Get Used To It, South Florida: Pipe Breaks are Only Going to Get Worse

Age and decay are behind a string of water and sewer failures. Expect more in the future.

A Christmas-Eve water-line rupture that left 200,000 Broward County, Fla., residents without water was but the latest example of South Florida's unreliable, aging underground infrastructure.

It’s become an issue in Fort Lauderdale, Oakland Park and Wilton Manors — all cities that were affected by the Christmas Eve water line break. It’s become a smelly issue in parts of Hollywood, where a November sewer main rupture sent millions of gallons of raw sewage into a neighborhood and canal. In Miramar, even pipe replacements have proved contentious, as residents of eastern Miramar say a year-long $4 million sewer project has caused flooding so bad that streets become miniature lakes when it rains. Fort Lauderdale’s system also experienced a sewer break in October near the Harbor Shoppes on Cordova Road — a break that sent a reeking mess into the roadway and surrounding parking lot.

The problem is replacing underground pipes — some of them dating back to the 1940s or 1950s — isn’t unique to South Florida. The federal government’s stimulus bill contained millions of dollars for Florida water and sewer improvements, but the sheer magnitude of the upgrades needed means that local governments often have to foot most of the bill themselves. Money for system repairs typically comes from the water and sewer rates paid by utility customers.

(More on failing Florida water infrastructure . . . )