Water Infrastructure Leads America to a Crossroads In Protecting Our Most Essential Resource

By Marc Lucca, Aqua Pennsylvania President

America is at a crossroads for protecting our most essential resource: water.

The state of the U.S. water infrastructure system was a conversation long overdue, but it took the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, to bring the issue to the forefront. Now, municipalities around the country are grappling with the question of how best to pay for water infrastructure upgrades necessary to replace aging infrastructure and to meet ever-changing regulations. More regulations are likely to come after the Flint crisis. A recent New York Times article noted that the more than 1 million miles of pipes that make up our country’s water and sewer systems will reach an average age of 45 years by 2020. Our cities and towns already are financially strapped. Can we expect them to resolve water infrastructure and regulatory compliance problems before it’s too late and another crisis hits?

Aqua doesn’t think so, and we certainly don’t want to wait around to see what will happen. We need to move to protect our customers.

U.S. water infrastructure is a looming crisis

A Brookings Institution study from 2016 found that 88 percent of Americans believe action needs to be taken to solve the U.S. water infrastructure problem. Yet only 17 percent of utilities are confident they can cover the cost of current services through rates and fees — let alone considering the cost of upgrades.

And upgrades are desperately needed. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) reported that leaking pipes cause us to lose more than 6 billion gallons of treated drinking water each day. The ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card noted that 240,000 water main breaks occur each year and that a $1 trillion investment is needed to maintain and expand service for increasing demands over the next 25 years. These facts caused the ASCE to give America’s drinking water infrastructure a D grade.

We don’t have much time to solve our water infrastructure issues, and each day that we waste is more money that will have to be invested to solve the problem.

Can cities, towns and authorities afford the $1 trillion investment needed to fix drinking water infrastructure issues? It doesn’t seem feasible without forcing these entities to make tough choices, such as tax increases, rate increases and cuts in other services.

Utilities follow rigorous treatment standards

Infrastructure is only one issue facing cities, towns and authorities. Many struggle to meet the standards required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA) due to the resources required.

The SWDA sets national health-based standards for drinking water to protect against all naturally occurring and manmade contaminants, and these treatment standards required by the SWDA are increasingly stringent. To comply with standards and regulations, utilities must conduct assessments of water sources to see where they could be vulnerable to contamination, comply with the EPA’s National Primary Drinking Water Regulations and monitor the presence of contaminants, among other requirements.

To ensure compliance with the SWDA and EPA standards and regulations, utilities need dedicated, highly technical resources for treatment design and day-to-day operations. These resources require significant, continual levels of investment, which many cities, towns and authorities cannot afford.

A 2012 analysis of EPA records by American Water Intelligence showed that the largest water companies have “near perfect” records in delivering water compliant with the SWDA. By comparison, the analysis noted that most of the violations from 2007 to 2012 were issued to public enterprises.

How Aqua can help

There’s a simple reason that regulated utility companies, like Aqua, are better at handling your drinking water. At Aqua, it’s all we do.

Aqua has the capabilities and resources to upgrade U.S. water infrastructure systems for current and future needs. Most of the communities served by municipalities or authorities have clean water today, but can they guarantee the same in the future without substantial investment they can’t afford or the technical resources to execute the required capital projects?

Everyone deserves dependable, safe drinking water, and the only way to provide it is with a solid water infrastructure.

We’re interested in your thoughts and reactions. Chat with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Aqua Gives Back with United Way

Volunteering is a key part of what makes Aqua employees who we are.

Recently, to get a head start on the season of giving, we partnered with United Way to embark on a company-wide charitable giving campaign.

United Way is an organization dedicated to advocating for the “health, education and financial stability of every person in every community.” Some Aqua employees have been involved with the United Way in the past, and that, partnered with their mission, made for the perfect organization for us to come together to create a campaign that would encourage employee teamwork and simultaneously help so many members of the communities across all eight of our states. 

“Aqua has had a long partnership with United Way for more than 30 years,” said Karen Carlson, our director of community affairs & corporate giving, who helped to execute the campaign. “Our CEO Chris Franklin wanted to have a centralized, company-wide employee campaign. He chaired the campaign this year and our CFO Dave Smeltzer will chair it next year.” 

This was our first time running a company-wide charitable initiative, and we were thrilled to see that our employees were eager to participate. Aqua employees across all eight states were split into two teams, the Aqua Avengers and the Water Warriors, and competed for the highest percentage of participation in giving to United Way. The winning team received an additional personal day off for 2018.

All in all, we raised $147,000 for United Way with the help of our outstanding employees. We’re so grateful for the generosity, time and effort that they put into making the campaign such a success. 

“It was a great team effort, and it provided an opportunity to better get to know our coworkers across Aqua’s eight states. Everyone pitched in and had great ideas,” Carlson said. “Many Aqua locations donated to the United Way in years past, but this was the first time we did so as a united front.”

We can’t wait to continue engaging our employees in meaningful community impact projects. Stay tuned to see where we make a difference next!

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Don’t let fats, oils and grease ruin your festive feasts

The holiday season is upon us and that means families will be spending lots of time in the kitchen in the coming weeks. Whether you’ll be cooking a festive feast or baking sweet treats, nothing can put a damper on holiday cheer quite like a stopped-up sink or costly drain clog. 

So how can you avoid clogged pipes this holiday season? The best way is to know what can and cannot go down your household pipes. The most common causes of clogs are fats, oils and grease, which can solidify in household drains and, over time, completely block pipes. Many common foods – including sauces, meats, dairy, cooking oil, butter, food scraps and lard – contain fats, oils and grease that can contribute to clogged drains, and should not be poured down drains.

Blocked pipes can back up raw sewage, causing serious health hazards. It can also create an overflow of raw sewage into parks, yards and streets, and pollute groundwater. On top of sewage overflow, blocked pipes can increase costs for local wastewater utilities and their customers.

After all, just like a clog can cause issues in your home, in extreme cases, giant clogs can build up in public wastewater systems, too. Check out this story about a huge “fatberg” that recently caused the public wastewater system in Baltimore to overflow – a story so strange it was even epitomized on a recent episode of "Saturday Night Live" ( see 1:04 mark)!

This holiday season, Aqua is offering customers the following tips to keep in mind as you prepare for holiday cooking and baking:

  • Never pour grease down sink drains or into toilets. Instead, pour it into a metal can, wait for it to cool, and dispose in the trash!
  • Use strainers in sink drains to catch food scraps and other solids.
  • Scrape food scraps and grease into a trash can.
  • Remember that garbage disposals do not keep grease out of plumbing systems or prevent clogs.
  • Avoid flushing wipes down the toilet. Baby wipes – and even wipes marketed as being “flushable” – don’t break down and can cause back ups and clogs.

Aqua does its part to ensure that local pipes and wastewater systems are free of clogs and operating at full capacity. You can do your part by taking necessary steps to avoid clogged pipes. Visit AquaAmerica.com for more information. 


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Ripple Effect brings volunteerism, work-life efforts into focus

Aqua is introducing a new campaign to bring into clearer focus all the good the company and its employees do for each other, and in the communities it serves.  The Ripple Effect will encompass volunteerism, the Aqua charitable trust, work-life balance and knowledge sharing, said Kimberly Joyce, vice president of legislative, regulatory and external affairs, who oversees the effort.

“At Aqua, we believe our mission, vision and core values shape us as an exceptional company,” Joyce said. “They enable us to go above and beyond, making a positive impact on water, the environment, our communities and our work together.”

Joyce said the Ripple Effect represents Aqua’s continued commitment to reinforcing these ideals, now and in the future.

Ripple Effect from volunteering

Aqua recognizes the value volunteer service has for both local organizations and employees. This year, following a pilot program in 2016, it has made a commitment to allow non-union employees eight hours of time to volunteer at company-sponsored events. Examples of those opportunities include planting trees, watershed clean ups, and working at local food banks.   

Aqua President and CEO Chris Franklin pointed out that there is just as much benefit to building camaraderie as there is for the recipients of the volunteerism work.

“When we put forth effort to make life better through the Ripple Effect, the outcome can be extremely rewarding,” he said. “We encourage all employees to participate, have fun, build newfound friendships and enjoy a shared sense of pride.”

Charitable trust’s Ripple Effect

Each year, Aqua’s charitable trust provides donations to organizations in the company’s eight states related to environmental stewardship and education, water and wastewater-related projects, emergency services such as fire departments and disaster relief, and community and economic development including arts and culture.

“When we donate dollars from our trust, we enrich lives throughout the communities we serve and advocate for the environment,” Joyce said. “Over the years, we have formed partnerships with impactful organizations such as the United Way. With our first companywide program this year, our employees raised $147,000. That shows the Ripple Effect we can have when we join together for a common good.”

Ripple Effect of work-life balance

Joyce says when Aqua helps its employees maintain a healthier lifestyle and enjoy flexibility, it improves the quality of work produced on behalf of the 3 million people it serves.

“With offerings like jump-start Fridays in the summer, wellness fairs and even local seasonal celebrations, we’re encouraging our team to find that balance we’re all seeking,” she said.

Knowledge-sharing Ripple Effect

From internships with Cristo Rey High School students to overseas travel with engineering majors, Aqua employees are sharing expertise and giving back to the next generation.   

Cristo Rey is a college-prep, high school in North Philadelphia that emphasizes helping students work towards college acceptance using work-study assignments in a variety of businesses like Aqua one day per week. Students learn about work skills from Aqua employees who coach and mentor these young men and women.

“It’s rewarding on both sides of the equation,” Joyce noted.

Another way Aqua employees share knowledge is by paring engineering students from Villanova University with the company’s professional engineers to tackle complex water supply problems in Central America.   

"Our partnership with Villanova University allows our employees to volunteer their time and expertise to help shape future engineers, while making a real difference for communities that need clean running water," Joyce said.

Other examples of knowledge sharing include participation in Junior Achievement, the world's largest organization dedicated to empowering high school students to own their economic success through programs focusing on work readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy.

“The senior team encourages employees to really embrace this effort, and be the drop that starts a Ripple Effect for the good of your team, our customers, and our communities,” Joyce said. 

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What Are Toilets Called Around The World?

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