Make an environmental impact during National Volunteer Month

April is National Volunteer Month, and here at Aqua, we’re passionate about both our planet and the people who live on it. That’s why so many of our year-round volunteer activities involve doing our part to take care of the environment, especially when Earth Day rolls around.

To celebrate both National Volunteer Month and the annual holiday that recognizes our planet, we’ve rounded up a variety of ways for community members across all eight of our states to get involved with environmentally focused events and activities throughout April. Let’s dig in!

Illinois

Get up and break a sweat in honor of Mother Earth! The seventh annual Earth Day Race takes place on April 20 in Crystal Lake, Illinois and will lead runners on a beautiful tour through the woods—the perfect way to enjoy nature.

If you’re an Illinois teacher, you can also get your classroom involved with Earth Day in the Parks, a series of events from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in which students can participate in “natural resources stewardship activities” such as planting trees, building brush piles, and more.

Live near the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign? Check out the school’s wide array of sustainability-focused events throughout the month of April to find one that interests you.

Indiana

Create new life this Earth Day by gardening at Chellberg Farms on the morning of April 20. If you’re located in the central part of the state, head to the Earth Day Indiana Festival at White River State Park to enjoy exhibitors, food trucks, and hands-on games and activities like hula hoops, lightsaber duels, and more. Sounds like a good time if you ask us!

New Jersey

On April 13, Clean Ocean Action will hold its 34th Annual Beach Sweeps event up and down the New Jersey coast, where participants can do their part to keep the state’s beloved beaches clean. Get a head start on shore season by browsing the list of Beach Sweeps locations to find one near you. Then, check out EarthShare New Jersey’s roundup of additional Earth Day activities across the state, from trail cleanups to live music.

North Carolina

If you’re on the hunt for an artistic way to celebrate our planet, you’ll love the Earth Day Jam from local nonprofit Happy Roots. Located in Salisbury, North Carolina, the two-day event (April 19–20) features more than 15 bands and all kinds of Earth-oriented arts and crafts. Get tickets here.

Further west in the state, Durham Parks and Rec will host an Earth Day Festival full of performances, food, and environmentally focused educational opportunities on Sunday, April 28. To volunteer at the event, head here.

Pennsylvania

Those located in central Pennsylvania have tons of opportunities to celebrate Earth Day, from the Mechanicsburg Earth Day Festival to a volunteer day at Little Buffalo State Park. Visit PA also put together a list of Earth Day-related events and places to visit in honor of the occasion, including everything from beautiful state parks to the Philadelphia Science Festival’s Naturepalooza.

(Psst: On April 6, the largest single day stream cleanup in Pennsylvania took place at the Perkiomen Creek Watershed. Members of our Aqua Pennsylvania team were there to help—were you?)

Ohio

Celebrate Earth Day with a weeklong event of volunteer opportunities throughout Central Ohio known as Earth Day Columbus. Then, reward yourself and your fellow volunteers for all your hard work at the Earth Day Columbus Celebration in Genoa Park featuring music, eco-friendly artisans, family fun, and more.

If you live in northeast Ohio, you’re in luck as well: Check out this list to browse events ranging from hikes to movies to parties at the zoo, all in celebration of our beautiful planet.

Texas

They say that everything’s bigger in Texas, which means there’s even more Earth to love—and protect! Earthx2019, described as “the world’s largest environmental experience”, takes place from April 26–28 in Dallas. “Water for all” is the event’s 2019 theme, so you can imagine that we’re extra excited here at Aqua! Between workshops, yoga, food trucks, and plenty of opportunities to get involved, there’s something for every member of the family to enjoy.

If you’re located closer to Austin, swing by Earth Day ATX on Saturday, April 13 to enjoy the annual zero-waste festival full of performances, food, and family activities.

Virginia

Virginia is for lovers… of the planet! Head to Radford’s Bisset Park to enjoy an Earth Day Festival on April 20. With activities including sunrise meditation, tree planting, river cleanups, kayaking, and more, you won’t want to miss the sunrise-to-sunset event.

There are an infinite amount of ways to honor our planet this Earth Day, and we’re proud that each of our Aqua states is jam-packed with opportunities to get involved. If there’s not an event near you, don’t worry—you can still make an impact by implementing these eco-friendly tips from the Earth Day Network into your everyday life.

Earth is the only planet we have, and it’s our job to take care of it. We hope you’ll join us during National Volunteer Month!

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Aqua makes strides to improve Pennsylvania’s infrastructure

Think report cards don’t exist outside the classroom? Think again.

Every year, the Pennsylvania State Council of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issues a statewide infrastructure report card in areas ranging from bridges to roads to drinking water. For 2018, the council gave Pennsylvania an overall grade of C-, and while that doesn’t sound great, keep in mind that the state's grade in 2017 was a D+. It’s a small improvement, and there’s still plenty of work to be done, but it’s an improvement nonetheless.

Why should you, as a customer, care about your state’s infrastructure grade? We asked Aqua Pennsylvania President Marc Lucca.

“It really comes down to reliability of service,” he said. “If you think about the service that we provide on a daily basis, our infrastructure sustains basic services that we need as a community to exist and to thrive. If there’s interruption to service, whether it’s on the water side or the wastewater side, the community, and even our environment, can suffer.”

Aqua Pennsylvania President Marc Lucca (left) during a field visit

 

At Aqua, we’re proud to play a role in the continued improvements made to Pennsylvania’s drinking water and wastewater systems. Throughout 2018, we invested more than $340 million in a wide array of projects to upgrade water infrastructure across the Pennsylvania communities we serve, contributing to the increase in the state’s infrastructure score.

Want to know more about what these efforts entail? Let’s dig in—pun intended.

What’s the project?

One of our current infrastructure improvement projects in Pennsylvania is the upgrade of the Media Wastewater Treatment Plant in Delaware County. The project, which represents $32 million of investments in the community’s wastewater infrastructure, has been underway since June 2018, and the first phase will wrap up in December 2019.

We spoke to Dave Hughes, director of plant engineering at Aqua, who is heavily involved with the project, to learn more about its goals. Open since 1922, the plant treats 1.8 million gallons of wastewater every day. Yeah—that’s a lot of wastewater.

Building progress on the plant's new clarifier tank foundation

 

Let’s talk details, though. Improvements to the plant include upgrading all of the headworks (equipment at the beginning of the treatment process that begins the removal of pollutants) and the installation of a brand-new thickener (which removes solids and other impurities from the dirty water) and digester (which stabilizes those solids). New chemical feed systems, clarifiers, and sludge pump stations will also tremendously improve the plant’s operations.

In addition to these mechanical improvements, the project includes the construction of a new operations building to support staff and visiting specialists in their work. Finally, the plant’s electrical system will receive much-needed upgrades, including the installation of a new emergency generator to ensure smooth operations despite any bad weather or unexpected losses of power.

How do customers benefit?

All this technical talk about sludge pumps and power generators might have you wondering about the real-world impact of this project on you, the customer. According to Hughes, the benefits of these types of infrastructure improvement projects are numerous.

More progress on the plant's construction site

 

“It’s definitely going to improve the overall reliability of the plant and reduce operating costs,” he said. “And it’s going to improve the discharge water quality.” That means that these upgrades are reflected on the water released back into the environment as part of the wastewater treatment process, which is something we can all get behind. Our mission at Aqua is to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource—water—and to do that, we must do our part to take care of our planet as a whole.

A pipe's lifetime can range from 15 to 100 years, with many in Pennsylvania aged on the higher end of the spectrum—part of the reason why the state's infrastructure is in such dire need of upgrades like these. Making these changes to a plant that’s been in existence for nearly a century improves its overall reliability, and better reliability demonstrates greater social responsibility as a whole. Our water and wastewater treatment plants are not widely visible to customers, so many are not aware of the work that takes place in these facilities. Customers are likelier to see the miles of main replacements we do every year.  

“Much of our water mains we’re replacing was installed before the 1960s,” Marc Lucca added. “Here we are in 2019, and you’re looking at equipment that can be 60, 70, even 80 years old or more. A lot of these facilities were just not made to last that long.”

Lucca referenced the below photo to shed more light on the importance of upgrading aging water infrastructure.

Blast from the past: an Aqua maintenance crew in 1949

 

“When our workers installed these mains in 1949, people were probably thrilled to connect to a public water supply and to have access to public sewer,” Lucca said. “Here we are 70 years later, replacing the pipe that those men installed. In 2018, we replaced more than 150 miles of mains that had reached the end of its service life. Since the early 1990s, we have replaced almost 2,000 miles of similar main across Pennsylvania.  While this is a great benefit to the communities we serve and to the environment, we are sensitive to the temporary inconvenience it might create. People sometimes say they are upset by the traffic impact of our construction on their street or in their neighborhood. But we know that the pipes being replaced have lasted and served these neighborhoods for decades and enabled these communities and others to thrive and grow into what they are today.

“On the occasion that someone complains about us putting a new main in the ground, I usually say, ‘Well, at least you won’t see us for another 100 years, because our new pipe will last even longer.’”

How does this help Pennsylvania—and the world?

When it comes to Pennsylvania’s infrastructure report card, every improvement to the state’s infrastructure systems makes a difference, no matter how small. If outdated systems fail, there’s an increased risk of pollution or harm to the environment, and that’s no good in our books. At Aqua, our commitment to our customers and our planet drives everything we do.

Stay tuned to our Aquastructure blog series throughout 2019 for more insight into how we’re improving our nation’s infrastructure, not just in Pennsylvania but across the eight states we proudly serve.

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World’s drinking water and climate change are intrinsically intertwined, not mutually exclusive

 

By Aqua Vice President and Chief Environmental Officer Christopher Crockett 

In a recent interview with CBS News, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler argued that the agency’s time would be better spent cleaning drinking water across the globe rather than focusing on climate change. According to Wheeler, “Unsafe drinking water – not climate change – poses the greatest and most immediate global threat to the environment.” While Aqua America applauds the EPA for shining a spotlight on the critical importance of water safety and reliability, the reality is that water safety and climate change are intrinsically intertwined – and how the world addresses these problems will have a global impact for generations to come.

Safe drinking water is already an immediate concern to millions of people across the globe without access to potable water. But if countries ignore climate change, water-stressed countries, and even water-rich countries like the United States, will be in serious trouble. Climate change models predict warmer weather and changing precipitation patterns, where droughts will have a profound effect on river and groundwater levels, and extreme rain may result in flooding of developed areas. Lower river levels will require additional energy for water treatment, while lower groundwater levels will require more energy to extract water deeper from the Earth. Reduced water quantity is already forcing more communities to consider wastewater reuse, e.g. toilet to top. Climate change might also force fresh water sources to become more salty, reduce the quality of existing sources and force water systems to use lower-quality sources, which would increase treatment needs. A growing number of extreme-weather events, like hurricanes and super storms, combined with more urbanization, are likely to result in increased flooding, which can threaten our existing water and wastewater infrastructure. The World Water Resources Institute has many helpful maps that show the projected impacts of climate change on the nation’s water resources, and these effects cover large areas of the country.

To ensure Aqua can continue to make water even safer and more reliable in the future, these changes will require innovative solutions and a better infrastructure to carry new sources of water greater distances, and provide water-reuse options including small home-scale solutions like using rain water or gray water during extreme-stress periods. Climate change will likely require more energy to build this infrastructure and to process and distribute water. We must choose to invest equally in both water safety and climate change, with an eye towards the future. 

Serving more than 3 million people across eight states, Aqua America is an environmental steward for water resources. We know it is a great responsibility to deliver safe and reliable water efficiently and sustainably. And with more than 130 years of investment in water safety in the communities we serve, we aim to protect Earth’s most essential resource. Each year, we spend millions of dollars to repair and replace infrastructure, including leaking pipes and aging water mains, and we focus on conservation efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption. In fact, earlier this year, Aqua joined the CDP ranking for environmental stewardship, reinforcing its commitment to continued improvement in climate change governance and best practices.

Aqua employees and Villanova University students working on water infrastructure projects in Panama.

While we are continuously focused on improving service and reliability for our customers, Aqua understands that safe drinking water affects the global community. This is why Aqua partners with Villanova University to assist with vital infrastructure rehabilitation and water management projects in Central and South America. Aqua volunteers help build and repair water storage tanks and pipes, and transfer necessary water engineering knowledge to local workers. These projects help bring reliable water to communities that have done without, while also strengthening the vitality of agriculture and vegetation that off-set carbon emissions.

Aqua takes these efforts toward climate change mitigation seriously because, to us, the connection to safe, reliable water is obvious. Protecting the environment means protecting the vital, life-giving resource the world needs for generations to come.

For more information about Aqua’s commitment to sustainable business practices and environmental performance, visit our corporate social responsibility report

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Fixing a small leak can make a big difference

Happy Fix a Leak Week! If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry—Aqua is here to fill you in on why the annual observation is so important. Fix a Leak Week can teach us a thing or two about how everyday household water leaks can do more damage than you’d expect.

“At Aqua, we care deeply about providing safe, reliable water to our customers, but we’re also dedicated to protecting Earth’s most essential resource: water,” said Aqua’s Superintendent of Meter Operations, Sarah Eccles. “Fix a Leak Week is a perfect opportunity for you and the members of your household to get involved, too.”

Why do household leaks matter?

That’s a great question, and there are plenty of answers. On an environmental level, it’s crucial to catch leaks on a regular basis. Check out this statistic from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

 

That’s right: Simple household leaks waste about one trillion gallons of water every year.

Did you know that a leaking shower can waste more than 500 gallons of water per year if it goes unfixed? It’s true! The longer leaks linger, the worse they can get. As a water provider, Aqua knows the importance of preserving and protecting water as a vital natural resource—not only for the sake of the environment, but also for the sake of our customers.

How do leaks affect everyday life?

Let’s start with the obvious effects of a pesky household leak: water damage and flooding. A leaking pipe can get baseboards wet, and it can even start to leak through to another floor. Not only does this cause damage to your ceilings or walls, but it can also be a health hazard and cost you an extra chunk of change to get the water damage all fixed up.

The expenses don’t stop there—think about your water bill! Although droplets of water may seem miniscule, fixing simple leaks can save homeowners around 10 percent on their water bills. Luckily for you, it’s easier to fix these leaks than you’d think, whether they’re in your bathroom or your backyard.

Tackling leaks at the source

The first step in fixing a leak is to identify it. According to the EPA, if water usage for a family of four exceeds 12,000 gallons per month during the winter, there’s likely a leak in your home that needs fixing.

If you’re still uncertain, checking your water meter is the most direct way to identify a leak that you can’t see or hear around your house. Check your water meter before and after a two-hour period during which you use no water. If there’s a change, you have a leak.

By fixing leaks and monitoring your household’s water usage, you look out for the environment and your wallet. Who could say no to that deal?  

Why does Aqua care?

It’s as simple as this: Aqua is dedicated to preserving Earth’s most essential natural resource and providing reliable water service to our customers. We’ve been a proud water provider for more than 130 years, and we love what we do.

“The more that we educate our customers on the importance of taking small steps to help preserve water, the more we can help to improve our communities and the lives of our customers,” said Eccles. “This Fix a Leak Week, consider checking your home for leaks, then rest easy knowing that you’ve taken a step to eliminate wasted water.”

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How does water infrastructure affect public health?

There’s no question that water is Earth’s most essential resource—as a society, we use it for tasks both mundane and extraordinary every day.

At Aqua, we understand and value the importance of monitoring and repairing the systems responsible for bringing us that water. When infrastructure is outdated or damaged, it can cause problems that extend far beyond individual home plumbing systems.

We caught up with Vice President and Chief Environmental Officer Chris Crockett to better understand why Aqua’s determination to rebuild and repair our nation’s water infrastructure isn’t just important—it’s essential in order to maintain public health.

How your water travels to you matters—a lot.

It might seem like water simply rushes out of the tap, but its journey from the well or water treatment plant to your area is longer than you’d think. It’s possible that water has traveled many miles to reach your home, or maybe it was waiting to be released from a storage tank. This time spent traveling or sitting is called water age, and it can cause some less-than-ideal changes to the water.

“The longer the water sits in the pipes or tanks, the more things can happen to change its quality,” Crockett explains. “For example, the chlorine in the water will slowly degrade, and if it’s there too long, the chlorine can actually disappear.”

Though chlorine makes many people think of pool water (yuck), you’ll remember from our water purification blog that the proper amount needs to be present to keep your water safe for drinking. If pipes are outdated or rusty, the quality and safeness of the water can suffer. Without the presence of chlorine, bacteria and viruses can breed in the water supply, and that’s where things can go wrong.

Out with the old—especially pipes.

Pipes make up most of our water infrastructure systems, which makes their physical integrity of the utmost importance.

“Old, corroding pipes can grow a biofilm of bacteria that lives in the rust and can reduce the chlorine levels in the water as it sits in the pipe,” says Crockett. Not only do these biofilms eat away at pipes, but they also can give the water a slight unpleasant odor or taste.

Pipe problems don’t stop there. Crockett adds that “leaking pipes not only let water leak out, but under very specific conditions of low pressure could let water outside the pipe leak in, introducing contamination and dirt.”

According to a report from the American Water Works Association (AWWA), most of America’s drinking water distribution system is more than 50 years old. Although this infrastructure was built to last, Aqua is determined to stay ahead of deterioration to protect our customers’ water supplies.

Where does public health come in?

Water traveling through compromised (or just plain out-of-date) infrastructure can be contaminated through intrusion, corrosion, biofilms, sediment, water age, or any combination of these factors.

According to the AWWA report, a 2006 national estimate attributed nearly 50 percent of the risk of contracting a waterborne illness to distribution systems. As the AWWA puts it, there are three main concerns when it comes to understanding and tracking how water infrastructure can impact public health:

Chart via AWWA (Figure 3)

Using these three pillars, it’s easy to understand that poor infrastructure conditions can make water susceptible to more contaminants, which can affect public health through consumption and use of compromised water.

Although that’s a mouthful (and can sound concerning), allow us to give you peace of mind: Aqua is one step ahead of the game.

How, exactly?

Upgrading water infrastructure is no small task, but we know the benefits are worth it. By now, you understand the impact that outdated systems can have on your everyday life, but rest assured that Aqua takes plenty of action to keep your water safe and reliable.

According to Crockett, in addition to using sophisticated computer programs to monitor the state of the system, replacing old pipes, and flushing newer pipes with chemicals to keep them from corroding, Aqua also has plenty of boots on the ground.

“We conduct extensive flushing exercises,” he explains. “We go out in areas that may need help moving the water, and we flush it via hydrants to get out the rust and bring in fresh water.”

If you keep an eye out, you might even see members of our team in your area flushing hydrants. It’s one simple step that we can take to continue our mission to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource.

Stay tuned for another year of exploration and education throughout our Aquastructure blog series. See you next month!

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