The First-Ever Backhoe Challenge

As Aqua America celebrates 130 years of providing high-quality water service, it’s a good time to acknowledge what keeps us going strong: the Aqua employees

From engineers to customer service representatives to support coordinators and beyond, there’s a great group of people behind the water delivered to millions of people every day. That’s why every summer, we spend time at our annual company picnic. 

This year marked something new; something Aqua employees had never seen before. It was the first ever Backhoe Challenge.

 

What do you think looks the most difficult about this picture? Picking up a two-ounce egg with a spoon, OR picking up that same egg with a spoon that is attached to a 17,000 pound, 24-inch backhoe bucket? If you thought it's the latter, you're probably right. Which is what made the Backhoe Challenge such a fun challenge for the Aqua team! 

This inaugural event occurred during our annual company picnic that took place this year on July 21 at the Springton Reservoir, about 40 minutes north of Philadelphia.

It was designed by construction equipment vendor John Deere, and coordinated by our very own director of fleet and supply chain management, Charlie Stevenson, manager of fleet maintenance and compliance, Silvio DeAngelo and manager of Great Valley operations, Mike Filli. 

The idea was to represent all three Southeastern Pennsylvania operating divisions by dividing teams into two. This was determined by each division’s individual competitions that were held a few weeks prior to the finals. The winners were chosen by whichever operators successfully completed the events in the least amount of time. It was definitely a competition worth watching!

There were three events in the competition. Each involved the backhoe in some way or another. 

 

Round 1: The Egg Challenge 

The first event was the egg challenge, as seen above. The objective was to use a tablespoon that was attached to one of the backhoe bucket teeth, on the right side of the operator’s perspective. The operator had to pick up the egg from a sand mound and transport it to a hay bale on the left side of backhoe without breaking the egg. If the egg was broken, they had to start all over again. 

Just wait because it gets even more challenging.

 

Round 2: Balancing Balls  

For the second event, operators were required to move at least three of six, 10-inch diameter balls from atop equally-spaced safety cones with stabilizing cups.

To make matters even more difficult, the cones were lined up on the right side of the operator and the balls had to be placed in a tub located on the left side of the operator. At the end, they were required to return the bucket to the starting board. If the challenge was not completed correctly, they were asked to start over and wait for the cones to be reset.

 

 

 

Round 3: Joining Cylinders 

For the third event of the challenge, operators were required to use a chain with an s-hook attached to the backhoe bucket. They had to hook a vertical cylinder, about the size of a soda can, and move it to a receiving cylinder, which was not much larger 

The vertical cylinder had to be placed at least two thirds of the way into the receiving cylinder. In order for the challenge to be complete, the operators had to disconnect the cylinder and take the empty backhoe bucket back to the starting board.

 

The event seemed to bring everyone together, creating an undeniable energy during the competition. Great Valley manager, Mike Fili, who assisted in constructing the courses, says “There was a great sense of competition and boasting from them in the weeks leading up to the competition. They were talking smack about how they were going to beat one another. They had a lot of fun.”

Silvio DeAngelo saysthat while those competing made it look easy, it was not, as some of the participants had not operated these machines (daily) in years

 

“Even with training, not everyone can operate a backhoe. It requires great hand-eye coordination as well as a great sense of touch. Operators have to watch closely what the bucket is doing, and be even more diligent when using pilot control,” says  DeAngelo.

 

 

And the Winner Is...

The overall winner was theEastern division maintenance crew leader, Joe Sciallis, who admitted the most difficult challenge was the chain and cylinder. He had the honor of taking the Backhoe Challenge trophy back to the division's Willow Grove office.

Vice president of network, Marc Lucca, jokes that the Willow Grove division manager, Rob McNamara, will “bring the trophy to the division managers’ meetings just so they are all reminded of the current Backhoe Challenge Champion.”

It is safe to say that the first-ever Backhoe Challenge was an incredible success! It will be back at next year’s picnic with new and exciting challenges so stay tuned.

 

Learn more about the people behind Aqua’s water service here.

 

 

 

Share This Post:

Aqua America CEO Chris Franklin Shares His Leadership Advice

 

July marked my first full year as CEO of Aqua America– and what a year it was! After serving in various roles over more than two decades within Aqua, the opportunity to be able to lead this great company has been the ultimate privilege and honor.

Looking back, this first year has been filled with wonderful experiences, unexpected challenges, exciting accomplishments, and most importantly, lessons learned. I wanted to share three of these key lessons because I believe they will not only make a difference in the way in which I’ll lead moving forward, but will also have a positive impact on the continued success of Aqua – and hopefully, by extension, to our customers, investors and the communities we serve.

1.     Time is often a leader’s biggest adversary.

Like so many people, I have often felt that there just isn’t enough time in the day for everything that needs to get done. Regardless of the industry you work in, time management is a crucial skill to develop and incredibly important if you want to become an effective leader. While I don’t pretend to have fully mastered this skill, it is something I work toward every day. It’s why, early on, I introduced a series of meeting guidelines at Aqua such as starting and ending on time, requiring agendas, and putting away mobile phones during meetings, which can serve as distractions. While these guidelines may seem simple, they go a long way toward increasing efficiency, respecting and saving associates’ time, and maximizing productivity in the workplace.

 

2.     Aim for both short-term wins and long-term success.

I came into my new role at Aqua with a long list of goals. While I’ve been fortunate to see many come to fruition in this first year thanks in large part to the invaluable support of my team, there is still much more I’m looking forward to accomplishing together. It can be easy to grow frustrated when the pace of progress doesn’t match the deadlines you’ve set or when obstacles occur along the way. However, I’ve learned that setting a series of goals helps keep us focused and more firmly on the path to success. Some are milestone goals that can be accomplished in a few short weeks and others lay the groundwork for supporting other long-term business objectives that will take a significant investment in time to achieve. For me, a major part of establishing this groundwork has been taking the time to build a strong senior leadership team with the right experience and skillsets to turn our goals into reality.

 

3.     A thoughtful balance between internal and external priorities is key.

In the utility industry, leaders must divide their time appropriately between internal and external stakeholders. Our employees remain among my highest priorities and I have spent an enormous amount of time working to improve the employee experience at Aqua – and there is much more to do. Additionally, it’s important to protect the strong reputation we have with regulators and legislators where we do business. As a result, I continue to spend a significant portion of my time in state capitals with our management team to commemorate the good things Aqua America is doing and also ask for support on issues where we need help. I am fortunate to be surrounded by a management team, throughout Aqua, that works to divide their time in a similar way. This is a very exciting time to be on the Aqua team.

I am very proud of Aqua’s associates and all we have accomplished together this past year. They have taught me a great deal about being a better leader and have only strengthened my resolve to grow Aqua into an even stronger company in the years to come.

 

By: Chris Franklin, CEO, Aqua America

Share This Post:

Aqua Cares About Bugs, and You Should Too

Why would a compliance guy at Aqua America care about bugs in the IllinoisKankakee River when most people try to avoid or kill bugs?

 

Kevin M. Culver of Aqua America

First off, I am not an entomologist (aka a bug expert) so why do I care about bugs? This is the first question I ask when conducting a source water presentation or manning our source water display booth at events.

Most of the responses I receive, depending on the age of the participant, are that:

·      Bugs are bad and need to be eliminated

·      Bugs are part of the food chain necessary to sustain life in the river

Both responses are somewhat correct but not exactly why I care. We do not want bugs in our drinking water but they are an important part of the food chain.

I care about the bugs because one can determine the health of a stream by the number and type of bugs living in the stream. Not only can the bugs be used to determine water quality, but fish and fresh water mussels can also be used as biological indicators of water quality.

 

Bugs And Your Water   

So what are macro-invertebrates (macros)? These include aquatic insect such as larvae, worms, leeches and snails that can be found under rocks, attached to plants and in the bottom sediments of rivers and streams.

Not all macros that are found indicate species of water quality. In fact, only 36 different groups of macros make up the specimens used to determine water quality.

 

The 36 Groups: What You Need to Know

As a citizen scientist through the River Watch program, I have been trained on techniques on how to properly collect and identify the water quality indicator of macro-invertebrates. 

I collect bugs at four assigned sites annually within the Kankakee watershed, located in the northeastern part of Illinois. The same sites are used each year to determine water quality at that instant and to trend this result against previous sampling events.

Each of the 36 indicator species is assigned a tolerance value (TV) to pollution between “0” being completely intolerant to pollution and “11” being highly tolerant to pollution.

The weighted average tolerance value of all the bugs collected at a site is the water quality indicator, officially known as the Macro-invertebrate Biological Index (MBI).

If a bug is intolerant to pollution, it means it hasn't acclimated to pollution, which mean the river is clean. If a bug is tolerant to pollution, it means the bug has indeed been exposed to pollution - so much so that its body has changed its reaction to pollution. 

So when Aqua tells everyone that the Kankakee River is one of the “cleanest” rivers in the Midwest, it's the bugs that prove it. The water quality in Rock Creek in the Kankakee State Park is one of the few sites in Illinois that are statistically getting cleaner, according to the bug results.

This year I also collected 849 bugs from my Kankakee River site that had the lowest ever average tolerance value (MBI) at 4.29.

 

Why Should You Care About the Bugs?  

Along with just being cool, they are an integral part of our source water protection plan. You can determine water quality by which bugs are present or absent and they are a great way to educate and demonstrate to young and old about the importance of source water protection.

 

 

Share This Post:

Water: The Real Olympic Superstar

The Olympic Games are one of the world’s oldest traditions. For thousands of years, athletes of all shapes, sizes, nations and creeds have come together to prove their prowess. However, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that many of the water-based competitions we know and love today joined the ranks. Now, as some of the most popular sporting events to watch, it’s hard to imagine the Olympics without them.

Since we're nearing the end of the Rio 2016 Olympics, we have a lot of questions on our mind. If you’re like us and want to know how many gallons of water a regulation-size pool holds, check out the fun facts below.

 

 Image via Pexels.com

Swimming:

  • When the swimming competition was founded in 1896, the only two stroke styles were freestyle and breaststroke.
  • Regulated pools weren’t around until 1908. Up to that point, the competitions took place in open water.

 

 Image via Pixabay.com 

Diving:

  • Diving was introduced at the 1904 St. Louis Olympic games. Springboard and platform events were added in 1908.

Water polo:

  • In the early days of European Water Polo, players would ride on barrels that resembled horses, and hit the ball with mallets. America had its own version more similar to rugby.
  • Water polo was introduced at the Olympics in 1900. At that time, it was only a men’s competition. It took until 2000 for women to have their own division.

Synchronized swimming:

  • Synchronized swimming is one of the newest Olympic sports, having debuted in the 1984 Los Angeles games.
  • Synchronized swimming and rhythmic gymnastics are the only Olympic sports with no male equivalent team.

The pool:

  • Olympic pools hold about 660,000 gallons of water
  • Each pool is required to be 50 meters long and 25 meters wide in order to meet regulations.
  • The Rio swimming facility is gorgeous. (OK, this one is our opinion!)

The athletes:

  • If you follow the Olympics at all, you’ve most likely heard of Michael Phelps. Holding 18 gold, two silver and two bronze medals, he’s not only the best swimmer in the world, but also the most decorated Olympic athlete in history.
  • For women’s swimming, Jenny Thompson (now retired), holds 12 medals – eight of which are gold. She currently holds more medals than any other female swimmer in history.

Now that you’re an expert on everything water in the Olympics, you’re ready to cheer on your favorite team (USA of course). Show off your newfound knowledge to your friends and prepare your victory dance for when Phelps takes all the medals. We’ll be on the edge of our seats the entire time. How about you?

Share This Post:

6 Ways to Hydrate Like an Olympian

Ever wonder how Olympic athletes stay hydrated? With the 2016 Summer Olympics underway, that question has been on our minds a lot. Sometimes we just want to know how many glasses of water it takes Michael Phelps to swim in peak condition. That’s why we decided to do a little digging to discover exactly how Olympic superstars like Phelps replenish their energy in order to take the home the gold.

Sweat it off

Olympic athletes need to drink before, during and after their training sessions and competitions. Sweating is the body’s way of controlling temperature, and athletes do a lot of it over the course of a day. Constant water breaks are a surefire way to recharge your system and keep you at peak performance. 

Don’t go for the gold

What exactly does healthy, hydrated urine look like? Mostly clear! The more water you drink, the more diluted your pee urine becomes. If your urine is darker in color and has a strong odor, then you’re definitely dehydrated. No worries, though: All you need to do to fix the problem is have a couple more glasses of water a day.

Burn, baby, burn

Consuming thousands of calories a day is a necessity for Olympians. They burn off most of what they eat while competing and then need to replenish themselves in order to keep up muscle mass. Drinking more water not only helps athletes stay refreshed, but it also improves digestion and reduces stomach pains. (That must be a nice bonus after eating all that food.)

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Glass half full

Athletes may give it 110 percent when racing, swimming or pole vaulting, but their bodies are only made up of about half that percentage in water. If an Olympian loses more than two percent of their weight in water, they will begin to lose their mental edge. Staying hydrated both prevents fatigue and keeps the mind and reflexes sharp for optimal Olympic performance.

Drink more than you think

One of the biggest misconceptions about hydration is that you only need to drink water when you physically feel thirsty. In reality it’s already too late. By drinking water (or other beverages with high water content) every so often you can prevent dehydration from sneaking up on you. This is especially important if you’re out in the sun for prolonged periods of time. Pro tip: By carrying a reusable water bottle with you at all times, you’ll be more likely to take sips throughout the day.

Be a good sport

We know we talk a lot about water, but hey, that’s what we do best. However, one of the best ways to make sure you stay as healthy as possible is to consume sports drinks in addition to your regular water intake. Sports drinks contain electrolytes that help to replace the sodium athletes lose when they sweat.

 

We all need to stay hydrated, but athletes need to work on it a little bit more than the rest of us. To keep yourself hydrated, check out these hacks. If you take these hydration tips to heart, who knows — maybe you’ll be up on a podium wearing the gold one day!

 

Share This Post: