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Peter’s Take: Water Main Breaks

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotOn Feb. 7, ARLnow.com reported on two separate water main breaks — one on Arlington Ridge Road and one on Lee Highway.

These two water main breaks illustrate yet another respect in which the County Board’s budget priorities are badly out of whack. The County Board has spent, or is proposing to spend, millions of dollars on extravagant design elements at a dog park in Clarendon and an Aquatics Center at Long Bridge Park, while Arlington’s water mains and classrooms are bursting.

On Jan. 28, ARLnow.com posted another story on water main breaks. That story highlighted the fact that “Arlington has 500 miles of water mains, 60 percent of which are 55 years or older”, with the oldest dating to 1927.

A county video accompanying the Jan. 28 story sometimes strikes a condescending tone. It proceeds from the faulty premise that water main breaks are “unavoidable.” The video’s message: learn to live with them. The video explains why old water mains break. Surprise: it’s because they’re old and decaying!

What Arlington County needs is a much more aggressive program of water main replacement, not the Que Será, Será attitude displayed in this county video. Of course, some water mains would still break even with a more aggressive replacement program. But, we would avoid many other breaks. The County Board knows this. The Board simply is devoting far too little of our money to replace water mains, while devoting far too much of our money to its vanity projects.

In May 2013, the County Board approved a $1.8 million project for water main “rehabilitation.” “These rehabilitation projects help the County extend the life of water mains and lines, stretch tax dollars and prevent expensive and disruptive main breaks,” Walter Tejada boasted.

The county’s press release went on to explain that “every year, the County selects water mains based on age, frequency of main breaks, and reduction in flow capacity for rehabilitation at a fraction of the cost of new construction and with minimal disruption to the community.”

Translation: we are putting lipstick on a pig because we are squandering your money elsewhere. We are adopting this rehabilitation program because we don’t have enough money left over to replace our aging water mains as fast as we should.

“Rehabilitating” water mains and providing more “relocatable” classrooms is a cop out. Arlington County needs to get back to basics by prioritizing the needs of its core services like water mains and schools.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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