Infrastructure and Today’s Drinking Water

By Maury D. Gaston, chairman of the Alabama and Steel Council

Last week was National Drinking Water Week and this week is National Infrastructure week. Both are set aside to highlight the essential role of drinking water and the nation’s infrastructure in our society and economy. Infrastructure invokes visions of expansive roads, arching bridges, picturesque railroads, and modern airports. But what’s underground and not seen is an expansive infrastructure network of transmission and distribution piping to get our drinking water from its source, purified, and to our tap – quietly, economically, and efficiently. How did we get to such a wonderful place?

Municipal water systems are a more recent development than many realize. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, workers and their families moved from rural areas, and cities grew to support the factories driving the Industrial Revolution. Many got their water from a well in the backyard and used a nearby outhouse in the same back yard. Water borne disease was common, and it was not unusual for cities to lose tens of thousands to fevers and other water borne diseases, especially in hot summers. Visionary leaders in various locales across the country 150 to 120 years ago saw the need and the resultant benefits of municipal water systems.

As result, clean water is the greatest advancement in public health in the history of the world. We see clean water ministries and initiatives around the world today and they are worthy of our support. We take for granted here in America that our tap has clean and pure water safe to drink, cook, and bathe. And while the price we pay for this precious and necessary component of our lives is moving toward the cost to provide it, it remains the greatest value in our budgets.

When these municipal water systems were built, options were few, and cast iron was the pipe material of choice – supplied largely by Birmingham iron foundries. The advent of ductile iron pipe in the late 1940s enhanced the already strong, durable properties of the metal and ensured iron pipe would remain a leading pipe material in the rapidly changing market of pipe products. Many water pipe materials have come and most have gone, but iron pipe remains as solid and dependable as ever, providing clean drinking water to our city, state, and nation.

Today, Birmingham, Alabama, remains the ductile iron pipe manufacturing capital of America, and the Alabama Iron and Steel Council is proud to salute our ductile iron members and the products they manufacture to build the world’s safest and most sustainable drinking water systems. Iron pipe – it’s what America is built on.

Today’s modern ductile iron pipe continues to be a proven, safe, resilient, and sustainable asset for delivering drinking water.

Maury D. Gaston is chairman of the Alabama Iron and Steel Council, a council of Manufacture Alabama. He is a mechanical engineering graduate of Auburn University, 37-year water industry veteran, and manager of Marketing Services for AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe.