This is National Drinking Water Week, a week in which we highlight the essential role of drinking water in our society and economy. But how did we get here?

Municipal water systems are a more recent development than many realize. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, workers and their families moved from rural areas and cities grew to support the factories driving the Industrial Revolution. Many got their water from a well in the backyard and used a nearby outhouse in the same back yard. Waterborne disease was common, and it was not unusual for cities to lose tens of thousands to fevers and other water-borne diseases, especially in hot summers. Visionary leaders in various locales across the country 150 to 120 years ago saw the need and the resultant benefits of municipal water systems.

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As a result, clean water is the greatest advancement in public health in the history of the world. We see clean water ministries and initiatives around the world today and they are worthy of our support. We take for granted here in America that our tap has clean and pure water safe to drink, cook, and bathe. And while the price we pay for this precious and necessary component of our lives is moving toward the cost to provide it, it remains the greatest value in our budgets.

When these municipal water systems were built, options were few, and cast iron was the pipe material of choice. With a plethora of contemporary material options today, modern ductile iron continues to be the strongest, most sustainable and most resilient material. It’s made from recycled iron and steel, requires less energy to operate and use, lasts longer and has greater life-cycle value than alternatives. Other pipe materials such as lead, asbestos-cement and PVC have come and some have gone, but iron pipe remains sure and steady as the standard for quality municipal water system construction.

Birmingham, Alabama, is the ductile iron pipe manufacturing capital of America, and the Alabama Iron and Steel Council is proud to salute our ductile iron members and the products they manufacture to build the world’s safest and most sustainable drinking water systems. Iron Pipe: It’s what America is Built On.

Maury D. Gaston is Chairman of the Alabama Iron and Steel Council, a council of Manufacture Alabama. He is a mechanical engineering graduate of Auburn University, 37-year water industry veteran, and Manager of Marketing Services for AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe.