If you think Wyoming roads are in bad shape, you should see what’s beneath them.
Wyomingites carp about the crumbling roads and the potholes on them, but the water lines and pipes beneath the roads — in many cases decades old — are crumbling.
It’s a problem largely unnoticed because out of sight is often out of mind. And, yet there are few things as critical to a community as ensuring a reliable, safe water supply.
The parallels between these two infrastructures that run parallel is obvious. Wyoming needs both. Both need more funding and attention than what they’re getting. And both, if longer-term solutions are not found, could spell crisis for Wyoming in the future.
While Wyoming continues to struggle with how to fund roads, it hasn’t continued to keep up with the water line maintenance either. The reality is that waterline funding isn’t cheap and it’s terribly disruptive. Wyomingites can’t live without roads and water and both need significant funding to fix.
As the Star-Tribune’s Kyle Roerink reported when many of Wyoming’s water lines break, it causes damage to more than just the water line.
If water lines break, there’s usually a domino effect, Roerink reported. Roads, power lines and other public utilities often fall victim, said Pat Natale, executive director of the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Outdated lines often mean the cost of replacing a suddenly broken pipe is much more expensive than a routine maintenance and replacement schedule, after all the other damage is calculated.
The problem is literally so big that the state has a difficult time tracking all the antiquated pipe — and that’s with $25 million annually being spent on some replacement and upgrades.
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, Wyoming would need to spend more than $450 million during the course of the next 20 years to bring water systems up to par. That means the state would have to double the amount it currently spends.
It seems water — something so important in the arid, water-scarce state of Wyoming — should not be left to chance, especially when the well being of communities and the health of local economies depend on it.
Instead, we’d suggest the state take a more proactive stance, cataloging the deficiencies and detailing the progress of improvement.
We think the first good step is getting an accurate handle on just how large the problem may be.
Secondly, lawmakers — in conjunction with local cities and counties — must devise a plan that upgrades systems and gets Wyoming back on track. Updates can’t happen in fits and starts, especially when the demand for water grows along with other Wyoming communities.
We all would like a guarantee that roads would never crumble or water lines would never burst. To be completely truthful, there’s a pretty straightforward answer to the problem. It’s just one that people don’t want to hear uttered from the lips of politicians.
If we want better roads and better water lines, it means that we will have to pay more.
That sounds horrible until you consider not being able to get to where you want, or turning on the faucet only to have it run dry.