How Open Competition can Improve Utility Sustainability and Public Safety

The following was originally published in the November 2018, U.S. Conference of Mayors Newsletter.

Cost-Effective Infrastructure Investments: How Open Competition Can Improve Utility Sustainability and Public Safety

By: Bruce Hollands, Executive Director of the Uni-Bell PVC Pipe Association

Waiting for Congress to act with the hope that grants will be available to renew the nation’s 54,000 regulated drinking water systems, and 16,000 regulated sewer systems is risky. While increased federal aid to cities is desirable, it is not necessary to begin to improve the financial sustainability of these public utilities. Currently, underground infrastructure consists of three million plus miles of water distribution and sewer collection pipes in America. A considerable portion of pipes are aging, at or beyond their design life, and are increasingly subject to performance impairment and/or failure. Repair and replacement along with new construction is a critical (growing and recurring) cost driver. Closed procurement practices stifle competition among pipe materials and rote reliance on preferential pipe materials has the effect of raising the price point at a time when scarce public resources are available. Competitive bidding among different pipe materials has been demonstrated to yield cost-savings and meet service and safety expectations.

Water and Sewer Infrastructure Investment Needs

Communities struggle to raise the funds needed to provide continuous, high-quality service to the public. Utility rates have increased 5.7 per cent annually over the past five years, outpacing average annual inflation of 1.9 per cent. Rates are expected to continue falling short of reinvestment needs. Federal construction grants reached a peak of $9 billion in 1976, when local government invested an additional $11 plus billion. Today Congress grants roughly $2 billion a year to State Revolving Loan Programs which is subsequently distributed to local government in the form of low interest loans, and this low level of support forces cities to turn to tax exempt bonds for construction. In 2015 local government invested $118 billion in water and sewer. Despite ever-increasing public spending on water and sewer infrastructure the list of public safety concerns continues to grow (e.g., climate change, algal blooms, storm water control). Cost-savings, therefore, are critical to achieve sustainable systems and services.

Efficiencies are Possible Now with Competitive Pipe Investment

There may never be enough money available to upgrade the entire water and sewer inventory, but local government continues to invest annually using rate revenues as well as long-term borrowing. Pipe investments represent 60 percent of the total investment needed to upgrade our underground infrastructure, it is here that open procurement practices can be focused to achieve cost-savings. Competition is a critical prerequisite to achieve improved cost structures and system performance. Piping materials which meet current standards and technical specifications should be included in water and sewer projects. Alternative pipe materials have been developed to improve performance and extend system design life. Savings accrue from less replacement and repair of more resilient pipe materials. The toll in pipe breakage related to iron pipes in corrosive soils (which affect 75 percent of utilities) is driving consideration of alternative pipe materials, but, as stated in a USCM 2013 report, “Closed procurement processes lead to unnecessary costs, and may diminish the public’s confidence in a local government’s ability to provide cost-effective services.”

Questioning Closed Procurement Policies

Outdated procurement specifications effectively exclude safer, more durable and more affordable materials like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes from participating in municipal bids. A study by the Water Research Foundation quantified the life expectancy of PVC pipe at more than 110 years – making it ideal for long-term asset management. Utah State University’s Buried Structures Laboratory reports that PVC pipe has the lowest break rate of all pipe materials and a service life in excess of 100 years. In Europe, dig ups and testing after 70 years of use confirm that PVC pipe will last in excess of 170 years. In US Mayor former USCM Water Council Co-Chair, Pleasanton (CA) Mayor Jennifer Hosterman wrote that her community not only found PVC pipe more durable but also 70 percent less expensive than ductile iron pipe.

Livermore (CA) Mayor John Marchand, a former drinking water chemist, not only praises the performance benefits of PVC pipe, but also lauds its ability to better protect water quality compared to other materials. Dr. Lok Pokhrel, Toxicologist at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA says that the best way to avoid Legionella outbreaks is for utilities to switch to PVC pipes, which don’t release iron (which provides a food source for pathogens) when exposed to corrosive water. It makes little sense for cities to deny their residents the health benefits open bidding can deliver. And competition drives down costs. A recent report by Massachusetts-based BCC Research compared the cost of pipe replacement in cities with open bidding processes versus cities with closed competition. The study found that communities with open competition enjoyed lower pipe cost, on average, for water main installation or replacement projects, reaching average savings of 27% for 8-inch pipe and 34% for 12- inch pipe, or up to $114,000 per mile of pipe, compared with municipalities with closed competition. Significantly, the researchers found that competitive bidding lowers the cost for ductile iron pipe by up to 30 percent.

Sixty-six percent of water supply pipes in the U.S. are 8-inches or smaller. Nationally, using PVC instead of ductile iron pipe in this size range could save $21 billion in pumping costs over 100 years. If PVC were used instead of HDPE pipe, $37 billion could be saved.

Based on all the available evidence, PVC pipe provides affordability as well as environmental and public health benefits for use in a variety of underground infrastructure applications, including life cycle cost advantages and the opportunity to substantially reduce GHGs compared to other materials, enabling communities to more effectively meet their sustainable infrastructure goals.

More: U.S. Conference of Mayors Newsletter, November 2018

U.S. Conference of Mayors Releases New Report on How Competitive Bidding Can Help Nation’s Troubled Water Infrastructure

Washington, DC—As the nation’s aging infrastructure continues to threaten water systems as well as the country’s health and economic vitality, a new report released today by the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) shows how cities could potentially save billions of dollars over the next 10 years.  The report examines the daunting challenges cities face with replacing hundreds of thousands of miles of aging and failing pipes, which are the single costliest water and sewer capital investment.  By changing the competitive bidding process, the report shows that the country could save an estimated $20.5 billion for drinking water and $22.3 billion for storm water in pipe material costs alone.

Water Main Break Rates In the USA and Canada: A Comprehensive Study


"The economic prosperity of modern cities is based on a complex infrastructure network located both above and below ground. A critical component to public health and economic well-being is our drinking water which is brought to the tap through an elaborate network of underground pipe distribution systems. Since most of this infrastructure is underground, it is out of sight and often neglected. Empirical data on water main breaks helps utilities in their repair and replacement decision making processes in order to deliver clean drinking water to their customers at an affordable price. This report documents the survey results of water main breaks and operating characteristics at utilities located in the USA and Canada. A similar survey was conducted by Utah State University approximately six years ago and published in 2012 (Folkman, 2012). This 2018 report references this previous study to compare and examine changes over time and discuss the importance of water main break data in the context of water asset management planning."

Read the full study:

Dismantling Iron Pipe’s Monopoly Will Benefit Consumers

 Source: AP

Source: AP

By Richard Doyle
November 17, 2017

As outside temperatures fall, we will soon see a predictable rise in the number of iron pipe water main breaks across our nation. The looming water infrastructure debate in Congress will be vital in addressing that problem, as Members will decide how to address our nation’s corroding iron pipe water system. Fortunately, when it comes to determining the best material to replace what’s now underground, lawmakers will base those decisions on the facts – not on the claims of iron pipe surrogates, posturing as independent thought leaders, advancing the industry’s monopolistic agenda.

Iron water pipes are failing our nation at an alarming rate. And that’s no surprise, because iron pipe – particularly today’s ductile iron pipe – simply isn’t built to last. According to the American Water Works Association (AWWA), ductile iron pipes with the thinnest walls (representing the majority of metallic pipes sold) in moderately corrosive soils have a life expectancy of only 11-14 years. That’s significant, since corrosive soils affect 75 percent of utilities in North America.

Read the full article here:

Rebuilding American Infrastructure: Utilizing Lifecycle Data To Evaluate The Environmental Impact Of Piping Systems

 Corroded iron pipe samples from Flint, MI.

Corroded iron pipe samples from Flint, MI.

By Tad Radzinski

In 2017, America's aging piping infrastructure, corroded piping systems, and water quality concerns are at the forefront. Examples like Flint, MI, have engineers and policymakers working to design piping systems that excel in longevity, durability, and cost-effectiveness. The controversy and magnitude of this national problem has resulted in many false claims and complicated solutions from competing piping manufacturers, leaving engineers and municipalities unsure of what solution will work best for their infrastructure needs.

Throughout North America, many infrastructure standards and building codes are now integrating lifecycle thinking into guidelines and specifications, asking the question, what is the true impact of the products we use to build our nation? When analyzing water piping systems, we ask the same question: What are the environment and cost impacts over the entire lifecycle of the piping system? Lifecycle thinking is considering all stages of a product’s lifecycle — from raw materials to end-of-life disposal — in order to fully comprehend a product’s environmental impact. In our “take-make-waste” society, we do not often consider the impacts of the materials we use in day-to-day life, nor the costs associated with resource extraction, energy use over the life of the system, disposal, water pollution, or emissions. Understanding the lifecycle impacts of a product can help design teams to identify sustainability and cost goals; spot problems and solutions that may have gone unnoticed; and design the piping system that fits the specific needs of the community.

Read the full article here:

Anti-PVC comments distort the facts

PVC has grown to become one of the most popular materials on the market today. And for good reason: It's one of the safest, most durable, cost-effective and innovative materials ever created. From the credit cards we use, the cars we drive, the homes we occupy and the places we work; PVC has revolutionized the way consumer and building products are made in the modern era.

PVC has revolutionized the material marketplace for more than 60 years. And given its remarkable success, it's no surprise would-be PVC competitors would throw their hat in the ring, develop alternative materials and promote those products to see how the marketplace would respond.

And they have absolutely every right to do so. But they don't have the right to disparage PVC in the process and mislead the public with inaccurate and potentially libelous claims about PVC when hawking their own product lines.

Read the full article here:

Let’s fix our underground water infrastructure through open competition

Let’s fix our underground water infrastructure through open competition

By Ellen Troxclair,  June 16, 2017

Like so many other people across the nation, I was horrified by the water contamination crisis that struck Flint, Michigan. As an elected official who bears direct responsibility for maintaining the integrity of my city’s drinking water system, I ask myself: What can be done to keep this from happening in my community?

Flint has taught us that we cannot be complacent. Providing clean and affordable drinking water requires diligence that nips problems in the bud as soon as they are spotted, as well as the foresight to upgrade water systems before they deteriorate to the point that they threaten public health.

Underground pipes account for 60 percent of the cost of maintaining our water systems. It is here that we need to focus our attention and our resources, because we have thousands of miles of leaking, corroded, underground iron water pipes that if not replaced in a timely fashion will trigger the next Flint disaster in an unsuspecting community.

Read the full article here:

Congress: Save taxpayers money by protecting open competition

Congress: Save taxpayers money by protecting open competition


Infrastructure will soon take center stage on Capitol Hill. And lawmakers will begin to earmark funding for states to replace our nation’s aging and deteriorating iron pipe system, to ensure the delivery of safe drinking water for the next 100 years, or more.

Fortunately, advancements in water piping technology have occurred in recent decades – and only one replacement material, PVC pipe, has been reliably proven, after peer review, to last more than a century. But unless Congress takes action to enact a national bidding process, taxpayers all across the country will continue to subsidize the ductile iron pipe industry by allowing some states to block PVC pipe from consideration.

Why? Because the Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association (DIPRA) has been campaigning hard to pressure states to protect the current restriction on PVC pipe as a possible material choice, and close bidding to competing materials that could threaten the iron pipe industry’s monopoly. DIPRA has unleashed a multi-state lobbying effort in hopes of excluding PVC pipe, out of fear PVC pipe will continue to disrupt iron pipe’s monopoly over the marketplace.

Read full article here:

Study Examines Environmental Impacts, Safety and Costs of Nation’s Drinking Water Pipes

June 20, 2017
CONTACT: Justin Finnegan 646-756-3711 or

Study Examines Environmental Impacts, Safety and Costs of Nation’s Drinking Water Pipes

DALLAS — The Uni-Bell PVC Pipe Association (PVCPA), which represents U.S. and Canadian manufacturers of PVC pipe, announced the completion of the first comprehensive environmental and performance review of water and sewer pipes in North America. The study used life cycle assessment methodology to evaluate the cradle-to-grave sustainability of commonly used drinking water and sewer pipe materials, including polyvinylchloride (PVC), concrete, ductile iron, and high density polyethylene pipes over a 100-year service period.

Sustainable Solutions Corporation (SSC), a sustainability consulting firm, was hired by PVCPA to conduct the study. SSC's engineers used the ISO 14040 series life cycle assessment (LCA) standards from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to evaluate PVC pipe’s environmental footprint. The peer-reviewed report also examines other pipe products based on durability, performance and environmental data and statistics when available.

"The PVC pipe industry is the only pipe material that has transparently reported their sustainability and environmental impacts," said SSC President Tad Radzinski. "This is welcome information for both policy makers and utility professionals to make fully informed decisions in their efforts to improve underground infrastructure with sustainable products."

The report contains a robust set of data utility officials and engineers can use for their asset management plans and life cycle cost assessments for water and sewer piping. The 100-year LCA methodology also helps utilities assess and minimize water quality risks, as well as reduce operations, maintenance and repair costs. More than 200 sources and studies were examined to provide the most up-to-date and thorough industry review of the health, safety, performance characteristics, and sustainability attributes of the different pipe materials available.

“This study provides critical information for federal, state and local policy makers as they look to modern piping materials to help rebuild the nation’s crumbling underground infrastructure. Clean water was identified as a high priority by President Trump and this report confirms that safer, more cost-effective and more durable PVC pipe is key to upgrading America’s drinking water and wastewater systems,” said PVCPA Executive Director Bruce Hollands.

Some of the key findings from the study include:

  • When evaluating the sustainability of piping products for life cycle design, it is important to understand and review the life cycle impacts of all materials used in the piping system, including replacements, support materials, corrosion mitigation, maintenance efforts and water quality treatments required during the service life of pipes.
  • Based on more than 60 years of field experience, dig ups, laboratory testing, and given its immunity to corrosion and low break rate, a service life in excess of 100 years was confirmed for PVC pipe.
  • PVC does not serve as nutrient for bacterial growth and pathogens. 
  • Keeping pipes in use past their useful service lives results in higher operating and maintenance costs. Internal pipe wall degradation may begin almost immediately after ductile iron and concrete pipes are installed.
  • Traditional definitions of pipe service life should be re-evaluated. For much of the time that iron and concrete pipes are considered “in service,” they in fact are not, since they often do not perform as designed. For a good portion of the time they are in use, iron and concrete pipes are prone to breaks, water loss and water quality issues, as well as higher maintenance and operating costs due to corrosion, which significantly affects pumping efficiency.
  • PVC pipe is a low initial cost option and provides long-term savings because of its superior pumping efficiency, corrosion resistance and longevity.
  • Metallic and concrete pipes require chemical additives (phosphates) in the drinking water to help reduce pipe wall corrosion. Phosphates increase the chances of biogrowth (such as algae blooms) in drinking water sources, lakes and rivers.
  • Ductile iron pipe produces up to nine times more carbon emissions during raw materials processing, manufacturing, transportation and installation than equivalent PVC pipe.
  • 66% of water supply pipes in the U.S. are 8-inches or smaller. Nationally, using PVC instead of ductile iron pipe in this size range could save $21 billion in pumping costs over 100 years. If PVC were used instead of HDPE pipe, $37 billion could be saved.
  • Water and wastewater utilities often represent as much as 40% of a municipality’s total energy consumption. The energy required to pump water through a pressurized pipe system over the life of the pipe is a significant source of potential environmental impacts.
  • The energy required to pump water through PVC pipe over a 100-year design life remains constant because its smooth walls do not roughen over time. This generates overall life cycle cost savings compared to ductile iron and concrete pipes that require more pumping energy over time due to corrosion, leaks and internal degradation.
  • Corrosive soils affect 75% of water utilities. The durability and corrosion resistance of a pipe greatly affects life cycle impacts. Ductile iron pipe may last as little as 11-14 years in moderately corrosive soils, requiring numerous replacements over 100 years.
  • For equivalent 8-inch pipes, it takes up to 54% more energy to pump water through ductile iron (DI) pipes than through PVC pipes, and 100% more energy to pump water through polyethylene (HDPE) pipes than PVC pipes.
  • Of the competing pipe materials, including iron, concrete, and HDPE pipes, PVC pipe is the most favorable alternative when considering the products’ energy consumption and carbon footprint from cradle-to-grave in a public water system.
  • Recycled material is only a single attribute of a pipe’s life cycle environmental impacts. For example, more energy is required to process the recycled metals to manufacture ductile iron pipe than in PVC pipe production. As well, producing iron pipe with recycled scrap iron emits more toxins than pipe made from virgin iron ore.

To view the report, including the full set of key findings and its methodology, click here

“The federal government is committed to spending $1 trillion to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure, yet it’s estimated that $2 trillion is needed for new water and sewer pipes alone,” said Hollands. “Since PVC pipe can be up to 70 % less expensive than iron pipe, lasts longer with greater pumping efficiency, it’s the best choice to replace America’s drinking water systems.”

The Life Cycle Assessment of PVC Water and Sewer Pipe and Comparative Sustainability Analysis of Pipe Materials report also makes reference to the 2015 Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) for PVC Pipe, which complies with ISO 14025 standards and was independently certified by global health organization NSF International.

“This study shows that PVC pipe is the safest pipe material available. Water utilities aren’t sacrificing safety, longevity, or system performance when they choose PVC pipe—in fact, they are getting the biggest bang for their buck when they do,” said Hollands.

Based on the results of this study, PVC pipe provides a competitive environmental and economic advantage for its use in a variety of water and sewer infrastructure projects, including life cycle cost advantages and the opportunity to substantially reduce GHGs compared to other materials. PVC pipe addresses affordability concerns and enables communities to work towards meeting their sustainable infrastructure goals because of its durability, low break rate, corrosion resistance and long-lasting performance.

The Uni-Bell PVC Pipe Association ( is a non-profit organization that serves the engineering, regulatory, public health and standardization communities. The PVC pipe represented in the study is manufactured in the U.S. and Canada for drinking water, sanitary sewer, and storm sewer piping covering the 4” to 60” rigid PVC pipe market, uses a tin-based stabilizer, and does not contain phthalates, lead, or cadmium. PVC pipe producers contribute in excess of $14 billion to the U.S. economy and support over 25,000 jobs.

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DIPRA Century Club Member Defects to PVC Pipe

The Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association (DIPRA) proudly promotes what it calls the “Century Club,” members of which are cities across America that have used iron pipe for more than 100 years.  

But we were curious what happens when Century Club cities determine, correctly, that PVC pipe is the better choice, both in terms of reliability and affordability. We couldn’t help but wonder – does DIPRA revoke their Club membership?

Nofolk, VA may soon know the answer.  A local news outlet recently reported that the city’s investment to replace its iron pipe with PVC pipe is “paying off,” exhibited by the remarkable drop in pipe failures that have occurred this year.  According to Harry Kenyon, Management Services Administrator with Norfolk’s Department of Utilities:

"Generally when you get really cold weather like this and then it warms up it makes our pipes contract and expand and often times we'll see main breaks, so this time around we only saw four which is very good."

Kenyon added that there are 900 miles of pipe running under city streets.

"We've been working on infrastructure replacement. Replacing old cast-iron pipes, with PVC plastic pipes. And I think those improvements we're seeing the results of that, so we're seeing fewer main breaks."

For once, we agree with DIPRA – Norfolk, VA is indeed a great example to follow when choosing the best materials available to support our nation’s water infrastructure. 

RealClearPolicy Op-Ed on PVC Pipe

Plastic Pipe Is Key to Water Infrastructure

By Richard Doyle
December 20, 2016

As our next administration and Congress grapple with the challenge of improving our nation’s deteriorating water infrastructure, they should keep one fact in mind. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe is the safest and most durable and affordable material available today to replace our aging underground systems and serve the interests of U.S. taxpayers.

PVC pipe costs less, and lasts longer, than iron pipe. The foremost experts on pipe durability have confirmed it. City officials in Pleasanton, California, have validated it, noting that ductile iron pipe is 70 percent more expensive than PVC pipe. PVC pipe failures are “extremely rare” — and Burton, Michigan, is saving over $2 million by replacing dilapidated iron pipe with efficient, high-performance PVC. It is lead-free and has been certified by the National Sanitation Foundation International for safe water delivery (the same standards the Environmental Protection Agency adopted for its own drinking water advisory programs back in 1990). 

Iron pipe, by contrast, is prone to corrosion, and the resulting bacteria buildup can affect the quality of drinking water. As iron pipe corrodes, its useful life is reduced and can lead to premature failures and costly leaks and repairs. The iron pipe industry now makes available ductile iron pipe, which corrodes even more quickly than traditional iron pipe, due to the material’s thinner walls, leading to increased breakage and loss of water. 

Read the full article > 

Washington Examiner Op-Ed on PVC Pipes

The slow, inevitable fall of iron pipe's monopoly

By RICHARD DOYLE • 11/2/16 12:01 AM

Iron water pipes were installed underground years ago because, at the time, it was one of the only materials that could do the job. But now these pipes are failing at an alarming rate, causing insufferable disruptions to our everyday lives.

Fortunately, innovative materials such as PVC pipe exist today that are more durable and affordable, and can bring our water infrastructure well into the 22nd Century. But in a desperate attempt to protect its monopoly, the iron pipe industry is engaging in a campaign of lies and distortions about our industry.

The fear of losing control over the market has become so real that the iron pipe lobby is now trying to ban PVC pipe from consideration in cities across America, a move that would restrict competition and severely impact taxpayers.

Read the Full Article >

The Real Story about DIPRA’s Century Club


The Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association (DIPRA), a trade group, likes to call attention to select cities in America that have used cast iron pipes for 100 years. But it’s well known these pipes expire well short of the century mark, requiring high operating costs and expensive maintenance due to corrosion and water main breaks. DIPRA equates the ‘longevity’ of these pipes to ductile iron ones - which are thinner, even less durable, and have an even shorter lifespan than cast iron. A 2011 report by the American Water Works Association found that thin-walled metallic pipes in moderately corrosive soils have a life expectancy of only 11-14 years. The finding is significant considering that 75 percent of all water utilities operate in corrosive soil conditions. But a closer look at the pipe problems many of these cities have experienced, which are often closed to competition from corrosion-proof PVC, makes us wonder why these “century cities” are lauded by DIPRA …  


Iron in drinking water may pose more health risks than federal water regulators currently acknowledge.

Marc Edwards, an environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech, says that iron may have played a critical role in the Flint lead-contamination crisis, according to WWL-TV. 


Edwards helped uncover the severity of the lead crisis in Flint. He explained to WWL-TV how iron can have a negative impact on the water system. 

“[Iron] increases the leaching of lead into the water,” Edwards said. 

“While the iron itself won't likely make people sick, Edwards says high iron in the water can remove disinfectants like chlorine, allowing harmful bacteria to grow. Bacteria like legionella, which causes Legionnaire’s Disease. That's what Edwards said he believes may have happened in Flint,” the report said. 

Closed Bidding Increases Costs, Says OH Home Builders Assn

Vince Squillace, Executive Vice President of the Ohio Home Builders Association, to the Ohio House Energy and Natural Resources Committee: “[R]estricting what products can be utilized notably increases the cost of projects, and further, prevents communities from determining what material makes the most sense. Replacing arbitrary restrictions with the ability to propose use of alternative materials meeting specified standards opens up competition, and thus a more efficient use of funds.” EndFragment 


Hon. Jon Russell, "Is the local, state and federal government going to just replace the iron pipes with new iron pipes? Or are they going to open up the bidding process to fair and competitive bidding to include a variety of piping materials, which will allow the best quality and best-priced piping material to replace the old?”