Thursday, October 26, 2017

On Infrastructure

Going on five days without potable water being pumped to the house does lead one to think. Water pressure is pretty much restored but were still under a boil water advisory. I still have plenty of bottled water on hand and it is still just an inconvenience to me at least. But it certainly shows some serious issues with our infrastructure. Apparently it should be restored fully by midnight Friday and then everybody has to flush their house lines, which should give the local sewer system one heckuva workout.

This incident leads to a few observations:

First, when you have any disruption to society's typically smooth-flowing infrastructure the panic gets rather palpable - people around here the first day or two of this crisis have been clearing out all drinking water from store shelves - completely. Its now been restocked in most places and while the water issue has affected a very large area of southeastern Michigan one can only imagine if the size of the affected area was much larger how much worse it would be.

Second, people hate that the law of supply and demand becomes very visibly in effect during a crisis. A gas station in Commerce Township was selling cases of bottled water for $19 a case of 40 bottles and people were flipping out and complaining on Facebook etc about gouging. The same bottles they would have no problem buying for $1 each from a cooler they suddenly hate the idea of buying a case of bottles at .48 cents each as pre-crisis a case of the water was about 5 bucks. In places where the price stayed at 5 bucks, there were empty shelves. The higher price encouraged the gas station owner to have it in stock and those who wanted it at that price paid it. Your choice, had you not stocked up on it prior to the break was either none or $19.

Third, we don't pay nearly enough attention to infrastructure. it's simply not sexy.

Few politician wants to be seen ribbon-cutting at a refurbishment of a water processing plant. No politicians, none, no mater how they may deserve it, would like a sewer line named after them.

Maintenance gets short-shrift as maintaining power lines, sewer and water lines tend to not be noticed until they break and society then notices their lack very quickly indeed. The sorry state of the roads around here is illustrative of the failure to maintain what is already in place. Lots of the infrastructure around here is old and getting older and failure to have enough funds to maintain and improve it over time is going to lead to a much larger bill as politicians keep kicking the can down the road until it becomes too big a failure to go unnoticed. Add the endemic corruption in Wayne County and Detroit, with its sorry legacy of diverting water and sewer funding (including payments form the suburban communities around Detroit) into a slush fund for political patronage and the problem gets even worse. The longer we wait to fix the issues and defer the needed maintenance, the more expensive it gets and the higher the consequences when failure inevitably happens.

The historic lack of spending on infrastructure in this area is unconscionable even as its understandable for politicians to spend money on more shiny and visible things for their constituents and to buy their votes and feather their own nests rather than on the necessary but not necessarily seen supports for decent civilized living. The consequences of the political misalignment of priorities are fast coming to a head and this should be seen as a wake-up call rather than an unexpected and unanticipated incident to be forgotten once the pipe is fixed.


MrGarabaldi said...

Hey Aaron;

We saw this a couple of years ago with the Flint water when it got turned into a race issue bu Obama to tag the republican governor when all the people in the Flint government were democrats. Infrastructure will get short supply because politicians are trying to win votes instead of handling the business. and yes our just in time delivery system works well unless there is a disruption and people don't allow for the disruptions because the basic need are not though of until they are not there anymore.

Eaton Rapids Joe said...

Another player on the field is the pension shortfall. Municipalities are forced to reduce the number of employees as "catch up" funding is diverted to paying for promises made decades ago.

How are taxpayers going to react when taxes keep increasing and services become, essentially, nonexistent? Likely they will vote with their feet.

Murphy's Law said...

Just wait and see what happens when the power goes out for good, the EBT cards stop working, and stores run out of stuff with no deliveries of new stuff in sight. You're living in the wrong area for that sort of situation.

Scott said...

This is where my Y2K mindset kicks in.

Yes, I thought it would be much worse than it actually was, but it also began to instill an independence mindset into my poor little brain. Thus we invested in a woodstove, large water reserves, stored food and food materials, and and gravity fed water filter. There are also small garden plots in the yard for fresh stuff and processable stuff. And various other options for lighting and cooking.

Even though Y2K was pretty much a bust, several years ago right around Christmas we had a snowstorm followed by an ice storm (or was it the other way around?). Trees down and power out all over the city, so no furnace and no lights. Our woodstove kept us at a cozy 70 degrees, and our kerosene lamps kept us lit up as well as adding significant BTU's to the room. We managed quite nicely where others were in a panic sitting in their freezing, dark houses waiting for the power to come back on.

Additionally, running that woodstove all winter saves a considerable amount on the gas bill every year.

So, some level of prepping, even in suburbia, is possible and even desirable, and doesn't have to be all that apparent. And with the increasing mania about "sustainability" and "green power", some solar panels on the outside of your house can be a status symbol instead of a cause for mocking. And at some point, you'll be glad you did it, as we were.

Now, you probably won't have the feral chicken population to supply some of your food needs like Murphy does :), but a propane campstove and some mason jars full of yummy soups, carrots, green beans, and other things you like can be mighty comforting as you face a northern winter.