Municipalities Look to Clay Pipe Amidst Ongoing PVC Shortage

Municipalities Look to Clay Pipe Amidst Ongoing PVC Shortage

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The Texas winter storm of 2021 was the first toppling domino that triggered a series of changes throughout the municipal industry’s supply chain.

When power was lost along the Texas Gulf Coast in February 2021, chemical plants in the area were forced to shut down slowing the production of PVC. Then, combined with manufacturing setbacks that resulted from COVID-19 closures and hurricanes pelting the coast of Louisiana, the past year was the perfect storm of disruption for plastic producers, and in the business of laying pipe, that disturbance is being felt full-force.

Municipalities have grown to rely on PVC plastic as a staple material for sewer and water systems. Aside from this shortage creating obvious setbacks in material availability and wait times, it is driving up the cost of material that does eventually become available.

Kent Carlson, vice president of the National Clay Pipe Institute, has noticed a shift in mindset among municipalities and contractors as a result of the shortages and price increase. “Shortly after the Texas freeze, we started getting calls about the availability of clay pipe from cities that have traditionally been using plastic,” says Carlson. “We also began getting calls from contractors that specialize in plastic pipe about getting clay.”

A shortage of pipe doesn’t stop sewer and water lines from needing repairs and updates, and municipalities have contracted projects with an approved budget that are still expected to be done within time and budget constraints, leaving both contractors and municipalities looking for options outside of plastic.

“Clay pipe is made from water, clay and shale and that’s it, so our supply chain isn’t affected,” Carlson says. “But unfortunately, a lot of cities have only put in plastic pipe so now if they have a failure, their options are limited because it can be very difficult to shift gears from plastic specs to clay.”

Perhaps a more unforeseen circumstance of a plastic pipe deficiency is the shortage of knowledge that goes with solution. “Contractors realize that clay is an option but don’t have the know-how to install it and care for it,” Carlson says. “We at the National Clay Pipe Institute have been providing a lot more training these days for those contractors that want to brush up on their clay pipe skills, and for the inspectors that go out and inspect the pipe after it’s been installed. They want to be up to date on proper protocols to make sure the pipe is OK before they sign off on it.”

It’s hard to say when the market will normalize, and Carlson believes it may be a while. “I think cities will now look again and revisit where they are at and what materials they will allow in their systems,” he says.


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