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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Aqua America’s role in our nation’s infrastructure renewal

When it comes to water and wastewater infrastructure, the reality is that the United States has more than one million miles of underground pipe, much of which is nearly a century old and in dire need of replacement.

According to the American Water Works Association, it will cost an estimated $1 trillion to maintain and expand drinking water service to meet demands over the next 20 years. There is no question that upgrading water and wastewater infrastructure is a major challenge facing our country, and Aqua is proud to be leading the charge when it comes to offering a viable solution. In 2017 alone, Aqua invested $478 million in water and wastewater infrastructure.

Most importantly, our investment has had a direct impact on the communities we serve across our eight-state footprint, including:

  • University Park, Illinois, where we were able to significantly improve water quality with a 14-mile pipeline project
  • Lakes of Mission Grove, Texas, which lacked its own wastewater plant
  • Southeastern Pennsylvania, where main breaks were reduced by 70 percent following significant infrastructure investments

Expertise and persistence delivers for Illinois residents and businesses 

Residents and businesses of University Park, Illinois were served by a water source that contained high levels of iron, calcium and magnesium, creating taste and hardness issues. Many relied on water softeners and filters to reduce hardness. The well source was simply not good, leaving Aqua Illinois with a complicated problem.

Aqua Illinois conducted a feasibility study to explore a set of potential solutions including running a pipeline from a better water source to University Park. Extending the pipeline would be complex, both physically and financially, requiring Aqua Illinois to navigate jurisdiction issues, obtain easements and design around waterways and farm fields. The 14 miles of new pipeline runs from Aqua Illinois’ award-winning Kankakee plant to its customers in University Park.

Both residents and businesses benefit from this expansive project. University Park customers have seen a 90 percent reduction in iron and a 70 percent reduction in hardness. The pipeline project also increased water capacity, which is attracting new economic development to the area.

New Texas wastewater plant increases capacity five-fold

When Aqua Texas acquired the Lakes of Mission Grove system, the community’s population was so low that the volume of wastewater produced couldn’t sustain its own treatment plant. This required Aqua Texas to haul wastewater to a treatment plant each day.

When the community’s population started to rapidly grow, Aqua was able to plan for a new wastewater treatment plant that could serve current residents and new families to come. Aqua Texas began the bidding process for the engineering of what would become a $1.2 million plant to serve the residents. 

The project dramatically increased capacity to 135,000 gallons of wastewater per day and an ability to serve an additional 500 homes. The efficient new plant provides significant operational savings and increased environmental benefits.

Renewed infrastructure benefits customers and the environment

Aqua Pennsylvania owns and is responsible for 5,800 miles of pipe—varying in size, type and age—in 32 counties. Much of this water infrastructure is approaching the end of its useful life cycle, making it susceptible to main breaks, service interruptions, water discoloration and customer dissatisfaction.

In 2017 alone, Aqua Pennsylvania completed nearly 200 projects, replacing 135 miles of main with an investment of $141 million. Over the life of the main replacement program, Aqua Pennsylvania has replaced more than 1,700 miles of pipe with an investment of $1.4 billion.

When the program started, the pipes were on a 900-year replacement cycle. Today, that number has been significantly reduced to a 90-year replacement cycle. The benefits of the main replacement program have been most dramatic in its southeastern division, which is the largest with 4,600 miles of main that serve one million people. Main breaks there have been reduced by 70 percent to an all-time low of eight breaks per 100 miles of pipe, per year, and customer complaints have fallen by 59 percent.

Looking back on these achievements from 2017 excites us to reflect similarly on 2018 as we close out the year. Stay tuned to the Aqua blog in 2019 to explore our continued efforts to make infrastructure improvements across the nation.

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Why fats, oils, and grease are a sewer pipe’s worst nightmare

Have you ever cooked up some bacon or boiled some chicken only to pour the leftover grease down the drain?

It seems so easy—and, let’s face it, very tempting—to dump those fats, oils and grease, aka FOG, into the sink and be done with it. But the truth of the matter is that all that FOG can cause serious havoc on your sewage system.

We talked to Joe Pearce, director of operations for Aqua North Carolina, to learn how and why fats, oils, and grease can cause damage to the pipes that take wastewater from your home.

Hot grease? More like cold, hard sludge

Here’s the deal: When you pour hot grease into your sink, it’s typically at a very high temperature, meaning the FOG flows down the drain in liquid form. 

What you might not realize, though, is that as that FOG cools off, it transforms into a solid substance that quickly clogs up the pipes in your home and downstream sewage systems.

That thick, sludgy FOG will continue to stick to the inside of your pipes and accumulate. In time, it could even block your entire drain and cause a serious backup in your home.  In the sewer system, it can cause a sanitary sewage overflow.

Meanwhile, because FOG is high in organic strength (and because anaerobic bacteria find it to be quite delicious), it begins to generate hydrogen sulfide gas. When this gas combines with water, it creates a powerful sulfuric acid that can corrode many types of piping and damage concrete and ductile iron.

Not all heroes wear capes

You might be wondering how you can be a hero and save your pipes from a clog-filled nightmare. The answer is easy: Don’t pour grease down the drain! That’s it—really.

Instead, make a point to pour FOG into empty food cans, then chuck those bad boys into the garbage. Wiping down frying pans with a paper towel to soak up the FOG before tossing it in the trash is a good trick, too.

What does Aqua do to help?

According to Pearce, infrastructure improvements are often required to fix problems created by grease damage in our sewer systems. One option is to use a type of pipe that’s less susceptible to hydrogen sulfide corrosion: plastic (PVC) pipes.

However, for a variety of reasons, that type of pipe isn’t always the best option for some of our sites. For sites that require the use of ductile iron pipe, ceramic-coated ductile iron pipe is a good alternative.

Bring on the holiday meals, please!

It’s important to talk about FOG during the holiday season since this time of year tends to come with a spike in sewage issues. All that additional cooking leads to additional grease that can quickly clog your pipes and overflow your sewage system the morning after a big holiday get together!

If you’re on your kitchen’s cleanup crew this holiday season, do yourself (and your drain) a favor by making sure all that FOG meets its fate in the trash instead of the sink.

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Maintaining the flow with Aqua’s maintenance and repair crews

 

Water, for the most part, seems to be fairly ubiquitous.

Think about it. We shower with water, we drink water, we cook with water, and we clean with water.

But, believe it or not, there’s actually quite a bit of work and maintenance that goes into supplying all that water.

From underground wells and pipes to treatment facilities and tanks, our drinking water goes through a lot of hoops and hurdles to get to us. Not to mention how much goes into the purification process to ensure we are delivering safe, reliable water.

So, what happens when there's a sudden service disruption? Like when there’s a power outage. Or a big storm. Or a water main break

While it’s no fun to experience some of these disturbances, Aqua has a talented team that carefully monitors and carries out our daily operations so you can go about your life with the water you need.

We’ve got your back

Overall, Aqua operates 2,738 treatment facilities, with locations in Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Texas, says Justin Kauffman, director of asset management and field services at Aqua.

In most of our states, Aqua has a centralized maintenance crew that we deploy whenever there’s a system issue. Over in Texas, however, they do things a bit differently. Unlike the other states that have a large maintenance hub, Aqua Texas is comprised of many small, rural water systems spread out over a large geographic area. So, in order to meet such a high demand, Aqua employs numerous contractors in Texas to stay on top of all the maintenance and repairs.

To better understand about the upkeep and maintenance of all of the water systems and equipment, we spoke with Dan Rimann, vice president of operations and engineering at Aqua Texas.

Finding the problem

First, whenever there’s a glitch in a water delivery system, it’s necessary to figure out what’s going on.

This can be difficult as most of the equipment we use is located underground, after all. On top of that, it can be tricky to know what equipment is your responsibility as a customer, and what is Aqua’s.

 

For example, Aqua is responsible for the company service line, curb stop, and meter, while the customer service line, meter pit, pressure reducing valve, and the backflow preventer are upkept by Aqua’s customers.

When Aqua experiences a glitch, most often it is a maintenance issues occurring in our water distribution systems, specifically with the pipes, which are responsible for collecting water from ground and surface sources and transporting them to your home.

“In Texas, the majority of pipe breaks are caused by the ground shifting during long periods of hot, dry weather — think drought-like conditions,” Rimann told us.

 

Fixing the glitch

According to Rimann, most of the piping we have in the ground is small diameter plastic pipe, which can be affected under by extreme weather conditions.

When a pipe breaks, we quickly assess the damage and send out a repair crew to get things back in order.  Most of the time, this entails installing a repair clamp in the pipe or sleeving in a new section of pipe.

And while we may not be able to predict when, exactly, these issues will occur, we know our maintenance and repair teams will work quickly so you (and your water) get back to business as usual.  

Thanks for tuning in to another step of our Aquastructure journey. We’ll see you next time!

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