Stay prepared, and stay safe

By Aqua Texas President (and resident of Houston) Bob Laughman

The devastation of Hurricane Harvey is a grim reminder that mid-August through mid-October comprises the peak hurricane season, and my heart goes out to everyone suffering in the aftermath of the storm, especially the loved ones of those who lost their lives. September marks National Preparedness Month, an opportunity for everyone to think about how to make sure you and your family are ready to weather a harsh storm or other emergency.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasters say this hurricane season could be the most active in years. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said the “updated outlook underscores the need for everyone to know their true vulnerabilities to storms and storm surge. As we enter the height of hurricane season, it’s important for everyone to know who issues evacuation orders in their community, heed the warnings, update their insurance and have a preparedness plan.”

I couldn’t agree more: You have to have a plan. Aqua provides water and wastewater service to customers in coastal areas of Texas, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia, and a major storm can cause heavy rain and flooding anywhere. That’s why we invest in training and equipment to maintain water service or restore service as quickly as possible for our customers during a major storm. This training involves much more than how to get the water back on; it emphasizes the safest ways for our employees to do their jobs as they deal with flooding, high winds, downed electrical lines and uprooted trees.

Although many of our systems remained powered and in full operation during Harvey, power outages can disrupt the routine operations of delivering clean, safe drinking water and our ability to treat and pump wastewater. Aqua has a network of mobile power generators that we can deploy where we need them to keep our customers’ tap water flowing when power is disrupted. We’ve also taken steps to ensure a reliable fuel supply for this equipment during periods of peak weather challenges. These generators aren’t just your average portable unit that sits in a truck bed. They’re some of the industry’s most modern, adaptable equipment with quick connection features that work in a variety of situations and locations.

During Harvey, I’ve seen some inspiring teamwork by the Aqua family. We’ve got folks for whom getting to work is literally impossible, and that’s when other employees stepped up to make sure they were covering for their teammates to ensure continued service. I thank them for their dedication.

Aqua is an active participant in TXWARN, the Texas Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network. This network’s database enables Aqua and other water utilities to find and share equipment and personnel to help each other continue to provide service during emergencies.

We also prepare by knowing in advance how we can contact our customers quickly during a water service emergency. Aqua customers everywhere should sign up for WaterSmart Alerts at AquaAmerica.com or 877.987.2782.  You can choose how you’d like us to contact you in an emergency: by phone, email or text message.

Throughout the summer, we’ve shared these tips about how you and your family can prepare when you think you might lose water service during and after a storm:

  • Save water for essential use in advance of a potential water outage and consider filling bathtubs, buckets, large pots and pitchers. Any water collected in a non-potable container (bathtubs, previously used buckets, etc.) should be boiled before consuming it.
  • When water service is restored after an outage, Aqua might issue a precautionary boil advisory until water samples can be tested to ensure that water quality has not been compromised. Bring water to a rolling boil, let it boil for one to two minutes to ensure any harmful bacteria is destroyed, then let it cool before using it. We’ll let you know when it’s okay to drink the water without boiling it first.

You can learn more about how to prepare for a hurricane and other emergencies at Ready.gov.

Aqua will continue to support our employees and the communities we serve here in Texas as we get through this crisis together and begin to rebuild. I hope you and your family are safe.

 

 

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Aqua labs: Going above and beyond to keep Aqua water clean

By Aqua Laboratory/Research Manager Charles Hertz, Ph.D.

August is National Water Quality Month, which is the perfect time to teach about what Aqua does to provide our customers with water of the highest quality.

I work out of Aqua’s primary lab in Bryn Mawr, PA, where I oversee a team of chemists and microbiologists with lab and water quality backgrounds, who test Aqua’s water supply. Lab employees are also stationed at water treatment facilities across Aqua’s service territories to complete additional, local testing.

 

Aqua’s labs are accredited in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia. That means that its test results are deemed acceptable by each state for compliance testing. The laboratories in Pennsylvania’s Roaring Creek and Shenango water treatment plants are also state-certified for specific testing, primarily for coliform bacteria.

In addition to the tests run in the Bryn Mawr laboratories, there is additional testing done at the water treatment plants, which have online continuous monitoring instrumentation that tests for turbidity (cloudiness of the water), chlorine and pH levels. That data is complemented with spot checks conducted by plant treatment operators every two hours. Process-control bacteria sampling is conducted at the treatment plants after filtration and disinfection testing of the finished water is completed to ensure the water is properly disinfected before leaving the plant.

Among the most important testing done at all of our water treatment plants is taste and odor testing. Beyond knowing that the water meets all environmental regulations, what our customers want most is to know that their water looks, smells and tastes good. They want it to be absent of color and flavor, and these operational tests done at the treatment plants ensure that is what we’re providing.

While various tests are required by law to ensure that Aqua’s water meets federal and state drinking water standards, we voluntarily complete thousands of additional tests each month to further ensure the safety and quality of our water. In total, we conduct about 250,000 tests on about 30,000 samples annually.

The frequency for compliance testing varies by constituent. For instance, certain radionuclide testing is required every three years, compared with bacteriological sampling, which is required each month. Coliform bacteria must be tested in the distribution system after the water leaves the treatment facility. The number of bacteriological samples tested each month depends on system size.

One potential issue that is carefully monitored, particularly in the warm summer months, is the presence of algae in source water. Algae blooms can create organic compounds in water, which can lead to earthy or musty odors and tastes. This water is not harmful, but its taste and odor make it unpalatable to many. There are some people who are hypersensitive – compared to most – and can taste these compounds when present in parts per trillion, which makes Aqua’s job particularly difficult.

Beyond testing water throughout the treatment process, Aqua’s labs also play an important role in crisis situations that arise due to environmental or ecological issues that impact water quality. When certain contaminants are found in a given area, we increase our water testing beyond what is required by regulations. Additional testing can include watershed and groundwater samples. Recently, Aqua purchased additional technology to ensure accurate and timely test results for PFCs, unregulated chemicals that are currently receiving a lot of attention in Southeastern Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

The regulatory tests are a snapshot in time, but we test more frequently to determine what our water quality is on a regular basis and to provide context to our compliance testing, which helps us stay on top of things. Most of what is in water is just that – water. Everything else is measured in trace amounts of one part per million or less.

There is no magic bullet that will ensure high quality water. Good water quality is a combination of many things and there isn’t one test that will tell water professionals or our customers if the water is drinkable or if it is safe. Compliance testing, continuous operational testing and monitoring, and treatment adjustments when and where necessary, are what we will continue to do to ensure that our customers are getting quality water that meets or outperforms environmental regulations. 

Chuck's interest in water testing started at a young age!

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Aqua PA Spotlight: Wastewater Operations Superintendent Bob Soltis

Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater Operations Superintendent Bob Soltis or “Aqua Bob” as he is affectionately known throughout his service area, is incredibly passionate about his work at the 14 Aqua wastewater plants he oversees in Northeast Pennsylvania. In fact, one could say Soltis eats, sleeps and eventually drinks wastewater. He holds Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection class A and E wastewater licenses, and subclasses 1, 2, 3 and 4, which equate to the highest operations licensure available in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

“The wastewater we discharge has to be clean and clear or I can’t sleep at night,” said Soltis. “Somebody, somewhere is going to eventually drink this water, whether it is an animal, a human, or the aquatic life in the receiving waters!”

By cleaning wastewater for discharge into streams, or for reuse like irrigation, water treatment plants speed up the natural process of water purification. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency considers wastewater treatment one of the most common forms of pollution control. Because of this, Soltis considers his number one job to be one of the greatest examples of environmental stewardship.

“Aqua acquired the Washington Park treatment plant about five years ago. Before we took over operations, the water was so dirty that the entire stream was devoid of any life,” said Soltis. “Now, there is vibrant plant and animal life living around the stream and that is a testament to Aqua’s dedication to putting out quality water.”

(Above) Original Washington Park wastewater treatment facility.
(Below) New Washington Park wastewater treatment facility near completion.

Treating wastewater presents a set of challenges that are completely different from those faced when processing drinking water. Not only is it technically, physically and financially more difficult to operate these plants, but treating wastewater is a biological, chemical, and mechanical process that requires constant vigilance from operators.

“The nutrients and the raw sewage entering the plant changes hourly and we are constantly monitoring the wastewater,” said Soltis. “We do some testing, but being able to do an empirical assessment of what is happening during the treatment process – what the wastewater looks and smells like – and making proper adjustments based on that is what makes the water Aqua discharges great.”

Over his 10 years at Aqua Pennsylvania, Soltis has managed the complete overhauls of several wastewater plants acquired by Aqua including Masthope, Bunker Hill, Washington Park, Laurel Lakes, River Crest, Pine Crest and Lake Harmony. Each treatment plant now runs incredibly efficiently.

“I take great pride in my work, but the spotlight really belongs on my operators and wastewater treatment plants,” said Soltis. “The performance of each treatment plant is a team effort. I cannot accomplish anything I do on my own and that’s what makes this organization shine.” 

 

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Hurricane Season: Stay Prepared and Stay Safe

Sometimes, water service can be affected by hurricane conditions. Aqua wants to help you ensure you're prepared.

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Take a Whirl on America's Tallest Water Slides

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