When sewage reaches coastal waters, it becomes a health hazard to swimmers. (Image: Creative Commons)

When sewage reaches coastal waters, it becomes a health hazard to swimmers. (Image: Creative Commons)

In the last six months, over a million gallons of raw sewage has spilled into the streets of Miami-Dade County. The Miami Herald reports that the county’s aging sewer system is to blame, and some $1.6 billion in repairs are scheduled over the next 15 years.

According to the Herald, the more than a million gallons of spilled sewage is the cumulative mess of 64 incidents over the last six months – though 75 percent of that figure occurred during just two incidents. In November, a pump motor failure resulted in 540,000 gallons of sewage flooding a street in Hialeah; in December, over 230,000 gallons spilled into the 10100 block of West Hibiscus Street.

Three of the 64 spills were due to breaks in antiquated asbestos cement pipes (there are 26 miles of such pipes due for replacement in the county); three of the spills were large enough to reach the coast (which could result in major fines from the EPA); and nine of the incidents spilled 10,000 gallons or more.

Florida’s aging pipe problem is particularly unpleasant – what with the raw sewage filling city streets – but it is one shared by the entire United States. Throughout America, aging, outdated and downright broken pipes are losing an estimated two trillion gallons of water per year – that’s billions per day.

In 2013, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a Chicago-based nonprofit, reported that the 63,000 miles of water infrastructure in the Great Lakes states are leaking an estimated 66.5 billion gallons of water per year. No universal auditing practices are currently in place, so the true extent of leakage and loss from metering inaccuracies, data handling errors and unauthorized consumption is still unknown.

Of course, fixing the problem has a price. David LaFrance, the CEO of the American Water Works Association, estimates that rebooting America’s water system would cost $1 trillion – about half of which would go to replacing existing infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Miami-Dade continues to be plagued by its own excrement. Between 2008 and 2012, the Miami Herald reports, there were 177 sewage spills totaling over 50 million gallons. Some of its sewer pipes date back 50 years.

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