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Rolling Down the River: A Plastic Pipe Washout

Oct 3, 2022 | Education

It started out as just another sunny summer day in Sioux Falls. My wife and I were rollerblading on a bike trail near the zoo and enjoying a peaceful afternoon. We were passing by the Big Sioux River diversion channel west of the zoo, when I looked over and noticed this section of plastic pipe sitting on a sandbar amid the reeds and grasses. My wife knows me, so she knew we would have to stop so I could take pictures.

My first thought was that the pipe had washed out from some big rain event, and here it is, parked on a sandbar in the middle of Big Sioux River channel. It looked like about a 24-inch storm drain pipe. Was there a problem upstream somewhere? Did the pipe wash out or did it roll into the river from a construction site? Who knows? Downstream, the pipe is now sitting on a sandbar as waste, littering the otherwise pristine natural environment.

One thing that bugs me about plastic pipe is that it is weak and insubstantial when compared with reinforced concrete pipe. That 8-foot section of plastic pipe on the sandbar probably weighs about 80 pounds and can be moved by hand. The installers would have easily lifted it off the side of the flatbed and rolled it into the hole with little effort. You can see how something that lightweight and buoyant could float away or even blow away during a major weather event. It’s not there for the long haul. Ever see a huge sinkhole in the road large enough to swallow a car? There’s probably a plastic pipe or metal culvert that failed at the bottom of that sinkhole.

By contrast, reinforced concrete pipe is weighty and substantial. Cemcast pipe is manufactured with mostly locally sourced materials, crafted by our local employees and made to last 100+ years. I’ll guarantee you, if reinforced concrete pipe was installed instead of that plastic pipe, it would still be in service today, next year, and many decades from now and not sitting on a sandbar polluting the river. Barring some cataclysmic event, concrete pipe is not going anywhere. It is heavy and permanent. One 8-foot section of 24” diameter Cemcast pipe weighs about 2,247 pounds. You don’t just roll it into the hole. It takes an excavator and a small crew, and when properly installed, you can forget about it because it won’t fail or wash out during your lifetime. It’s permanent – not an “it’ll do” solution.

With changing weather patterns brewing storms that are more violent these days, it’s not uncommon to experience a 500-year storm every few years. Even the once rare 100-year weather events occur almost annually. I don’t know what’s happening with our climate, but as we invest $1.2 trillion in the U.S. infrastructure in the next 10 years, we should make sure that we design sustainable systems that can handle these ferocious storms. And that means constructing our infrastructure with precast concrete.

Visit our Concrete Pipe vs. Flexible Pipe page for more details. We’ll show you why all pipe is definitely not the same!

Carl V. Carlson

About the Author

Carl Carlson is president of Cemcast Pipe and Precast, a locally owned concrete manufacturing company based in Hartford, South Dakota, serving the Midwest region with quality products for underground and above-ground infrastructure.

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