U.S. Water Week Highlights Technology and Water Protection

At Aqua, we know that water is the most essential resource to the world. Each day, the Aqua team works to provide clean, safe drinking water to the millions of people we serve, while at the same time being environmentally sustainable.

This year’s U.S. Water Week, which is recognized from April 15 to 21, focuses on how crucial it is to improve water and water infrastructure funding in the United States.

According to Aqua’s Chief Environmental Officer Chris Crockett, America’s current infrastructure is sorely neglected and failing: service outages are increasing, advance refunding has been taken away, and increasing regulations inhibit protection of our water resources.

Surprisingly, U.S. water usage has actually declined over the last decade or so. From 1996 to 2016, average annual indoor household water usage has decreased by 22 percent. However, staggering population growth, both in the U.S. and around the world, pose a serious challenge to declining natural water resources. 

Source: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision

According to the World Resources Institute, a majority of the United States is under high risk concerning water quantity, which will have a short or long term impact on water being available to those living in the region.

 

Source: World Resources Institute

Technology can help solve the water system challenges we are facing, but people have to advocate education efforts to policymakers about the importance of water infrastructure funding.

In order to think about water and all of its interconnections, Crockett asks us to think about how we would manage water and wastewater if we were to build a city from scratch. Think about the water cycle, the drinking water and fire suppression systems.

In the end, though, Crockett says that nothing beats nature.

“Nature must be more fully integrated into our communities to clean and protect drinking water as a first step,” he says. While technology will help us in solving some of the challenges our water infrastructure system faces, we need to focus on how we can help preserve the environment.

Aqua tries to make environmentally sustainable choices in everything we do, because we know the importance of water. By cleaning the wastewater produced by the communities we serve each day and returning this safe water back into local rivers, we work to prevent pollution, protect wildlife and champion the environment.

Plus, since 2005, we have partnered up with Treevitalize and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to plant 43,658 trees at 277 locations, and Aqua volunteers have been involved in cleaning up rivers and fundraising for fire departments.

It’s necessary to protect and preserve nature in order to maintain safe water for generations to come, and as a company, we’re proud to say our team continues to work year-round to do just that.

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Taking a Green Glimpse at Aqua’s Eco-Friendly Initiatives

Now that we’ve covered the different processes by which Aqua treats and distributes water, it’s time to take a step back and look at how we keep it green. With Earth Day right around the corner, we were curious about all the eco-friendly and sustainable ways in which Aqua does its part for our planet. But first, we wanted to know: why is it so important to be “green” in the first place?

To find out, we spoke with Aqua team members Krista Scheirer, environmental specialist, Mark Bubel, project engineer, and Chris Crockett, vice president and chief environmental officer. And we’re not exaggerating when we say they gave us a lot to think about.

What’s all this talk about a carbon footprint?

You’ve probably read about this concept at some point, but every person, place and object in this world has a carbon footprint.

A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide each entity releases into the air and serves as a way of measuring our impact on the environment. The larger the carbon footprint, the greater the damage is to our environment.

What does Aqua think about all of this?

Because the decisions we make today are crucial to ensuring that we have reliable sources of drinking water in the future, Aqua is always on the lookout for improvement projects and opportunities that will help us function as sustainably as possible. In fact, our processes are already quite eco-friendly!

Good to know, but how exactly?

Let’s start with the easiest process: groundwater treatment. Because groundwater is typically quite clean from being filtered in the infiltration process, it doesn’t require too much work. So even when it does require some extra TLC, we’re able to keep our treatment’s carbon footprint to a minimum.

That’s not so hard. Right?

Well, surface water treatment is a bit trickier. We protect our surface water sources as much as possible, because the cleaner the water is when it reaches the treatment plants, the less chemicals and power are required to treat it.

Additionally, we use renewable energy at many of our treatment facilities (think: LED lighting and solar panels) and frequently replace old pipes and meters, which significantly reduces water loss.

Finally, remember the various materials (hint: mainly dirt) that get filtered out of surface water during the treatment process? Well, at Aqua, we are exploring “upcycling” those waste materials to make things like bricks.

Hold up. How can you prevent waste from going to waste?

Back in the third installation in our Aquastructure series, we talked about how microorganisms are dumped into the wastewater to get rid of organic matter containing carbon and nitrogen.

In order for these microorganisms to work, they need oxygen. So much, in fact, that feeding the microorganisms oxygen usually accounts for more than half of the energy used at the plants. (Yep, you read that right: HALF!) To improve efficiency and cut back on oxygen, we installed sensors that adjust and recirculate oxygen levels, which ensures that all our precious energy and oxygen isn’t going to waste. 

Meanwhile, those microorganisms are alive, so they begin to grow and reproduce, forming a nutrient-rich “sludge.” In the past, this sludge was pumped out of the tanks and sent straight to a landfill. However, we figured there must be a better way to deal with this sludge, so we found a solution to get rid of it once and for all.

This is where anaerobic digester tanks come in. These digesters mix and heat the sludge, which significantly reduces the remaining amount. The leftover bits and pieces of sludge can then be reused for fertilizer. Yum!

Ok, so it’s not so simple after all.

No, not really! And this only covers our eco-friendly practices when it comes to our treatment plants. At Aqua, we also host staff volunteer days for tree plantings, stream cleanups and habitat restorations. Our foundation contributes funding to dozens of environmental groups, and we work with more than 50 community organizations and regulatory agencies on water quality improvement projects.

Oh, and did we mention that Aqua facilities are home to many local ecosystems and endangered species? It’s true: From bird sanctuaries to diverse landscapes to valuable forests, we do our very best to protect these resources for the magnificent wildlife and aquatic life, and, of course, future generations.

Here’s the thing: Aqua completely relies on the health of our natural resources. Whatever we do to the land, the air or the water ultimately finds its way back into our wells and reservoirs. Aqua doesn’t just want to make sustainable decisions for the environment—we need to. 

 

Be sure to tune in next month when we jump into the current state of water infrastructure in the U.S. and discover how it impacts each and every one of us.

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