Winter weather is no match for reliable water

 

As temperatures get colder and snow, hail and sleet storms strike, you’ll likely depend on access to hot water more than ever. After all, nothing beats a hot shower and a warm meal during the wintertime.

We get it. So much, in fact, that at Aqua, we have an entire process in place to keep your water flowing in even the harshest of conditions. No matter what kind of winter mix hits your town, our field workers have you covered.

We spoke with John Aulbach, president of Aqua Virginia, and Ed Kolodziej, president and COO of Aqua Ohio, to get the scoop on how Aqua braces for winter weather.

Nature throws plenty of curveballs.

Let’s face it: Weather can be weird. One day it’s warm and sunny, and the next day there are little pieces of ice falling out of the sky. Because we don’t have any weather psychics on staff, our team must be prepared for whatever weather the world decides to throw our way.

For example, down in Virginia, things are a bit, well, calmer than they are up north. However, that’s not to say Virginia doesn’t get its fair share of winter weather.

“Freezing rain is a threat to our mobility and slows our response times. Plus, icy branches and wires can interrupt the power for pumps we use to keep the water flowing,” says Aulbach. “That’s what makes our standby generators so important.”

Heavy snowfall tends to hit Virginia in the western, northern and central parts of the state. And when the sun pops out and snow melts, flooding can occur.

Ohio also has its fair share of freezing rain and intense snowstorms, but our friends in the Midwest are also susceptible to a phenomenon called frazil ice.

Frazil ice in the Great Lakes (via the Aqua Ohio team)

 

“Think of a sno-cone without the sugary goodness,” says Kolodziej. “That [consistency] can threaten the flow through our raw water intakes from Lake Erie. When the lake turns to frazil ice, it’s difficult for the heaters on our intakes to keep up.”

When frazil ice strikes, the Aqua team has to force a block of ice and straw (called a “straw pig”) through the intake pipes by reversing the water flow from the plant into the lake. The straw pigs then scrub the inside of the pipe, and when the water temperatures rise, everything melts without having a harsh impact on the ecosystem. Hooray for science!

Pipes will freeze—it’s inevitable.

Here’s the deal with frozen pipes: When stationary water inside pipes drops to about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, the pipes freeze. It’s that simple. According to Kolodziej, it happens each and every winter without fail.

When water freezes, it expands, which can then break pipes, flood interiors and cause major damage. It’s no good.

“As a preventive measure, we encourage customers to insulate or use heat tape to protect pipes in unheated areas such as outdoor faucets, crawlspaces and garages,” Kolodziej explains. “They can also leave cabinet doors under sinks open to allow warm air to reach pipes or even leave a trickle of water (about the size of pencil lead) running overnight.”

Wondering why you would ever knowingly leave your faucet on all night? Well, according to Kolodziej, it all comes down to the fact that moving water is less likely to freeze. The water entering your house is usually about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which can prevent ice from forming.

However, if things do freeze over and a pipe bursts, you’ll want to shut off the valve for your water supply as soon as possible. This action can be the difference between a small mess and a huge nightmare.

It’s cold out there, folks.

When the weather ramps up, our workers can’t exactly call it a day and go home. Our customers rely on having access to safe water each and every day, and that often means our workers have to lace up their boots and tackle the storm in all sorts of wild conditions.

Recently, for example, Aulbach’s team in Virginia experienced a winter weather line break on Thanksgiving morning that impacted about 150 homes. Before the damage could wreak havoc on everyone’s meal preparations, the team located the leak and restored service before the repair was even completed. The Virginia team also distributed bottled water door to door so that Thanksgiving cooking could go on while the team kept working on the repair.

Frozen pipe (via Pixabay)

 

We can’t always predict what Mother Nature has in store for us, but we can make sure our team is fully prepared and ready for any challenge. Whether it’s rain, shine, sleet, or snow, we always encourage our workers to be safe, stay warm, and ask for help if they need it.

Providing water and wastewater service to communities and being able to sanitize and deliver reliable, safe drinking water is a true privilege, says Kolodziej.

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Partnership with Cristo Rey High School benefits students and employees alike

 Aqua's Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School student interns, Mkii Taylor-Baldwin, Jada Harvin and Algenis Duran, with Aqua Chairman & CEO Chris Franklin, Cristo Rey Founder & President John McConnell, and Cristo Rey staff. 

For the third school year in a row, Aqua is hosting student interns from Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School, a private, Catholic college-prep school located in North Philadelphia. Four students, one per grade, travel to Aqua’s Pennsylvania facilities one day a week to spend time with various departments to gain an understanding of the working world. Throughout the program, students and employees alike are benefitting from this partnership that Aqua has facilitated with Cristo Rey.

“We are excited to have the Cristo Rey students here,” said Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Chris Kelly. “It’s a great experience for the students and provides them insight into what it’s like working in a business environment. It’s also an impactful experience for our employees; we learn a lot from the students as well.”

Absent from the group photo above is Aqua's fourth Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School student intern, Ianyah Wilson.

Joining Aqua this school year have been freshman Mkii Taylor-Baldwin, sophomore Algenis Duran, junior Jada Harvin and senior Ianyah Wilson. They have put in a few months with Aqua and together are gaining experience across the ACO, IT, finance, accounts payable, fleet and HR departments.

Our sophomore student, Algenis Duran (pictured second from the right in group photo), who is in his second year interning with Aqua, has worked in various departments at the Bryn Mawr office, and will spend the remainder of his school year working with Vice President of Fleet and Supply Chain Management Charlie Stevenson and the fleet department at the company’s Springfield facility. Before transitioning, he shared some of his experiences with the internship program.

I’ve been with Aqua for two years. I spent my freshman year in customer operations and spent a lot of my time working with landlord reverts in Banner as well as a couple other projects. At first, during my time in ACO, I only really talked to the people I sat near and didn’t really interact a lot, but Vickie Carrillo brought me out of my comfort zone by helping me get to know people.

The first half of my sophomore year I worked in different areas of the IT department. It was easy to meet new people, work on various things and discover what I’m interested in. I am looking forward to spending the second half of my sophomore year in Springfield and gaining a larger experience in the company.

My internship with Aqua is part of Cristo Rey’s work-study program. The work-study program is a way for students to get experience in the workplace and helps families pay for their tuition to keep our education affordable. We are placed in departments at companies based on our interests. At the end of my freshman year, I expressed a curiosity in IT, which is why I was placed in that department the first half of my sophomore year. Students have internships all four years, which can help provide us with connections for future jobs and recommendations.

Being a Cristo Rey student isn’t easy, as Cristo Rey isn’t an ordinary school. We are focused on not just getting into college, but graduating college. A lot is expected from us because our teachers want us to know that we can achieve great things.

I wasn’t always planning to attend Cristo Rey High School. I was originally planning on attending Mercy CTE, which is a vocational trade school. I’m glad I decided to attend Cristo Rey and that I could get this amazing experience being on the Aqua team.

 

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