accomplish more with the same amount of resources.
  • Establish proactive maintenance using the time freed up by automation to perform inspections and preventive maintenance.
  • Track the progress of all work in the system including who is accountable for the repairs, costs, time spent, materials used…
  • Provides needed reports so that asset managers can make informed repair, refurbish or replace decisions.
Say No to the Water Mafia

“…failing infrastructure is not only an inconvenience, it financially impacts our families and our country. Our infrastructure is the foundation of our economy and our quality of life, and repairing and modernizing it has exponential benefits…Unless we address the backlog of projects and deferred maintenance throughout the country, the cost to each American family will reach $3,100 per year in personal disposable income”

Source: American Society of Civil Engineers

The first step to making improvements in our nation’s water infrastructure is to recognize that real long-term change must happen and that the change must start now.

There are communities all across our country that are just a few steps away from desperation. Change is not going to occur if governments spend their time fighting over water rights. Change will only occur when the people demand it and this must be done before it is too late.

Failure to act in the best interest of the people now opens the door for the type of criminal activity and corruption that is already being seen in places like India.

Can your community use better water infrastructure management?