Aqua America’s role in our nation’s infrastructure renewal

When it comes to water and wastewater infrastructure, the reality is that the United States has more than one million miles of underground pipe, much of which is nearly a century old and in dire need of replacement.

According to the American Water Works Association, it will cost an estimated $1 trillion to maintain and expand drinking water service to meet demands over the next 20 years. There is no question that upgrading water and wastewater infrastructure is a major challenge facing our country, and Aqua is proud to be leading the charge when it comes to offering a viable solution. In 2017 alone, Aqua invested $478 million in water and wastewater infrastructure.

Most importantly, our investment has had a direct impact on the communities we serve across our eight-state footprint, including:

  • University Park, Illinois, where we were able to significantly improve water quality with a 14-mile pipeline project
  • Lakes of Mission Grove, Texas, which lacked its own wastewater plant
  • Southeastern Pennsylvania, where main breaks were reduced by 70 percent following significant infrastructure investments

Expertise and persistence delivers for Illinois residents and businesses 

Residents and businesses of University Park, Illinois were served by a water source that contained high levels of iron, calcium and magnesium, creating taste and hardness issues. Many relied on water softeners and filters to reduce hardness. The well source was simply not good, leaving Aqua Illinois with a complicated problem.

Aqua Illinois conducted a feasibility study to explore a set of potential solutions including running a pipeline from a better water source to University Park. Extending the pipeline would be complex, both physically and financially, requiring Aqua Illinois to navigate jurisdiction issues, obtain easements and design around waterways and farm fields. The 14 miles of new pipeline runs from Aqua Illinois’ award-winning Kankakee plant to its customers in University Park.

Both residents and businesses benefit from this expansive project. University Park customers have seen a 90 percent reduction in iron and a 70 percent reduction in hardness. The pipeline project also increased water capacity, which is attracting new economic development to the area.

New Texas wastewater plant increases capacity five-fold

When Aqua Texas acquired the Lakes of Mission Grove system, the community’s population was so low that the volume of wastewater produced couldn’t sustain its own treatment plant. This required Aqua Texas to haul wastewater to a treatment plant each day.

When the community’s population started to rapidly grow, Aqua was able to plan for a new wastewater treatment plant that could serve current residents and new families to come. Aqua Texas began the bidding process for the engineering of what would become a $1.2 million plant to serve the residents. 

The project dramatically increased capacity to 135,000 gallons of wastewater per day and an ability to serve an additional 500 homes. The efficient new plant provides significant operational savings and increased environmental benefits.

Renewed infrastructure benefits customers and the environment

Aqua Pennsylvania owns and is responsible for 5,800 miles of pipe—varying in size, type and age—in 32 counties. Much of this water infrastructure is approaching the end of its useful life cycle, making it susceptible to main breaks, service interruptions, water discoloration and customer dissatisfaction.

In 2017 alone, Aqua Pennsylvania completed nearly 200 projects, replacing 135 miles of main with an investment of $141 million. Over the life of the main replacement program, Aqua Pennsylvania has replaced more than 1,700 miles of pipe with an investment of $1.4 billion.

When the program started, the pipes were on a 900-year replacement cycle. Today, that number has been significantly reduced to a 90-year replacement cycle. The benefits of the main replacement program have been most dramatic in its southeastern division, which is the largest with 4,600 miles of main that serve one million people. Main breaks there have been reduced by 70 percent to an all-time low of eight breaks per 100 miles of pipe, per year, and customer complaints have fallen by 59 percent.

Looking back on these achievements from 2017 excites us to reflect similarly on 2018 as we close out the year. Stay tuned to the Aqua blog in 2019 to explore our continued efforts to make infrastructure improvements across the nation.

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Why fats, oils, and grease are a sewer pipe’s worst nightmare

Have you ever cooked up some bacon or boiled some chicken only to pour the leftover grease down the drain?

It seems so easy—and, let’s face it, very tempting—to dump those fats, oils and grease, aka FOG, into the sink and be done with it. But the truth of the matter is that all that FOG can cause serious havoc on your sewage system.

We talked to Joe Pearce, director of operations for Aqua North Carolina, to learn how and why fats, oils, and grease can cause damage to the pipes that take wastewater from your home.

Hot grease? More like cold, hard sludge

Here’s the deal: When you pour hot grease into your sink, it’s typically at a very high temperature, meaning the FOG flows down the drain in liquid form. 

What you might not realize, though, is that as that FOG cools off, it transforms into a solid substance that quickly clogs up the pipes in your home and downstream sewage systems.

That thick, sludgy FOG will continue to stick to the inside of your pipes and accumulate. In time, it could even block your entire drain and cause a serious backup in your home.  In the sewer system, it can cause a sanitary sewage overflow.

Meanwhile, because FOG is high in organic strength (and because anaerobic bacteria find it to be quite delicious), it begins to generate hydrogen sulfide gas. When this gas combines with water, it creates a powerful sulfuric acid that can corrode many types of piping and damage concrete and ductile iron.

Not all heroes wear capes

You might be wondering how you can be a hero and save your pipes from a clog-filled nightmare. The answer is easy: Don’t pour grease down the drain! That’s it—really.

Instead, make a point to pour FOG into empty food cans, then chuck those bad boys into the garbage. Wiping down frying pans with a paper towel to soak up the FOG before tossing it in the trash is a good trick, too.

What does Aqua do to help?

According to Pearce, infrastructure improvements are often required to fix problems created by grease damage in our sewer systems. One option is to use a type of pipe that’s less susceptible to hydrogen sulfide corrosion: plastic (PVC) pipes.

However, for a variety of reasons, that type of pipe isn’t always the best option for some of our sites. For sites that require the use of ductile iron pipe, ceramic-coated ductile iron pipe is a good alternative.

Bring on the holiday meals, please!

It’s important to talk about FOG during the holiday season since this time of year tends to come with a spike in sewage issues. All that additional cooking leads to additional grease that can quickly clog your pipes and overflow your sewage system the morning after a big holiday get together!

If you’re on your kitchen’s cleanup crew this holiday season, do yourself (and your drain) a favor by making sure all that FOG meets its fate in the trash instead of the sink.

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Maintaining the flow with Aqua’s maintenance and repair crews

 

Water, for the most part, seems to be fairly ubiquitous.

Think about it. We shower with water, we drink water, we cook with water, and we clean with water.

But, believe it or not, there’s actually quite a bit of work and maintenance that goes into supplying all that water.

From underground wells and pipes to treatment facilities and tanks, our drinking water goes through a lot of hoops and hurdles to get to us. Not to mention how much goes into the purification process to ensure we are delivering safe, reliable water.

So, what happens when there's a sudden service disruption? Like when there’s a power outage. Or a big storm. Or a water main break

While it’s no fun to experience some of these disturbances, Aqua has a talented team that carefully monitors and carries out our daily operations so you can go about your life with the water you need.

We’ve got your back

Overall, Aqua operates 2,738 treatment facilities, with locations in Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Texas, says Justin Kauffman, director of asset management and field services at Aqua.

In most of our states, Aqua has a centralized maintenance crew that we deploy whenever there’s a system issue. Over in Texas, however, they do things a bit differently. Unlike the other states that have a large maintenance hub, Aqua Texas is comprised of many small, rural water systems spread out over a large geographic area. So, in order to meet such a high demand, Aqua employs numerous contractors in Texas to stay on top of all the maintenance and repairs.

To better understand about the upkeep and maintenance of all of the water systems and equipment, we spoke with Dan Rimann, vice president of operations and engineering at Aqua Texas.

Finding the problem

First, whenever there’s a glitch in a water delivery system, it’s necessary to figure out what’s going on.

This can be difficult as most of the equipment we use is located underground, after all. On top of that, it can be tricky to know what equipment is your responsibility as a customer, and what is Aqua’s.

 

For example, Aqua is responsible for the company service line, curb stop, and meter, while the customer service line, meter pit, pressure reducing valve, and the backflow preventer are upkept by Aqua’s customers.

When Aqua experiences a glitch, most often it is a maintenance issues occurring in our water distribution systems, specifically with the pipes, which are responsible for collecting water from ground and surface sources and transporting them to your home.

“In Texas, the majority of pipe breaks are caused by the ground shifting during long periods of hot, dry weather — think drought-like conditions,” Rimann told us.

 

Fixing the glitch

According to Rimann, most of the piping we have in the ground is small diameter plastic pipe, which can be affected under by extreme weather conditions.

When a pipe breaks, we quickly assess the damage and send out a repair crew to get things back in order.  Most of the time, this entails installing a repair clamp in the pipe or sleeving in a new section of pipe.

And while we may not be able to predict when, exactly, these issues will occur, we know our maintenance and repair teams will work quickly so you (and your water) get back to business as usual.  

Thanks for tuning in to another step of our Aquastructure journey. We’ll see you next time!

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Aqua’s commitment to customer experience

 

By Aqua Chairman & CEO Chris Franklin

In October of each year, thousands of companies across the United States and around the world celebrate Customer Service Week to acknowledge the effort of employees who work in the field of customer service. Proclaimed a nationally recognized designation by the U.S. Congress more than 25 years ago, CSW provides us at Aqua an opportunity to honor our incredible employees who work tirelessly each day to provide an excellent experience for our customers, both directly and behind the scenes.

We have a terrific group of talented employees on our Aqua Customer Operations team who are deeply dedicated to effectively engaging with customers each day. These employees carry on a commitment that has been fundamental to our company’s 130-plus year history—so important to Aqua, in fact, that it is an essential element of our company’s vision.  

 

And while we rely on these team members to serve on the front lines of our customer service efforts, we know excellent customer experience requires a company-wide commitment. Our entire workforce is responsible for helping to carry out Aqua’s customer service vision.

Fortunately, we have more than 1,600 employees across our footprint who are dedicated to protecting and providing earth’s most precious resource for our customers, with integrity, respect and excellence. They work toward continuously improving our customer experience  through diligent maintenance on our infrastructure that ensures reliability and avoids service interruptions; testing at Aqua Labs and throughout our service territories to search for potential contaminants in our water supply; enabling the WaterSmart suite of e-billing, alerts and tips that help customers pay bills, learn of service interruptions; responding to customer service requests via  social media through our Aqua social team; and educating customers with campaigns that provide tips including how to properly dispose of fats, oils and grease during the holidays to prevent clogs, water conservation suggestions and how to avoid frozen pipes during cold months.

As part of our ongoing commitment to customers, we have an obligation to constantly improve our processes to respond to changing customer expectations.

This CSW, we celebrate our company’s ongoing commitment to customer service, an incredible ACO team and a workforce that is wholeheartedly dedicated to providing the best possible experience for all Aqua customers.

 

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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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