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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Towards a national infrastructure strategy: water distribution systems : a case study Boras, Randall James

Abstract

Treated water distribution systems in North America represent a major component of the physical infrastructure in dire need of closer attention by the regulatory bodies, local, regional and national governments, and the public in general. The problems identified by the media over the past decade have been limited to pictures of collapsing or deteriorating pipes. The real problems run much deeper. Reduced government funding over the years, changing public priorities, and a lack of comprehensive information required to accurately define the problems have plagued the overall management of water systems in Canada and the United States. This thesis provides an overview to municipal water distribution systems in Canada, investigating not only the physical processes responsible for the deterioration of such systems, but the historical impetus associated with the development of such systems, the physical profile of the systems unique within Canada, the changing social environment surrounding aged systems, and the real costs associated with repairing worn out systems. Existing historical information is gathered from a variety of sources to profile the Canadian systems. Research by governments and lobby groups, especially the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, is reviewed and summarized. Technical information and current techniques for managing individual water systems are also reviewed. The information is then sysnthesized into a number of policy suggestions aimed at effective solutions to the current crisis and reviewed within the context of a small community in Greater Vancouver. There is no single magic formula to solving the problems, but rather a wide and varied combination of improvements which must be made over the broad spectrum of water distribution system management. National, provincial, and local bodies are all involved to some degree in the management decisions and all could utilize more effective management techniques which focus on better implementing already available technologies rather than developing new technologies. Rehabilitation decisions must be based on sound principles aimed at effectively protecting public interests, rather than techniques which are often geared more to the availability of grants rather than the actual condition of the pipes. Information important to the decision making process must, however, not be restricted to the decision makers. Polls have shown that public interest and concern over drinking water issues is typically very low, and is only heightened by crisis-type situations. This was very evident in the recent federal election, where suggestions by the Liberal party to implement an infrastructure program were often met by ridicule and cynicism, considered as opportunistic spending aimed only at securing the votes of the unemployed, rather than any legitimate concern for public health or economic benefit. In recent months the Liberal party has formed the new federal government and has committed an infrastructure program, having set aside $2 billion to solving what may now be a $30 billion infrastructure problem in Canada. To maintain the public faith and to assure these limited funds are used effectively, there is a real need for improved policies. This thesis will endeavour to provide the basic framework for a national policy to better manage the present and the future of the conduits which carry the gift of human life through our towns and cities - good, wholesome, clean, drinking water.

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