Aqua labs: Going above and beyond to keep Aqua water clean

By Aqua Laboratory/Research Manager Charles Hertz, Ph.D.

August is National Water Quality Month, which is the perfect time to teach about what Aqua does to provide our customers with water of the highest quality.

I work out of Aqua’s primary lab in Bryn Mawr, PA, where I oversee a team of chemists and microbiologists with lab and water quality backgrounds, who test Aqua’s water supply. Lab employees are also stationed at water treatment facilities across Aqua’s service territories to complete additional, local testing.


Aqua’s labs are accredited in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia. That means that its test results are deemed acceptable by each state for compliance testing. The laboratories in Pennsylvania’s Roaring Creek and Shenango water treatment plants are also state-certified for specific testing, primarily for coliform bacteria.

In addition to the tests run in the Bryn Mawr laboratories, there is additional testing done at the water treatment plants, which have online continuous monitoring instrumentation that tests for turbidity (cloudiness of the water), chlorine and pH levels. That data is complemented with spot checks conducted by plant treatment operators every two hours. Process-control bacteria sampling is conducted at the treatment plants after filtration and disinfection testing of the finished water is completed to ensure the water is properly disinfected before leaving the plant.

Among the most important testing done at all of our water treatment plants is taste and odor testing. Beyond knowing that the water meets all environmental regulations, what our customers want most is to know that their water looks, smells and tastes good. They want it to be absent of color and flavor, and these operational tests done at the treatment plants ensure that is what we’re providing.

While various tests are required by law to ensure that Aqua’s water meets federal and state drinking water standards, we voluntarily complete thousands of additional tests each month to further ensure the safety and quality of our water. In total, we conduct about 250,000 tests on about 30,000 samples annually.

The frequency for compliance testing varies by constituent. For instance, certain radionuclide testing is required every three years, compared with bacteriological sampling, which is required each month. Coliform bacteria must be tested in the distribution system after the water leaves the treatment facility. The number of bacteriological samples tested each month depends on system size.

One potential issue that is carefully monitored, particularly in the warm summer months, is the presence of algae in source water. Algae blooms can create organic compounds in water, which can lead to earthy or musty odors and tastes. This water is not harmful, but its taste and odor make it unpalatable to many. There are some people who are hypersensitive – compared to most – and can taste these compounds when present in parts per trillion, which makes Aqua’s job particularly difficult.

Beyond testing water throughout the treatment process, Aqua’s labs also play an important role in crisis situations that arise due to environmental or ecological issues that impact water quality. When certain contaminants are found in a given area, we increase our water testing beyond what is required by regulations. Additional testing can include watershed and groundwater samples. Recently, Aqua purchased additional technology to ensure accurate and timely test results for PFCs, unregulated chemicals that are currently receiving a lot of attention in Southeastern Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

The regulatory tests are a snapshot in time, but we test more frequently to determine what our water quality is on a regular basis and to provide context to our compliance testing, which helps us stay on top of things. Most of what is in water is just that – water. Everything else is measured in trace amounts of one part per million or less.

There is no magic bullet that will ensure high quality water. Good water quality is a combination of many things and there isn’t one test that will tell water professionals or our customers if the water is drinkable or if it is safe. Compliance testing, continuous operational testing and monitoring, and treatment adjustments when and where necessary, are what we will continue to do to ensure that our customers are getting quality water that meets or outperforms environmental regulations. 

Chuck's interest in water testing started at a young age!

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Aqua PA Spotlight: Wastewater Operations Superintendent Bob Soltis

Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater Operations Superintendent Bob Soltis or “Aqua Bob” as he is affectionately known throughout his service area, is incredibly passionate about his work at the 14 Aqua wastewater plants he oversees in Northeast Pennsylvania. In fact, one could say Soltis eats, sleeps and eventually drinks wastewater. He holds Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection class A and E wastewater licenses, and subclasses 1, 2, 3 and 4, which equate to the highest operations licensure available in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

“The wastewater we discharge has to be clean and clear or I can’t sleep at night,” said Soltis. “Somebody, somewhere is going to eventually drink this water, whether it is an animal, a human, or the aquatic life in the receiving waters!”

By cleaning wastewater for discharge into streams, or for reuse like irrigation, water treatment plants speed up the natural process of water purification. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency considers wastewater treatment one of the most common forms of pollution control. Because of this, Soltis considers his number one job to be one of the greatest examples of environmental stewardship.

“Aqua acquired the Washington Park treatment plant about five years ago. Before we took over operations, the water was so dirty that the entire stream was devoid of any life,” said Soltis. “Now, there is vibrant plant and animal life living around the stream and that is a testament to Aqua’s dedication to putting out quality water.”

(Above) Original Washington Park wastewater treatment facility.
(Below) New Washington Park wastewater treatment facility near completion.

Treating wastewater presents a set of challenges that are completely different from those faced when processing drinking water. Not only is it technically, physically and financially more difficult to operate these plants, but treating wastewater is a biological, chemical, and mechanical process that requires constant vigilance from operators.

“The nutrients and the raw sewage entering the plant changes hourly and we are constantly monitoring the wastewater,” said Soltis. “We do some testing, but being able to do an empirical assessment of what is happening during the treatment process – what the wastewater looks and smells like – and making proper adjustments based on that is what makes the water Aqua discharges great.”

Over his 10 years at Aqua Pennsylvania, Soltis has managed the complete overhauls of several wastewater plants acquired by Aqua including Masthope, Bunker Hill, Washington Park, Laurel Lakes, River Crest, Pine Crest and Lake Harmony. Each treatment plant now runs incredibly efficiently.

“I take great pride in my work, but the spotlight really belongs on my operators and wastewater treatment plants,” said Soltis. “The performance of each treatment plant is a team effort. I cannot accomplish anything I do on my own and that’s what makes this organization shine.” 


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Hurricane Season: Stay Prepared and Stay Safe

Sometimes, water service can be affected by hurricane conditions. Aqua wants to help you ensure you're prepared.

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Take a Whirl on America's Tallest Water Slides

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DIY Snow Cones: A Natural Taste of Summer

Ah, summertime.

Favorite memories of the season often include a combination of sun, water and delicious frozen treats, one of which is the classic snow cone. This flavored crushed ice is a simple but universal staple of many memorable summer adventures.

Unfortunately, snow cone syrup is often packed with chemicals, food dyes and hidden sugars that aren’t quite as nutritious as they are fun to eat. If you’re looking to capture the magic of summer in a delicious snow cone without any of the pre-packaged or way-too-sugary syrups, look no further! Here’s how to have fun while making healthier choices this summer.

What you’ll need: 

  • 1 cup of 100 percent fruit juice
  • ½ to 1 cup of sugar, depending on your preferred tartness of juice
  • Ice
  • Blender, food processor or snow cone maker to shave ice
  • Small saucepan


What to do: 

  1. In a small saucepan, combine fruit juice and sugar.
  2. Set saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
  3. Turn to low and simmer for five minutes, stirring until sugar completely dissolves.
  4. Pour syrup into a jar and allow it to cool completely.
  5. Refrigerate for several hours before use.
  6. To make snow cone, mound shaved ice in a snow cone cup or bowl. Pour your homemade syrup over the ice and dig in!

Bonus recipe: 

August also happens to be National Coffee Month. If you’re a kid at heart who still needs their afternoon caffeine, here’s a recipe for a delicious coffee syrup for a cold treat fit for grown ups.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 cup of strong coffee
  • ½ cup of water
  • 2 tbs of lemon juice
  • Small pan

What to do:

  1. Boil ingredients in a small pan.
  2. Set in fridge to cool.
  3. Pour over shaved ice.

The summer celebrations don’t have to stop when school starts! Keep a taste of summer going as long as possible by enjoying after-school snow cones to cool off and celebrate a long day of learning.

What’s your favorite DIY snow cone syrup flavor? Let us know!

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