World’s drinking water and climate change are intrinsically intertwined, not mutually exclusive

 

By Aqua Vice President and Chief Environmental Officer Christopher Crockett 

In a recent interview with CBS News, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler argued that the agency’s time would be better spent cleaning drinking water across the globe rather than focusing on climate change. According to Wheeler, “Unsafe drinking water – not climate change – poses the greatest and most immediate global threat to the environment.” While Aqua America applauds the EPA for shining a spotlight on the critical importance of water safety and reliability, the reality is that water safety and climate change are intrinsically intertwined – and how the world addresses these problems will have a global impact for generations to come.

Safe drinking water is already an immediate concern to millions of people across the globe without access to potable water. But if countries ignore climate change, water-stressed countries, and even water-rich countries like the United States, will be in serious trouble. Climate change models predict warmer weather and changing precipitation patterns, where droughts will have a profound effect on river and groundwater levels, and extreme rain may result in flooding of developed areas. Lower river levels will require additional energy for water treatment, while lower groundwater levels will require more energy to extract water deeper from the Earth. Reduced water quantity is already forcing more communities to consider wastewater reuse, e.g. toilet to top. Climate change might also force fresh water sources to become more salty, reduce the quality of existing sources and force water systems to use lower-quality sources, which would increase treatment needs. A growing number of extreme-weather events, like hurricanes and super storms, combined with more urbanization, are likely to result in increased flooding, which can threaten our existing water and wastewater infrastructure. The World Water Resources Institute has many helpful maps that show the projected impacts of climate change on the nation’s water resources, and these effects cover large areas of the country.

To ensure Aqua can continue to make water even safer and more reliable in the future, these changes will require innovative solutions and a better infrastructure to carry new sources of water greater distances, and provide water-reuse options including small home-scale solutions like using rain water or gray water during extreme-stress periods. Climate change will likely require more energy to build this infrastructure and to process and distribute water. We must choose to invest equally in both water safety and climate change, with an eye towards the future. 

Serving more than 3 million people across eight states, Aqua America is an environmental steward for water resources. We know it is a great responsibility to deliver safe and reliable water efficiently and sustainably. And with more than 130 years of investment in water safety in the communities we serve, we aim to protect Earth’s most essential resource. Each year, we spend millions of dollars to repair and replace infrastructure, including leaking pipes and aging water mains, and we focus on conservation efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption. In fact, earlier this year, Aqua joined the CDP ranking for environmental stewardship, reinforcing its commitment to continued improvement in climate change governance and best practices.

Aqua employees and Villanova University students working on water infrastructure projects in Panama.

While we are continuously focused on improving service and reliability for our customers, Aqua understands that safe drinking water affects the global community. This is why Aqua partners with Villanova University to assist with vital infrastructure rehabilitation and water management projects in Central and South America. Aqua volunteers help build and repair water storage tanks and pipes, and transfer necessary water engineering knowledge to local workers. These projects help bring reliable water to communities that have done without, while also strengthening the vitality of agriculture and vegetation that off-set carbon emissions.

Aqua takes these efforts toward climate change mitigation seriously because, to us, the connection to safe, reliable water is obvious. Protecting the environment means protecting the vital, life-giving resource the world needs for generations to come.

For more information about Aqua’s commitment to sustainable business practices and environmental performance, visit our corporate social responsibility report

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Fixing a small leak can make a big difference

Happy Fix a Leak Week! If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry—Aqua is here to fill you in on why the annual observation is so important. Fix a Leak Week can teach us a thing or two about how everyday household water leaks can do more damage than you’d expect.

“At Aqua, we care deeply about providing safe, reliable water to our customers, but we’re also dedicated to protecting Earth’s most essential resource: water,” said Aqua’s Superintendent of Meter Operations, Sarah Eccles. “Fix a Leak Week is a perfect opportunity for you and the members of your household to get involved, too.”

Why do household leaks matter?

That’s a great question, and there are plenty of answers. On an environmental level, it’s crucial to catch leaks on a regular basis. Check out this statistic from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

 

That’s right: Simple household leaks waste about one trillion gallons of water every year.

Did you know that a leaking shower can waste more than 500 gallons of water per year if it goes unfixed? It’s true! The longer leaks linger, the worse they can get. As a water provider, Aqua knows the importance of preserving and protecting water as a vital natural resource—not only for the sake of the environment, but also for the sake of our customers.

How do leaks affect everyday life?

Let’s start with the obvious effects of a pesky household leak: water damage and flooding. A leaking pipe can get baseboards wet, and it can even start to leak through to another floor. Not only does this cause damage to your ceilings or walls, but it can also be a health hazard and cost you an extra chunk of change to get the water damage all fixed up.

The expenses don’t stop there—think about your water bill! Although droplets of water may seem miniscule, fixing simple leaks can save homeowners around 10 percent on their water bills. Luckily for you, it’s easier to fix these leaks than you’d think, whether they’re in your bathroom or your backyard.

Tackling leaks at the source

The first step in fixing a leak is to identify it. According to the EPA, if water usage for a family of four exceeds 12,000 gallons per month during the winter, there’s likely a leak in your home that needs fixing.

If you’re still uncertain, checking your water meter is the most direct way to identify a leak that you can’t see or hear around your house. Check your water meter before and after a two-hour period during which you use no water. If there’s a change, you have a leak.

By fixing leaks and monitoring your household’s water usage, you look out for the environment and your wallet. Who could say no to that deal?  

Why does Aqua care?

It’s as simple as this: Aqua is dedicated to preserving Earth’s most essential natural resource and providing reliable water service to our customers. We’ve been a proud water provider for more than 130 years, and we love what we do.

“The more that we educate our customers on the importance of taking small steps to help preserve water, the more we can help to improve our communities and the lives of our customers,” said Eccles. “This Fix a Leak Week, consider checking your home for leaks, then rest easy knowing that you’ve taken a step to eliminate wasted water.”

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How does water infrastructure affect public health?

There’s no question that water is Earth’s most essential resource—as a society, we use it for tasks both mundane and extraordinary every day.

At Aqua, we understand and value the importance of monitoring and repairing the systems responsible for bringing us that water. When infrastructure is outdated or damaged, it can cause problems that extend far beyond individual home plumbing systems.

We caught up with Vice President and Chief Environmental Officer Chris Crockett to better understand why Aqua’s determination to rebuild and repair our nation’s water infrastructure isn’t just important—it’s essential in order to maintain public health.

How your water travels to you matters—a lot.

It might seem like water simply rushes out of the tap, but its journey from the well or water treatment plant to your area is longer than you’d think. It’s possible that water has traveled many miles to reach your home, or maybe it was waiting to be released from a storage tank. This time spent traveling or sitting is called water age, and it can cause some less-than-ideal changes to the water.

“The longer the water sits in the pipes or tanks, the more things can happen to change its quality,” Crockett explains. “For example, the chlorine in the water will slowly degrade, and if it’s there too long, the chlorine can actually disappear.”

Though chlorine makes many people think of pool water (yuck), you’ll remember from our water purification blog that the proper amount needs to be present to keep your water safe for drinking. If pipes are outdated or rusty, the quality and safeness of the water can suffer. Without the presence of chlorine, bacteria and viruses can breed in the water supply, and that’s where things can go wrong.

Out with the old—especially pipes.

Pipes make up most of our water infrastructure systems, which makes their physical integrity of the utmost importance.

“Old, corroding pipes can grow a biofilm of bacteria that lives in the rust and can reduce the chlorine levels in the water as it sits in the pipe,” says Crockett. Not only do these biofilms eat away at pipes, but they also can give the water a slight unpleasant odor or taste.

Pipe problems don’t stop there. Crockett adds that “leaking pipes not only let water leak out, but under very specific conditions of low pressure could let water outside the pipe leak in, introducing contamination and dirt.”

According to a report from the American Water Works Association (AWWA), most of America’s drinking water distribution system is more than 50 years old. Although this infrastructure was built to last, Aqua is determined to stay ahead of deterioration to protect our customers’ water supplies.

Where does public health come in?

Water traveling through compromised (or just plain out-of-date) infrastructure can be contaminated through intrusion, corrosion, biofilms, sediment, water age, or any combination of these factors.

According to the AWWA report, a 2006 national estimate attributed nearly 50 percent of the risk of contracting a waterborne illness to distribution systems. As the AWWA puts it, there are three main concerns when it comes to understanding and tracking how water infrastructure can impact public health:

Chart via AWWA (Figure 3)

Using these three pillars, it’s easy to understand that poor infrastructure conditions can make water susceptible to more contaminants, which can affect public health through consumption and use of compromised water.

Although that’s a mouthful (and can sound concerning), allow us to give you peace of mind: Aqua is one step ahead of the game.

How, exactly?

Upgrading water infrastructure is no small task, but we know the benefits are worth it. By now, you understand the impact that outdated systems can have on your everyday life, but rest assured that Aqua takes plenty of action to keep your water safe and reliable.

According to Crockett, in addition to using sophisticated computer programs to monitor the state of the system, replacing old pipes, and flushing newer pipes with chemicals to keep them from corroding, Aqua also has plenty of boots on the ground.

“We conduct extensive flushing exercises,” he explains. “We go out in areas that may need help moving the water, and we flush it via hydrants to get out the rust and bring in fresh water.”

If you keep an eye out, you might even see members of our team in your area flushing hydrants. It’s one simple step that we can take to continue our mission to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource.

Stay tuned for another year of exploration and education throughout our Aquastructure blog series. See you next month!

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Love poems about water

February is the month of love, and since there’s nothing we love more than water, we decided that it should be our valentine this year. To celebrate, we thought we’d get a little cheesy with some love poems to show water just how much we appreciate everything it does for us.

Join us in the love fest below!

 

An Ode to Water

Our favorite drink is water

Because it tastes so great.

We always have our bottles,

It’s so easy to hydrate.

 

When we want to mix it up,

We’ll add a bag and make some tea.

A splash of milk, a squirt of lemon,

It’s delicious as can be.

 

Water keeps our bodies moving

And for that we’re very glad.

It’s always there when we need it,

It’s the best drink we’ve ever had.

 

 

Wash Away

We love that water washes away

The mud and sweat that surrounds us all day

Water is the best

For every kind of mess

It’s essential in every single way

 

H2O Makes Me Smile

A little drop of toothpaste

And a splash of water too,

I’m always in a happy haste

To get my teeth clean as new.

 

Brushing helps my breath smell good,

Toothpaste keeps my teeth white.

My smile looks just how it should,

Because water helps me brush right.

 

 

Laundry Day

Every Sunday afternoon

The machine fills with dirty clothes,

But not without water.

 

Soap goes in

And stains come out, 

But not without water.

 

Garments swirl around

With detergent and fabric softener,

But not without water.

 

The clothes are clean

And ready to wear again,

But not without water.

 

Help us spread the love by thinking about how important water is to you. Which of your daily activities would be impossible without water? 

Happy Valentine’s Day from Aqua. We love water—and you too!

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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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