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2014年8月23日 (土)

水道老朽化 ライフラインの危機は深刻だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Steadily renew aging waterworks to maintain vital lifelines for nation
水道老朽化 ライフラインの危機は深刻だ

Superannuated waterworks must be steadily renewed to maintain vital lifelines for the nation.

Municipalities cannot avoid the task of replacing aging water supply facilities.

The nation’s water service facilities were built during intensive construction from the 1950s to the ’70s. Almost all of them have been operated by local governments and public corporations.

Their service life is set at 40 years under the law, but in actuality it is not rare for water pipes to see continued use for 50 to 60 years due to delays in repair work.

Water pipes installed about 50 years ago burst in various districts of the country in June. In Otsu, tap water supplies to 12,000 households became muddy, while in Kitakyushu sidewalks caved in as underground soil was washed away by the water that leaked from ruptured pipes.

To prevent such problems, it is essential to systematically repair and renew facilities.

According to a white paper on water resources compiled by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry in August, the current annual renewal costs for waterworks nationwide are slightly less than ¥800 billion. However, this figure is expected to balloon to more than ¥1 trillion 15 years from now as superannuation progresses further.

In contrast, the amount that municipalities can spend on renewing facilities is expected to decline, as revenues from water rates will fall due to a decline in the population. In about 10 years, it will become impossible for them to raise the funds necessary for renewal.

Shortage of funds, manpower

Some water utilities with weaker finances, such as those in underpopulated areas, will no longer be able to maintain their facilities and will find it difficult to continue operations without help.

It is necessary to enhance the efficiency and reinforce the foundations of their operations, through such measures as introducing systems in which neighboring municipalities integrate their water supply operations to achieve service over a wide area.

Local governments and residents must seriously examine how to secure fiscal resources to renew waterworks.

There have been moves to increase water rates to make up for fund shortages. The Mito municipal government decided on a 7.9 percent rate hike in April, while the Chichibu municipal government in Saitama Prefecture announced a plan in May to raise rates by a whopping 17.5 percent.

Rate hikes will deal a blow to residents’ livelihoods. Efforts must be made to limit their financial burdens as much as possible.

Municipalities must maintain a clear, detailed grasp of their facilities’ superannuation and carry out repair work efficiently. Detailed inspection and maintenance work will likely help prolong the life of facilities.

Another concern is the difficulty securing sufficient manpower. The number of local government employees and others in charge of water supply services has dropped by about 30 percent in the past 15 years. The shortage of experienced technicians is particularly serious, making it difficult to deal with the superannuation of facilities.

The use of information technology in inspections must also be widely adopted.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 22, 2014)


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