Metals and plastics have long been rivals in
the piping ring-a battle that's unlikely to end anytime soon as
the economic downturn continues to drive efforts to cap
And what's going on in southern Louisiana is
probably not what the steel tubular industry wants to hear, nor
is it likely to ease the rivalry as the plastic product makes
The St. Charles Parish Waterworks Department
is replacing an 8-inch cast iron water line, which had corroded
and become clogged with deposits after 50 years of use.
However, the 7,000-foot pipe won't be replaced with iron or
steel, but instead with 12-inch C-900 polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
pipe. The department also recently ran 7,000 feet of 24-inch
polyethylene pipe under the Mississippi River, 145 feet below
the river bottom.
"The majority of pipe being installed down
here is this PVC pipe," said Todd Champagne, distribution
construction technician at the Waterworks Department.
"(Plastic) has less of a tendency to corrode and have calcium
buildup. We do use some iron pipe in applications like roadway
crossings where it has to hold up to traffic and weight."
The department has been using PVC pipe for
the past 25 years, but as a result of growth in the area it's
using even more than in the past, he said, noting that PVC is
less expensive than steel and ductile iron while polyethylene
is more expensive than the metal materials.
However, both plastics have advantages over
metal, Champagne said, noting that the department has used PVC
pipe up to 36 inches in diameter. "To bore through the earth to
put in the PE (polyethylene) is $50 a foot on its own," he
said. "But the plastic is flexible, lighter, it bends and
turns, and there's no clogging."
The Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment
Authority (PennVest), which funds sewer, stormwater and
drinking water projects throughout Pennsylvania, also has seen
a variety of materials used in the water projects it funds.
Paul Marchetti, PennVest's executive
director, said the community where the water lines are
installed does the actual selection and purchasing of the
material-from transmission mains to smaller water lines of all
Whatever the material, the state has spent
far more money this year than in the past, primarily as a
result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, he said.
"We normally approve $300 million per year in projects. But in
the past six months (the state has) approved more than $900
million worth. We've done three years' work in six months."
Pennsylvania received $220 million in federal
stimulus funding, and the state matched that and added more.
However, Marchetti said he doesn't foresee this type of
spending on water lines continuing. "I think we're probably
going to get more back to business as usual," he said. "A large
chunk of the approvals were in order to help with the stimulus.
But I think at this point we won't do any more approvals until
later this year."
Marchetti said project bids were coming in
lower than expected, although he's not sure whether that was a
result of less-expensive water line prices. "Generally they're
coming in lower, but I can't exactly say that's attributable to
the water lines themselves. We don't break it down that
In addition to spending more money this year,
the state also got a lot more requests for funding, Marchetti
said. "We got a lot more applications; a two-thirds increase in