Many systems, such as Pratt, have deferred needed maintenance in the past, and the cost to fix problems that began appearing years ago is now much higher than it would have been if the issues were addressed immediately, he said.
When asked what he thought could be done about the deteriorating water/sewage infrastructure, the longtime politician said the federal and state governments would have to cough up more money to fund the fixes.
"It's just going to have to happen," he said
Water and sewer rates may also have to increase to address eroding infrastructure.
"I'm not a big fan of rate increases," he said. "But you have to maintain infrastructure."
Hardy also believes a combination of federal/state dollars along with some rate hikes will be necessary to address the failing systems.
"Cost for maintenance increases every year," Hardy said. "If the rates aren't intelligently adjusted, then the systems will fall behind."
Smaller systems aren't the only ones in need of an upgrade. West Virginia American Water's pipes under streets in Charleston are also aging and many tend to rupture, especially in the winter when the ground freezes and thaws, said Gary Taylor, director of Charleston's Public Works Department.
"We deal with water line breaks just about every day," Taylor said.
In previous years, water companies looking to upgrade systems or expand into new areas relied on grant funds from federal and state agencies, said Gary Facemyer, a senior project manager for the engineering firm Hatch Mott MacDonald.
"But those monies are no longer available," he said. "Renewal and replacement has really slowed down over the last few years."
Facemyer has been in the business for about 35 years. He is also president of the American Council of Engineering Companies of West Virginia.
The country's eroding water infrastructure was a topic of conversation by organization members last Thursday.
A couple of things need to change in order to address the crumbling water/sewage systems in the nation. One is the attitude toward rate hikes, Facemyer said.
"Keeping rates down to the point there isn't enough money to do maintenance has to change," he said. "And I think the state's PSC (Public Service Commission) needs to recognize that."
The PSC has to approve rate hikes by utility companies before they can go into effect.
Facemyer believes the agency has been loath to approve rate hikes because the state's politicians are unwilling to pass on increases of any kind to residents.
Although the federal and state dollars typically used to upgrade systems has decreased due to a slow economy, Facemyer believes more grant funds will become available in the future.
"I think the grant money will come back," he said.
Jim Ellars, executive director of the West Virginia Infrastructure Jobs Development Council, believes the solution to the problem depends on the specific water/sewage system.
The council must approve all infrastructure projects that have received state funding.
"If I would have to try to generalize about a solution, I would say that utilities that have deteriorating infrastructure need to have the rates in place to operate those facilities and replace things as needed," Ellars said.
Increasing rates is an answer for smaller, publicly owned utilities, like those owned by cities and towns, he said. But other, larger companies have the ability to absorb the maintenance costs because they receive much more money from current rates, Ellars said.
"The utilities that really suffer are the smaller ones," he said.
This is not news to Fields.
"It's really difficult for us to keep up any kind of maintenance plan," he said. "It'll be a blessing when West Virginia American Water takes us over."