Blog  /  April 2017  /  Drought and Aged Infrastructure on America’s Northeastern Tip

Blog Post Teaser

New England is situated at the northeastern tip of the United States, bordered by the Atlantic on its eastern edge and New York to its west. Settled early, New England is historic and rich with culture. The region consists of six small states: New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, the most populated state. Vermont is the least populated, Maine constitutes almost half of the region and lastly, Rhode Island has the claim of smallest state in the continental U.S.  The region typically experiences heavy precipitation and long, cold winters. The geology of the region is variable, consisting of lakes, hills, marshes, wetlands, and beaches.


According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the region is unfortunately facing its worst drought in several decades. Some states in the region receiving only half of their standard annual rainfall and areas of Massachusetts experiencing the most severe effects.  Though the scales seem to be tipping in a slightly more favorable direction as of the end of 2016, the drought has caused many water-stressed municipalities to issue voluntary and mandatory water use restrictions while they wait for conditions to drastically improve.


Unfortunately, water scarcity isn’t the only pressing issue for residents of the region’s six states. Most of the New England’s inhabitants obtain their domestic water through drilled wells or pump it from reservoirs, rivers, and similar public water supplies. This isn’t an unusual practice; however, local news outlets littered the 2016 cycle with stories warning of corrosive groundwater leaching lead out of private wells and into the water supply of homes and businesses. Vermont was the only state in the region that didn’t report issues with potential groundwater corrosivity in 2016.  


Because this region of the country was settled early, the infrastructure for water treatment and delivery is severely aged. This was a contributing factor to the lead leaching issues mentioned in the previous paragraph. Despite certain fixtures being upgraded over the years, the foundations of the systems are old and outdated, making them more prone to breakage and outages. Throughout 2016 numerous “Water Boil Advisories” were issued due to system failures throughout various municipalities in the region. This means that repair/replacement projects are a large and important piece of New England’s project puzzle. Massachusetts alone saw over 100 water projects in the Infrastructure category.


Despite current drought conditions, New England typically sees heavy precipitation in the form of rain and snow. The aforementioned repair/replacement of infrastructure opportunities in the region certainly reflect that. A large portion of the bid requests are drainage and stormwater related. These bids are characterized by requests to renovate municipal culverts, install catch basins, drainage piping, runoff management, and the like. This is particularly true of Maine, where culvert replacements and drainage system improvements seem to be a major focus. To help illustrate this trend one can refer to a request issued in July of 2016 by the State’s Department of Transportation for improvements to a drainage system, including culvert replacement, excavation, backfill, erosion control, traffic controls, and incidental work in Kennebec County. This is one of many similar requests made through Maine’s Department of Transportation throughout the 2016 calendar year.


A subsequent stand-out trend are opportunities related to the investigation and remediation of Brownfields. These types of assessments are par for the course in this stretch of the country. New England was a hub of industrial and manufacturing activity for several decades prior to and during the Second World War, the region’s economy has since undergone radical changes, but what remains are sites plagued by hazardous contaminants.  These locations are often cleaned-up and redeveloped for future commercial uses. An example of this type of request was made by the Town of Putnam, CT in late September 2016. The municipality sought firms to provide Brownfield consulting services at a former Mill complex for future economic and community development.


Furthermore, New England sees an abundance of activity related to illicit discharge assessments and remediation, particularly in bodies of water in the Vermont area. Boiler repairs/replacements are no surprise when heating systems are charged with the task of combating the cold, long New England winter.  And lastly, a problem much of the country tackles every spring, managing and eliminating invasive aquatic plant life along wetlands and ponds.


Water scarcity issues and dangerous lead levels are receiving national exposure and scrutiny like never before thanks to crises like those experienced in Southern California and Flint Michigan. In addition to the normal upkeep of water systems in municipalities, the problems New England communities are facing posed by climate change and aged infrastructure aren’t going anywhere and set only to worsen if left untended. There’s no question it will take aggressive funding and regulation to mitigate them. Hopefully, state and city lawmakers are up to the task of preserving the waters and communities of such a vibrant and historic region.