Helpful tips for National Preparedness Month

 

Disasters happen. Does your family have a plan? 

At Aqua, we care not only about the quality of your water, but also about your family’s safety and well-being. The thought of being caught in an emergency can be frightening, but the first step towards safety is learning how to prepare.

With Hurricane Florence likely arriving on the eastern coast of the country this weekend, it’s especially important to recognize FEMA’s National Preparedness Month. Whether you’ll be affected by this weekend’s storm or you just want to get ahead of the game, let’s talk about how you can be prepared.

Have an Emergency Plan

Making a plan is crucial, and it’s easier than you’d think. Let’s start with the basics: evacuation and communication. If your home is threatened or compromised by a natural disaster or a local emergency, you may need to seek shelter elsewhere. We recommend having a list of options for local safe spaces, and a planned route to get there. Keep this list somewhere accessible—like on your fridge—so everyone in your home can see easily see it.

There is no such thing as being too prepared. If you have children or pets, it can be beneficial to practice your emergency plan. Practicing can help your family perfect the plan in a timely manner, which can help reduce panic when an emergency occurs. In the case of evacuation, consider taking supplies with you when you seek shelter. The most important part of having an emergency plan is talking about it. Communication is key during times of crisis!

Stock Up on Essentials 

It’s no secret that water is our specialty. And in case of an emergency, it’s essential that you have clean drinking water for you and your family. If your water source is compromised during a natural disaster, have a solidified plan determined by your family’s water needs. We recommend storing an emergency water supply in a safe place for dire situations. 

In the case of an emergency or extreme weather conditions, Aqua might issue a precautionary boil water advisory to our affected customers. We also encourage you to sign-up for our WaterSmart Alerts to stay informed about your water quality and service in real time.

Don’t forget to put aside food, clothing, and extra funds in case of natural disasters. Packing an emergency kit is a great solution for families or individuals who want to have the proper arrangements ready to go.

Check Your Coverage

Knowledge is power. If you don’t know what your insurance covers in the case of a disaster, pick up the phone and call your insurance provider to discuss their policies. Depending on your plan, some major costs could be covered by your health or home insurance policies. Once you know your provider’s policies, you can better understand what kind of funds you should put aside in case of an emergency.

Take Action

We have a challenge for you! Saturday, Sept. 15 is Ready.gov’s National Day of Action. On this day, we encourage you to perform one small act of preparation: start a conversation with your family about an emergency plan, pick up some extra canned foods, or sign up for WaterSmart Alerts from Aqua. These small acts can have a huge impact when it comes to keeping you and your loved ones safe.

If your area will be affected by the upcoming storm, we suggest reading up on hurricane preparation tips. Stay safe and remember that you can reach our customer service team by calling 877.987.2782.

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Science is everywhere—especially in your purified water

 

If you’ve been following Aquastructure, our monthly blog series that breaks down all the details about how we bring fresh drinking water to our customers, then you know we put a great deal of effort into purifying our water.

From filtering out dirt and debris to zapping away bacteria and adjusting pH levels, we closely monitor our water at the source, during treatment and after treatment to ensure the final product meets and exceeds regulatory requirements.

In the past, we’ve discussed the different types of filtration processes for both surface water treatment and groundwater treatment, but we wanted to dig even deeper into the scientific details. We sat down with Director of Treatment for Aqua Pennsylvania Matt Miller, whose team is responsible for optimizing the treatment of drinking water and wastewater throughout their state, to clear things up. (Pun intended.)

Welcome to the fantastic world of filtration!

If you take one thing away from this blog, we hope it’s the importance of coagulants in the filtration process. Coagulants are vital chemicals that help tiny pieces of debris particles in surface water stick together and form larger clumps so they can easily be removed from the water.

All those organic particles that creep into the surface water have a negative charge. The coagulants, meanwhile, have a positive charge, meaning that they act like magnets and repel against each other when combined. When this happens, we’re able to neutralize those unwanted particles. They begin to stick together, which makes it easy to flush them out of the water.

Remember these diagrams? Behold: Coagulation and filtration!

Coagulants aren’t the only substances working wonders on our water, though. There’s also sand, gravel, and anthracite, which more or less act as filters.

“If you have ever been to the beach, poured a pail of water onto the sand, and watched it disappear, you have witnessed filtration,” Miller explained.

Just like sand at the beach, in a water filter, the water moves down through tiny pores in sand and gravel, trapping all of the little particles that don’t need to be in our drinking water. From there, the filtered water flows through an ion-exchange filter that trades undesirable contaminants, like calcium and magnesium ions, for harmless substances, such as potassium or sodium. 

Aerate, chlorinate, repeat.

Sometimes, the pH levels in surface water and groundwater are a little out of whack. That’s because when carbon dioxide is in the water, it forms a weak acid called carbonic acid. Carbonic acid isn’t very fun for the body to digest, so we implement a process called aeration, which is a fancy term for the addition of air into the water. This removes any carbon dioxide and normalizes pH levels.

Last, but definitely not least, is chlorination. According to Miller, the use of chlorine is the most common and effective process for disinfecting drinking water. This powerful substance is used to kill bacteria and prevent the spread of waterborne diseases. However, too much chlorine is no good, so our operators carefully monitor the amount of chlorine added to each batch of water. 

Welcome to chlorination nation!

How does chlorine work, you may ask?

Well, it all comes down to the fact that chlorine, which is an oxidizing agent, has a neutral charge, meaning that it’s able to sneak into the negatively-charged pathogens and destroy them so they don’t multiply and make us sick. 

With all this talk of positive, negative and neutral charges, do you feel like you’re back in elementary school science class? We sure do!

It’s time to get sludgy. 

Now that we’ve covered the science of our drinking water, let’s talk about wastewater. We’ve already walked you through what happens to the water after you flush, so you’ll remember that there’s some pretty intensive cleaning done by itty-bitty microscopic organisms. This wastewater cleaning process is appropriately termed The Activated Sludge Process. (Can you think of a cooler name? We sure can’t.)

“Most times, we think of sludge as a bad thing, but in this case, sludge is a community of bacteria that each have a particular function,” Miller says. “The sole purpose for these bacteria is to eat and reproduce.” 

The sludge loves to eat all the not-so-yummy leftovers in our wastewater, like ammonia and nitrate. Interestingly, depending on what type of contaminants the sludge needs to eat, Aqua will monitor the bacteria’s access to oxygen, since the gas can affect the processes. By the end of their meal, the bacteria are full and happy, and our water is ready to head back to the local rivers or streams. 

All this technical talk has us sure of one thing: Science is all around us, from the water we drink to the processes and technologies that make it clean enough to do so. 

Thanks for joining us on another part of our Aquastructure journey. We hope you’ve learned as much as we have!

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​Employees feeling a ripple effect

At Aqua, we believe our mission, vision and core values shape us as an exceptional company. They enable us to go above and beyond, making a positive impact on water, the environment, our communities and our work together. The Ripple Effect initiative represents our continued commitment to reinforcing these ideals – now and in the future. There are four areas that contribute to these efforts: volunteering, Aqua's charitable trust, work-life balance and knowledge sharing. Here are stories from just a few of the Aqua employees who are feeling a ripple effect.

Steve Dunnahoe
Aqua Texas 
Work-life balance
Aqua understands encouraging healthy work-life balance is good for employees and their families.

Aqua Texas Business Development Manager Steve Dunnahoe and his family celebrated a milestone this year when his son Chase graduated from high school as valedictorian. When Steve and his wife, Susan, sent a letter to the school thanking everyone who taught their son over the years, the principal told Steve that his regular visits to Chase's elementary school helped set a foundation for his son's success.

"Chase's teachers told me that a big part of any young person's success is support from their parents," Dunnahoe said. "When Chase was in first through sixth grades, I made it a priority to go to his school cafeteria and have lunch with him and his classmates as often as I could. I believe his current success is in part because of my consistent presence at school, and I was able to do that because Aqua's Fort Worth office is less than a mile from his school." 

Chase's teachers said his father's support helped motivate him to become a stronger student.

"This isn't a utility success story," said Dunnahoe, "but it's a success story about how my working at Aqua helped my son get where he is."

Chase Dunnahoe will attend the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas this fall.

Steve Dunnahoe and family at son Chase's high school graduation.

Shenita St. Clair
Aqua America
Work-life balance
Aqua Call Center Representative Shenita St. Clair celebrates her first anniversary at Aqua this month. Having worked in other call centers for more than 10 years, St. Clair, who works in Cary, North Carolina, said she feels like her dream has come true at Aqua.

"Aqua puts in the effort to help employees succeed," said St. Clair. "I have flexibility in terms of handling operations and making changes. My work here is recognized, and I feel appreciated and valued." St. Clair said she appreciates Aqua's training and direct interaction with supervisors.

St. Clair has two boys, aged 10 and 11. As a single parent, she said she appreciates Aqua's Monday through Friday work week for call center representatives. St. Clair also attends Durham Technical Community College, where she's pursuing a degree in office administration with a minor in accounting.

St. Clair was one of the representatives who temporarily relocated to Bryn Mawr when a fire in the building that houses Aqua's southern call center was uninhabitable due to the smell of smoke. While in Bryn Mawr, St. Clair and her co-workers had the opportunity to meet Aqua's Chairman and CEO Chris Franklin, who thanked them for their extraordinary service. St. Clair noted that this is the first job where she's been able to meet senior leaders. 

"It's comforting to say I work at a company that really cares for me," she said.
 
Shenita St. Clair
 
Jeff Bickel
Aqua Pennsylvania
Knowledge sharing & Aqua Charitable Trust
Aqua donates money from its charitable trust to enrich lives throughout the communities it serves and in developing countries, and to advocate for the environment. Over the years, Aqua has formed important partnerships with community-based nonprofit organizations such as Villanova University.

Aqua's partnership with Villanova University's College of Engineering provides engineering resources, water infrastructure expertise and financial support for the school's international service work. As part of this partnership, senior leadership, engineers and water quality experts with Aqua traveled with Villanova faculty and students to Nicaragua and Panama to provide mentorship opportunities, hands-on water quality expertise and foundation support.

Aqua Pennsylvania's Director of Production Jeff Bickel traveled twice to Nicaragua to help build water systems for a community and a school. Bickel said he was glad to have the chance to serve. 

"When I was asked if I'd like to go to Nicaragua with the Villanova students, I thought, when will you ever have an opportunity to see Nicaragua? And I liked the idea of helping the community deliver clean water to its families," he said.

Bickel said the work was difficult but rewarding, and he enjoyed the experience. 

"The students and the Nicaraguans were awesome," said Bickel. "The community has the most resourceful people I've ever met." 

Bickel also noted that he formed bonds with the other two Aqua employees on his trips.
 
Jeff Bickel and Aqua Illinois Director of Operations Colton Janes in Nicaragua.

Jennifer Knotts
Aqua Indiana
Volunteering
Aqua Indiana employees and their family members have made the Water for People 5K Run & Walk in Indianapolis an annual tradition. Water for People is a nonprofit international organization founded by the American Water Works Association to support developing countries in creating sustainable drinking water and sanitation facilities, and in general health and hygiene education.

Jennifer Knotts, administrative assistant for Aqua Indiana President Tom Bruns, spearheads this effort for Aqua employees statewide. 

"Tom has been an active participant for many years," said Knotts. "He asked me if I wanted to help, and I said yes! I've enjoyed knowing we help raise money for clean water for those who don't have it. It's an amazing feeling knowing you can help others with something most take for granted." 

Knotts handles all of the registrations for Aqua Indiana employees and their families. She also designs tee shirts for their team and coordinates meet-up times and locations. More than 50 Aqua participants took part in last year's event.

Bruns and his wife Sandy first took part in the Water for People walk in 2012. 

"I was so inspired by the cause and event that I invited employees from all of Aqua Indiana to participate in the following years," said Bruns. "We eventually entered the Aqua team in the corporate challenge competition. This has been a very rewarding experience for myself, my family and my colleagues. It's always well attended, and everyone enjoys a great morning walk along the canal in downtown Indianapolis."

Aqua Indiana sponsors the event and pays for all registrations for Aqua employees and their families and friends.
Jennifer Knotts and her family at the Water for People 5K Run & Walk.

Aqua's Ripple Effect initiative was introduced in November 2017. Read more about Aqua's Ripple Effect initiative.
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Monsoon madness: What’s this watery summer weather?

Photo by Flickr user John Fowler

It’s easy to forget about types of weather that occur outside of our own backyards, especially during the summer months of sunshine. The wonders of our planet and its most essential resource never seize to amaze us, though, and that’s why we’re so fascinated by a summer weather phenomenon called monsoons.  

A monsoon, according to National Geographic, is a seasonal change in the winds of the area that alter the climate of the region. This phenomenon is common in areas close to the Indian Ocean, like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladeshand Myanmar, but it also occurs in the southwestern United States. Clearly, our eight Aqua states don’t typically see this type of weather, so we’re extra curious about it! 

A monsoon in New Mexico

There are two kinds of monsoons: dry and wet. A wet monsoon causes heavy rain in a region, while a dry monsoon does the opposite. This video from NASA does a great job of explaining how and why monsoons form. 

 

Monsoons mostly affect North America in the middle of summer, from July to September. In fact, states like New Mexico and Arizona get half of their annual rainfall during monsoon season. Fun fact: The wettest monsoon recorded in U.S. history was in 1984, with 9.56 inches of fallen rain. These records include numbers traced back to 1896. 

Usually, monsoons are beneficial to the areas they affect. Because these storms often occur after long periods of drought, the moisture they bring is replenishing and fruitful to the plants in the ecosystem. The high levels of rain can also aid firefighters battling wildfires in extremely dry areas.

Not all effects of monsoons are simple and benign, though. Since the affected land has often been bone-dry for so long, it can only soak up so much water at once. The rest of the water sits on top of the parched land, causing flash floods even from small amounts of rain. On top of flooding, monsoons can also bring lightning storms and massive dust storms called haboobs that can pose additional safety concerns for the affected communities, especially for people caught off guard while driving.

People who live in parts of the U.S. where monsoons occur are usually aware of necessary precautions. But for tourists, business travelers, or even new neighbors in the southwest, it’s important to know how to prep for monsoon season. In fact, paying attention to weather forecasts and having an emergency supply kit on hand are good summer weather tips for people living in any part of the country, especially during Hurricane Season.

What other types of watery weather pique your interest? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter

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What does it take to acquire and upgrade a water system?

 

Let’s be frank: Operating and maintaining water systems is not an easy task, especially when they need tons of infrastructural improvements.  

Earlier in our Aquastructure blog series, we shed a bit of light on the state of our nation’s water infrastructureand pointed out that most of the pipelines we depend on each and every day were built at the start of the 20thcentury. In the present day, all of that infrastructure is near the end of its life, which means that upkeep and updates are a pressing need. 

Considering those challenges, how does a company like Aqua continue to provide efficient and affordable service? It all comes down to the water systems Aqua acquires, along with regular updates to existing infrastructure.

Craig Blanchette, president of Aqua Illinois, checked in to give us some insight into Aqua’s acquisition and upgrade processes. 


Blanchette (third from right in sunglasses) with fellow Aqua Illinois employees during a local volunteer project.

More water, less problems

Since 1995, Aqua has acquired more than 300 water systems, most of which are from municipalities (which own 85 percent of the nation’s water systems). However, sometimes those systems come from other sources, such as smaller regulated utilities, homeowners associations, water and sewer districts, and developer-owned systems. 

As the number of water systems in Aqua’s network grows, the efficiency and affordability of its services grow, too. The theory at play here is “economies of scale,” which is the economic principle that the more goods or services can be produced at a larger scale, the higher the savings in costs.

“By adding customers, Aqua is able to spread these fixed costs over a larger customer base, alleviating much of the burden from our new and existing customers,” Blanchette explains. 

What happens if Aqua wants to acquire a new system?

When Aqua is preparing to acquire a new system, typically Aqua and the other party—whether it’s a municipality or some other organization—begin by sitting down and talking shop (think inspections and negotiations). This can take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years. The goal is to create a partnership which benefits the community.

After that, an asset purchase agreement is created, which outlines all the details of the transaction, such as pricing and inclusion of assets. The APA must then be approved by the state public utility commission, which takes about six months to a year. During the PUC approval process, an administrative law judge takes on the case, and expert witnesses, like engineers, accountants and financial advisors, must evaluate and vouch for the legitimacy and benefits of the proposed acquisition. 

Once the agreement is reviewed, modified and approved by the administrative law judge it is then forwarded to the PUC for its final approval. Once this is complete, Aqua can sit down with the seller and officially take ownership.  

And then it’s smooth sailing?

With the right due diligence, yes! A lot of these existing water systems must be assessed to ensure everything is up to speed. In most cases, many of the system’s assets are underground and cannot be easily inspected.

“In these cases, we rely heavily on the maintenance records of the municipality in determining where future replacements are needed,” Blanchette notes. 

The most common upgrade is water main replacements, which are predominantly located underground and are often left out of a municipality’s investment plan. Blanchette adds that water service lines, main line valves and fire hydrants are also among the areas of a water system that may need more attention. 

“These assets are incredibly important because they are the backbone of any community,” Blanchette says. “Reliability of a water system is important in providing Earth’s most essential resource.” 

Whenever Aqua acquires a new system, they prepare a new capital investment plan to help determine where and when adjustments and updates are needed in each system’s infrastructure. Aqua then reevaluates that plan to determine future improvement needs. From that point forward, investment in the existing infrastructure is constant. 

It seems to be a team effort.

Very much so! Aqua works closely with the communities it serves andregularly meets with community members to coordinate all these infrastructure improvement projects. 

For example, if Aqua wants to do a water main or sewer replacement, they’ll first run it by the local road authority to plan resources accordingly. 

 

“If a road authority is planning to resurface a roadway where Aqua is also looking to replace a water or sewer main, it saves our customers the cost of restoring the roadway,” Blanchette explains.  

Now that is what we call synergy. 

Thanks for tuning in, water and sewer connoisseurs! We’ll see you next month! 

 

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