Aging sewer lines could create service disruptions and turn us all into ‘les miserables.’

January 16, 2012 | Author: | Posted in Dr. Jeffrey Lant’s Article Archive

The great sewers of Paris.

by Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s program note. Quick! Can you name a hugely popular Broadway musical which partly takes place in the ancient, fetid sewers of Paris? That would be Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1980 mega-hit “Les Miserables”, a tale of love, fate, comradeship… and of the spirit of freedom and liberty that cannot be crushed and obliterated, no matter how many Inspector Javerts are set to the task.

The musical, of course, is based on the celebrated book by Victor Hugo (published in 1862). Hugo was a master story teller, a man able to get in your head and etch impressions that would last a lifetime. Here is his description of the great sewers of Paris…

“… Paris has another Paris under herself; a Paris of sewers; which has its streets, its crossings, its squares, its blind alleys, its arteries, and its circulation, which is slime, minus the human form.”

And so a great artist sketches the terrain for the words that will arise and grab you by the throat, forcing you to look, taking you where you do not want to go… but will go… where you will see things you never saw… in a place you hoped to avoid but which you must now confront… such is the mastery of this man and his vision.

The sad thing is, Hugo only wrote about the sewers of Paris… because every sewer system in the world needs his help to get people to focus on the crumbling lines within their midst, systems we never, ever think about but which are essential, absolutely essential, to our way of life.

How essential? Well, consider this: sewer and water systems, inextricably linked, 2 sides of the same coin, give us the water we drink, the toilets we flush, the H2O that runs factories, keeps offices open and enables firemen to do their dangerous, essential work. Therefore, when sewer systems fail cities cannot function, and epidemics break out. Thus, the importance of sewers and the water systems with which they are connected could scarcely be greater. Which is why their deterioration constitutes a problem of the first magnitude.

If this is so… and it most assuredly is… why do we hear nothing about this subject… why has nary a presidential candidate, or the president himself, offered a single word, or any concern, about the matter? For make no mistake about it, sewers are terra incognita for all, never, ever mentioned, much less discussed in what was once called “polite society”… Why is that anyway?

Sewers immediately conjure up images that no one except the few professionals involved in their efficient operation wants to consider. For the bulk of us, sewers are dark, creepy places, full of stinks and disgust which no “nice” person wants to know about, much less think about and discuss. They are the places where the colossal stench of mankind is somehow dealt with, without any bother at all to the rest of us. This is, of course, a prescription for disaster, the disaster that comes closer and closer as the systems on which our lives are based grow old and perilous.

“All the big cities have these problems, and to me it’s the unseen catastrophe,” says George Hawkins, general manager of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority. “At least with bridges or a road, people have some idea of what it is because they drive on them and see them.” But with our crucial but aging sewer system, it’s out of sight, out of mind…

How big is this problem?

The plain fact is, the vast majority of the country’s water systems are in urgent need of repair and replacement. At a recent Senate hearing, it was estimated that, on average, 25 percent of drinking water leaks from water system pipes before reaching the faucet. The same committee was told it will take some $335 billion to resurrect water systems and $300 billion more to fix sewer systems.

These numbers are staggering, unimaginable, and have absolutely no chance of realization. My fellow countrymen, you see, reckon thus: if we don’t know about it, never discuss it, and make a concerted effort to ignore it, this problem, by definition, doesn’t exist and need never disturb our slumbers… no matter how many Senate and House panels and commissions composed of cadres of experts weigh in on the matter. Ignorant we are, and ignorant we intend to remain.

Just as we are ignorant about and intend to stay ignorant about the other aspects of our crumbling infrastructure where experts now reckon we need at least the $7 trillion it will cost to restore and repair roads, bridges, aviation, and transit in the next decade alone. Here, too, we have collectively decided to know little, do less… hoping against hope our increasingly inadequate systems will at least last our time and so become yet another essential thing we can blithely leave our hapless children and their staggering must-do list. We can only hope they’ll forgive us as they get bill after bill drawn on their inadequate accounts.

The need is pressing… the concern casual… the sense of immediacy and a need for prompt and thorough action non-existent. This being the case, what can we lotus-eaters, practitioners all of la dolce far niente expect, since we are adamant in our refusal to see?

Well here for openers is a pocketful of jarring thoughts:

* without necessary, overdue repairs to the system, water prices will experience constant increases;

* without necessary, overdue repairs, about 900 billion gallons of raw sewage will flow into waterways, spreading sickness and disgust;

* without necessary, overdue repairs over a trillion gallons of water a year will leak from pipes no longer up to the job.

Contact the water man.

“People count on turning on the faucet and having clean water come out,” says Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-Maryland), chairman of the subcommittee on water, “but that’s not true anymore.” Worse, without prompt, thorough, comprehensive action it may never be true again. Are you helpless in the face of this impending crisis? Certainly not.

Write Senator Cardin in Washington. Let him know you support the need for action and action now and want to be kept up-to-date on proposed reforms and their progress. If every reader of this article did this small thing, it would empower the senator in his important work and help the repairs and reforms we must have.

Then go to any search engine. Find Susan Boyle’s magnificent rendition of “I Dreamed A Dream” from “Les Miserables”; hers is a voice that makes you believe dreams are important and can come true:

“There was a time when men were kind./ When their voices were soft/ And their words inviting./ There was a time when love was blind/ And the world was a song/ And the song was exciting/There was a time/ Then it all went wrong…”

Then consider this. No matter how wrong things went before, that will be as nothing when compared to the day that dawns without water and with an ocean of sewage submerging our land and everyone in it with filth. That disgusting day is drawing nigh and quickly, too, and if we do not act, this couplet from “Les Miserables” will be our fate:

“I had a dream my life would be/So different from this hell I’m living,” a hell where Susan Boyle’s voice might be the last sweetness on Earth.

**** Your thoughts on this article are invited, submit them below.

About the Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today. Details at


This author has published 407 articles so far. More info about the author is coming soon.

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