Editor’s Log: Rehab Growth & Dreams

The rehabilitation industry has arrived. As we struggle through another slow year for municipal spending, the one constant in every city’s plans remains funding a certain amount of rehab work. No longer the last resort for addressing sewer and water system repairs, rehab has evolved to the modern science of repair that it is today. From chemical grout to more than 20 difference market niches, rehabilitation has come of age.

It wasn’t that long ago that “rehabilitating” your sewer system was primarily limited to using the proprietary – and expensive – new-fangled cured-in-place pipe technology imported from the United Kingdom. Otherwise, the primary option was digging down to damaged or failing pipe sections and replacing lengths of pipe. While effective, depending upon the scope of repair needed, this historic procedure could be extremely expensive, especially if the pipe was buried deep, tended to be very disruptive to the neighborhood, was time intensive and often a stop-gap measure when the failing pipe sections began to approach thousands of feet in length.

Water rehabilitation was virtually unheard of, limited to system flushing and water jetting for cleaning purposes only.

When the Insituform patents expired soon after the turn of the century, a new dynamic quickly developed. CIPP became more of a commodity and companies from all around the world introduced their own versions of the method. And of course, the introduction of ultraviolet curing has opened an entirely new dimension to traditional steam or water curing methods.

By 2000, pipe bursting was firmly established as a viable solution as well and that method continues to grow at a phenomenal rate as variations and techniques improve and applications diversify. Solutions continue to be found for long-standing barriers to the technology and additional niches are developed on a regular basis.

In just 25 years, we’ve gone from a handful of effective and reasonably economical rehabilitation methods to scores of affordable techniques – not to mention much improved preventative measures. Diagnostics continue to get better, aided immensely by the standardization of condition assessment made possible by NASSCO’s visionary Pipeline Assessment and Certification Program which now includes manholes and laterals.

In a short period of time, we’ve zoomed past dreams and into reality of what can be done underground with trenchless or substantially trenchless methods for solving utility infrastructure problems. To illustrate that growth, one only has to look at our annual Rehabilitation Selection Guide, compiled by Managing Editor Traci Read with a helping hand from Contributing Editor Gerry Muenchmeyer. Each year these guides gain in number of companies and diversity of products offered. Compare this new guide to the one we published just five years ago and the growth is startling.

Driving the rehab market, of course, is the aging and decaying infrastructure of America. With the sewer/water systems of many cities far past their design life and operating on borrowed time and others rapidly approaching that point, rehab has steadily grown as an essential, affordable and practical industry. Rehab continues to hold its market strength, even during the Great Recession.

Ironically, while municipal spending has been suffering, rehab as a whole has been holding steady. Cities still have to deal with ongoing emergency repairs and increasingly, EPA consent decrees. Rehabilitation can’t stop and cannot be ignored – it is too vital to the survival of municipal systems. Indeed, many contractors with a strong presence in the rehab industry have thrived over the past few years.

But that said, the rehabilitation needs of America are almost unfathomable. Imagine the health of our country and the thriving rehabilitation market once at least a portion of the essential dollars are finally funneled into the market. Those kinds of heady dreams may seem unobtainable, but then again, so was the diversity and practicality of the rehab market just a couple of decades ago.

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