The Boston Burst Aftermath
Over the past few days, the city of Boston has been experiencing what was described by many as a ‘state of emergency’. The water distribution to major parts of the city was cut for several days as a result of a large main break; parts of the city were flooded; the distribution backup system was declared unfit for drinking; supermarkets went out of stock on bottled water; and emergency services – such as hospital operations – were severely affected.
It is quite intriguing to follow the local and countrywide media coverage of this event. Newspapers provided the public with detailed technical explanations of what exactly went wrong, turning many civilians into quasi-experts on water distribution systems. Here, for example, is a quote from the Wall Street Journal:
There are no signs that massive flooding in recent months undermined the structural integrity of the pipe system or clamp.
It is highly unlikely bolts on the outside of the clamp rusted off – the device was only seven years old and Greater Boston soils are simply not that acidic.
The urge to explain to the public ‘what went wrong’ (and consequently – who to blame) drove some journalists into flooding the readers, viewers and listeners with technical information that did not matter much, as all people cared about was ‘when will we be able to drink water from the tap’.
A disaster of this magnitude raises many questions: Can such events be avoided? What is the real cost, or price, of a main break, and is anyone really being held accountable for the actual damages? The utility is certainly being looked upon as the culprit in this case, and an independent panel will investigate the break, but the aftermath of this event is likely to show that the only ones paying the full price in this case will be the residents of Boston. Quoting the Boston Globe:
State officials are hoping to avoid passing the cost of the repairs on to customers served by the MWRA. Patrick said yesterday he would not support a surcharge on ratepayers to pay for the fix.
Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.