Monsoon madness: What’s this watery summer weather?

Photo by Flickr user John Fowler

It’s easy to forget about types of weather that occur outside of our own backyards, especially during the summer months of sunshine. The wonders of our planet and its most essential resource never seize to amaze us, though, and that’s why we’re so fascinated by a summer weather phenomenon called monsoons.  

A monsoon, according to National Geographic, is a seasonal change in the winds of the area that alter the climate of the region. This phenomenon is common in areas close to the Indian Ocean, like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladeshand Myanmar, but it also occurs in the southwestern United States. Clearly, our eight Aqua states don’t typically see this type of weather, so we’re extra curious about it! 

A monsoon in New Mexico

There are two kinds of monsoons: dry and wet. A wet monsoon causes heavy rain in a region, while a dry monsoon does the opposite. This video from NASA does a great job of explaining how and why monsoons form. 

 

Monsoons mostly affect North America in the middle of summer, from July to September. In fact, states like New Mexico and Arizona get half of their annual rainfall during monsoon season. Fun fact: The wettest monsoon recorded in U.S. history was in 1984, with 9.56 inches of fallen rain. These records include numbers traced back to 1896. 

Usually, monsoons are beneficial to the areas they affect. Because these storms often occur after long periods of drought, the moisture they bring is replenishing and fruitful to the plants in the ecosystem. The high levels of rain can also aid firefighters battling wildfires in extremely dry areas.

Not all effects of monsoons are simple and benign, though. Since the affected land has often been bone-dry for so long, it can only soak up so much water at once. The rest of the water sits on top of the parched land, causing flash floods even from small amounts of rain. On top of flooding, monsoons can also bring lightning storms and massive dust storms called haboobs that can pose additional safety concerns for the affected communities, especially for people caught off guard while driving.

People who live in parts of the U.S. where monsoons occur are usually aware of necessary precautions. But for tourists, business travelers, or even new neighbors in the southwest, it’s important to know how to prep for monsoon season. In fact, paying attention to weather forecasts and having an emergency supply kit on hand are good summer weather tips for people living in any part of the country, especially during Hurricane Season.

What other types of watery weather pique your interest? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter

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What does it take to acquire and upgrade a water system?

 

Let’s be frank: Operating and maintaining water systems is not an easy task, especially when they need tons of infrastructural improvements.  

Earlier in our Aquastructure blog series, we shed a bit of light on the state of our nation’s water infrastructureand pointed out that most of the pipelines we depend on each and every day were built at the start of the 20thcentury. In the present day, all of that infrastructure is near the end of its life, which means that upkeep and updates are a pressing need. 

Considering those challenges, how does a company like Aqua continue to provide efficient and affordable service? It all comes down to the water systems Aqua acquires, along with regular updates to existing infrastructure.

Craig Blanchette, president of Aqua Illinois, checked in to give us some insight into Aqua’s acquisition and upgrade processes. 


Blanchette (third from right in sunglasses) with fellow Aqua Illinois employees during a local volunteer project.

More water, less problems

Since 1995, Aqua has acquired more than 300 water systems, most of which are from municipalities (which own 85 percent of the nation’s water systems). However, sometimes those systems come from other sources, such as smaller regulated utilities, homeowners associations, water and sewer districts, and developer-owned systems. 

As the number of water systems in Aqua’s network grows, the efficiency and affordability of its services grow, too. The theory at play here is “economies of scale,” which is the economic principle that the more goods or services can be produced at a larger scale, the higher the savings in costs.

“By adding customers, Aqua is able to spread these fixed costs over a larger customer base, alleviating much of the burden from our new and existing customers,” Blanchette explains. 

What happens if Aqua wants to acquire a new system?

When Aqua is preparing to acquire a new system, typically Aqua and the other party—whether it’s a municipality or some other organization—begin by sitting down and talking shop (think inspections and negotiations). This can take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years. The goal is to create a partnership which benefits the community.

After that, an asset purchase agreement is created, which outlines all the details of the transaction, such as pricing and inclusion of assets. The APA must then be approved by the state public utility commission, which takes about six months to a year. During the PUC approval process, an administrative law judge takes on the case, and expert witnesses, like engineers, accountants and financial advisors, must evaluate and vouch for the legitimacy and benefits of the proposed acquisition. 

Once the agreement is reviewed, modified and approved by the administrative law judge it is then forwarded to the PUC for its final approval. Once this is complete, Aqua can sit down with the seller and officially take ownership.  

And then it’s smooth sailing?

With the right due diligence, yes! A lot of these existing water systems must be assessed to ensure everything is up to speed. In most cases, many of the system’s assets are underground and cannot be easily inspected.

“In these cases, we rely heavily on the maintenance records of the municipality in determining where future replacements are needed,” Blanchette notes. 

The most common upgrade is water main replacements, which are predominantly located underground and are often left out of a municipality’s investment plan. Blanchette adds that water service lines, main line valves and fire hydrants are also among the areas of a water system that may need more attention. 

“These assets are incredibly important because they are the backbone of any community,” Blanchette says. “Reliability of a water system is important in providing Earth’s most essential resource.” 

Whenever Aqua acquires a new system, they prepare a new capital investment plan to help determine where and when adjustments and updates are needed in each system’s infrastructure. Aqua then reevaluates that plan to determine future improvement needs. From that point forward, investment in the existing infrastructure is constant. 

It seems to be a team effort.

Very much so! Aqua works closely with the communities it serves andregularly meets with community members to coordinate all these infrastructure improvement projects. 

For example, if Aqua wants to do a water main or sewer replacement, they’ll first run it by the local road authority to plan resources accordingly. 

 

“If a road authority is planning to resurface a roadway where Aqua is also looking to replace a water or sewer main, it saves our customers the cost of restoring the roadway,” Blanchette explains.  

Now that is what we call synergy. 

Thanks for tuning in, water and sewer connoisseurs! We’ll see you next month! 

 

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