From the Ground to the Tap: Aqua’s Treatment Process for Earth’s Most Essential Resource

 

By Chief Environmental, Safety, and Sustainability Officer Christopher Crockett

Each day, Aqua takes pride in protecting and providing Earth’s most essential resource, and the COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on the importance of having access to safe and reliable drinking water. As people continue to spend more time at home practicing social distancing, Aqua is reminded how customers depend on the continued delivery of safe drinking water. That’s why, in partnership with the American Water Works Association, Aqua is proud to recognize Drinking Water Week (May 3 – May 9) and the critical role drinking water plays in customer’s daily lives. 

This observance provides an opportunity for the company to share its standard business operations with homeowners, which include treatment procedures that remove or inactivate viruses, including COVID-19, from water supplies and sources. Aqua knows customers are not only drinking water, but they’re also using it to wash their hands multiple times a day, and they expect it to be safe and reliable.

Understanding the water treatment process

Most of us only see water coming out of the tap as we wash our hands or grab a glass for a drink, and many don’t know the treatment process and filtration the water went through before Aqua could distribute it to homes and businesses. It’s important to understand the water treatment process and the comprehensive steps our company takes to ensure our water can be used. 

For more than 100 years, Aqua has studied and treated different types of viruses, and the company takes its responsibility seriously. Aqua’s equipment monitors drinking water 24/7, down to the minutes and seconds of every day and in 2019 alone, Aqua’s Bryn Mawr laboratory performed 308,000 analyses of drinking water.

But before the team analyzes any samples, the water treatment process starts at the source. Most of the water Aqua provides comes from a ground well or a larger water source such as a river, stream or lake. The water treatment process starts through sedimentation flocculation, which removes bigger particles from the water and adds chlorine. Next, the water runs through a filtration system, similar to picking up sand at a beach and having it run through your hands. Once the water goes through this process, there is an extended period of time where it sits in contact with chlorine and, on some occasions, ultraviolet light, which is disinfection similar to the sun.

Once the water has been in contact with chlorine, usually for multiple hours, it is then distributed to storage tanks or water towers and on to customers through pipes and pumps. Consumers should know that Aqua’s water has chlorine present all the way to the tap and the company is constantly monitoring distribution systems, including around homes and business, to see that chlorine is detected.

Delivering a standard of excellence

Aqua continually works to meet all state and federal safety requirements for drinking water and will continue to uphold this standard of excellence. Aqua is proud to provide safe and reliable drinking water to customers each day and highlight the great work of Aqua teams during Drinking Water Week.

 

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Wishing you a happy Earth Day

 

By Aqua Environmental Specialist Krista Scheirer

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and the environmental movement that saw the passage of key legislation to protect our water, land, air and wildlife. This is a perfect time to reflect on Aqua's progress as an environmentally minded company, as well as the impacts we make in our daily lives. While we cannot be together this year to celebrate or participate in a Ripple Effect volunteer event, there are many ways to mark the occasion.

Recycle for our planet and to help fight COVID-19

Recycling is an important practice for the sustainability of our environment. It saves raw materials like trees, reduces water and energy consumption, and it minimizes landfill space. Recycling is also beneficial for our economy, providing materials for manufacturing and reducing disposal costs. Many of the items flying off shelves to combat the COVID-19 pandemic are made from recycled materials, and manufacturers need us to recycle correctly now more than ever.

It’s important that we all do our part to keep the stream of recyclables flowing, and that requires using proper recycling practices to reduce contamination. If a dumpster or truckload of recyclables contains non-recyclable items or food residue, the entire batch may be treated as trash instead.

Recycle often, Recycle right

Earth Day is a great time to review proper recycling steps to practice at home and at work. A few tips include:

  • Check with your recycling provider to see what can and cannot be recycled. Each location may be different, so if you are unsure, it is best to ask or take your recyclables home. As a general rule, you should not include latex materials, cloth, foam products, disposable paper products, medical waste, construction debris, electronic waste, loose bottle caps, or cords/hoses.
  • Most single-stream recyclers do not accept plastic bags, so you should keep your recyclables loose and not in a trash bag. You can recycle plastic shopping bags at some grocery stores.
  • Rinse and dry empty containers. Food, residue, or liquids can contaminate an entire batch.
  • Flatten cardboard and paperboard, and do not include packing materials.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. It is better to trash a potentially recyclable item than to risk spoiling an entire batch.

For more details, visit Waste Management’s Recycling 101 website. For information on how to recycle other items, check out Earth911.com.

Aqua Environmental Specialist Krista Scheirer.

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Watercolor Tips and Techniques

If you’ve been finding yourself stuck on the couch lately, it might be time to get creative! Arts and crafts are a fun and productive way to spend your free time, and watercolor painting is an enjoyable and easy medium to create a masterpiece. We’re here to demonstrate three unique techniques to help you WFH (watercolor from home).

 

If you don’t have watercolor paints around the house, don’t worry—you can easily create your own by combining acrylic paint with water. Just choose your favorite colors and slowly mix in the water until you get the thin, watery consistency of the examples below.

 

 

Salt and Watercolor

The creativity doesn’t have to stop at adding water. Use other household objects like salt for a grainy, textured pattern in your painting. The key to this technique is salting the paint while it’s still wet.

 

  1. Start by painting a small area to ensure it won’t dry up too quickly.
  2. Next, pour some salt on the wet portion of the paint. You can add as much or as little as you’d like!
  3. Finally, once the paint is dried, wipe off the salt to reveal your unique pattern.

 

 

Pro tip: Try out different kinds of salts (such as sea salt) to achieve different sizes, textures, and effects.

Watercolor Drip

This next effect doesn’t require any add ons—just gravity. Make sure you have a paper towel or newspaper underneath your paper for this one since it can get messy.

  1. Choose your watercolor and add a generous amount of water to your paintbrush.
  2. Mix the water and paint together on your canvas, add even more water, and tilt your paper upright to allow the paint to drip. It’s as simple as that!
  3. If the paint is not dripping enough, continue to add water to the painted section with your brush.

 

 

Wet on Wet Blending

 

One of the best things about painting with watercolors is the ability to easily blend colors and create beautiful, unexpected patterns. Combining more than one color while they’re still wet allows them to bleed into one another and create a classic watercolor look.

 

  1. Start with the base color of your choice.
  2. Slowly add other colors and let the water blend them.
  3. Continually add water to help the natural blending process.

 

The best part about this technique is its unpredictability. Just let the water guide your design and see what happens.

 

 

There are plenty of ways to get crafty and creative if you’re stuck indoors. You can even combine all three of these techniques to create a new masterpiece every day! Don’t forget that anyone in the family can be an artist—just add water.

 

 

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Innovating Infrastructure in Lake Monticello

 

Our Aqua Virginia team recently completed an innovative wastewater treatment plant upgrade to improve service, protect local waterways, and operate more efficiently for the Lake Monticello community just outside Charlottesville.

 

Aqua had two overarching goals. We wanted to improve the quality of the plant’s treated wastewater, which is discharged into the stringently regulated Chesapeake Bay watershed. We also wanted to minimize future rate increases for customers by reducing operating expenses and deferring the need for a major plant overhaul, which would cost much more.

 

Consulting the Expert

 

We spoke to Aqua’s operations manager Dan Hingley, who engineered the project and oversaw construction. “While upgrades to water systems typically result in obvious improvements for customers — like better pressure or more reliable service — improvements to a wastewater system often go unnoticed,” said Hingley. “In fact, many of us don’t even think about our wastewater after it goes down the drain or is flushed away. Meanwhile, a lot of effort goes into collecting, transporting, and cleaning wastewater, and customers rely on us to protect the environment and their local waterways. This project demonstrates how we do that.”

 

 

 

The treatment concepts we used aren’t new, but the way we applied them required creativity and innovation to achieve goals at a lower cost. Making wise decisions about which treatment process to use and which types of equipment to install alleviated the total capital cost of the project. 

 

Aqua reconfigured the layout of the wastewater plant and added some new aeration system controls to optimize treatment. The team used baffle walls to create new zones within the existing tanks. These baffles control water flow, prolong the amount of time the wastewater spends in treatment tanks, and separate a single tank into multiple treatment stages. While the previous process was a single tank that was continuously aerated, the modified process added new zones that weren’t aerated to allow specific bacteria to eat organic matter in the untreated wastewater, which removes a nutrient called nitrogen.

 

In these new unaerated zones, Aqua had to install a mixing system since it was no longer being provided by the diffused aeration system. Aqua collaborated with a neighboring utility to design and build mixers that connect to the existing air supply system and release large air bubbles, rather than the smaller diffused air bubbles, to induce mixing. This solution costs less to create and costs less to operate than installing mechanical mixers.

 

 

 

 

Award-Winning Innovation

 

“Aqua’s top priority is to deliver safe, reliable drinking water and wastewater services to our customers,” noted Aqua Virginia President John Aulbach. “These upgrades in Lake Monticello will strengthen our infrastructure, improve service, and help protect the environment.” 

 

At its 2019 Summit, the National Association for Water Companies awarded Aqua a Management Innovation award for this project completed at the Lake Monticello wastewater treatment plant. The award recognizes a utility that has implemented groundbreaking and industry-changing ideas. 

 

Aqua provides water and wastewater service to about 80,000 people in 37 counties across Virginia. 

 

Keep an eye on our blog to go behind the scenes of more of our infrastructure improvement projects throughout 2020!

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Bringing e-Billing Ease to Aqua

As the decade comes to a close, we can’t help but look back and reflect on all of the growth of the company and the new services and projects we’ve introduced to our customers over the past 10 years.

Speaking of new services, did you know that we have multiple new e-Billing features that make it easier than ever to pay your water bill? To learn even more, we spoke with Manager of Collections, Billing, and Cash Applications Jack Farnsworth to get the details of four newly improved features and how they benefit Aqua customers across all eight of the states we serve.

Payment arrangement

We’re pleased to say that our payment arrangement feature is now active in all Aqua states. Payment arrangements are available to any Aqua customer who has fallen behind on their payments, and the feature allows customers to take the past due months and stretch them out for several months until they are caught up.

“The invoices were modified to clearly provide the monthly installment, the number of payments remaining and the total balance of the payment arrangement,” Farnsworth added. “At Aqua, we listen and value our customers—this change came directly from customer feedback. We’re glad that these new invoices help customers better understand their payment arrangements for a stress-free experience.”

Text reminders

Constantly worried about missing a payment? Never fear! Aqua has partnered with Speedpay to give our customers the option to receive text reminders to easily avoid late charges. The text feature sends a message five days before the payment is due, the day it is due, and five days after.

The text reminders also provide a hyperlink that customers can click through to make their payments. Head here to become one of the 14,000 and counting Aqua customers utilizing this convenient text option! 

Daily account balance

You asked, we listened. Our call centers have received a large volume of customers asking for their current account balance over the years, so Aqua decided to make it even easier to check your bill. Simply log onto the Aqua WaterSmart website to view your daily balance. Easy peasy!

One-time payment availability

Previously, only Aqua customers enrolled in e-Billing were able to make a one-time payment via the WaterSmart website. Now, all customers can use this feature to pay bills electronically as many times as they please. We’ve seen an increase in customers utilizing this feature in 2019, and we hope to continue this growth through 2020. 

“Everything proposed, achieved, or rejected is for a better customer experience,” Farnsworth said of all these e-Billing improvements. “These features were all created to provide our customers with more information, faster information, and ease of payment.”

“I am very excited about all the customer enhancements we have implemented this year,” said Georgetta Parisi-Knup, vice president, customer operations. “Offering our customers a wide range of options across multiple platforms is important as we continue to focus on improving our customers’ experience with Aqua.” 

Our customers are always our priority, and we hope these efficient new features make life just a little bit easier. Cheers to a great 2019 and an even better 2020!

 

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