Breaking Down the (Dirty) Details on Wastewater Treatment

Between showering, cooking, doing a load of laundry and washing the dishes, we go through a lot of water. In fact, a typical family produces approximately 200 gallons of wastewater each and every day. 

In addition to the municipal wastewater that comes from our homes, restaurants, and commercial businesses, there’s also industrial wastewater from factories. Long story short: there’s a ton of used, dirty water in the world, and it all has to go somewhere.

Because most of that wastewater ultimately ends up back in local rivers or streams, there are a few steps Aqua takes to make sure it is impeccably clean before it gets there.

We spoke with Tom Bruns, president of Aqua Indiana, to learn exactly what those steps are.

Okay, I just flushed the toilet. Now what?

The second you flush (or drain, or pour, or rinse), the used wastewater shoots down a pipe, merges with other people’s sewage and flows off to a treatment plant for some intensive cleaning. 

First up is the screening process. Because solid objects, such as money, jewelry, toys, personal hygiene products and wipes might accidentally make their way into our wastewater, it’s important to first filter out these items so they don’t clog up the treatment system. Note: While some wipes call themselves “flushable,” they cause all sorts of problems in wastewater collection systems, so throw them in the trash instead of flushing.

After the initial screening, it’s time for gravity to do some of the heavy lifting. Cue primary clarification. During clarification, heavier materials (think: toilet paper) sink to the bottom of the tanks, while lighter ones (like the leftover oil and grease from last night’s dinner) float to the top. All of that gunk is then skimmed out. 

Is that it for the gunk?

We’re glad you asked. Because most of that gunk, like feces, bodily fluids and foods, will not settle on its own, microscopic organisms are introduced into the mix to help break down organic material. 

During this process, which we refer to as biological treatment, the microscopic organisms consume the waste (yum!) and transform it into solid particles that are captured through a round of final clarification and removed from the tank once and for all. 

Just because the sludge and gunk is gone, though, does not mean that the water is squeaky clean. In fact, if the water were to re-enter our world at this point, a lot of people would end up very sick. The water must first be disinfected with the help of ultraviolet light, which is beamed onto the water to sterilize and eliminate any remaining disease-causing organisms.

After all that, it’s time to discharge the final product. Most of the treated water is fed back into local rivers or streams. In areas of the country where water supplies are limited, this treated effluent water is often used to irrigate parks or golf courses. How’s that for a little something to think about next time you find yourself admiring the greens on hole nine?

Why do we do all of this, anyway?

Sure, it may seem like a lot of effort to put into something as undesirable as wastewater, but it’s something we have to do, especially if we don’t want to be living in our own filth. More importantly, though, we treat wastewater in order to prevent pollution, protect our health, protect wildlife and, of course, protect our environment.

Now that we’ve covered the ins and outs of the ways in which Aqua treats different types of water, we’re ready to go green and figure out exactly how Aqua stays sustainable and eco-friendly throughout the year. See you back here next month where we’ll celebrate Earth Day and all the ways in which Aqua does its part for the environment.

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Mossy Madness! Our DIY Guide to the Ultimate Marimo Aquarium

It’s February, and, for a lot of us, there isn’t much green to go around. While we still have to wait a few more months for vibrant greens outside to bloom, we have a solution for your mid-winter viridescent cravings.

Last year, around this time, we taught you about DIY terrariums. This year we have something even more unique in store. Marimo moss balls have a cultural significance in countries in the Northern Hemisphere, most notably in Scotland, Iceland, Estonia and Japan. The term “marimo” originates from Japan, combining the prefix “mari” (meaning “ball”) and the suffix “mo” (meaning “water plant”) to give you, quite literally, “water plant ball.”

While this water plant ball is often referred to as a moss ball, it is actually made of algae and grows naturally in ponds and lakes in many northern countries. The balls are now domesticated for consumer use, and they are a great way to fight off winter blues and brighten up your home.

Here is a step-by-step guide to help you set up your own marimo aquarium:

What you’ll need:

  • Clear bowl or container of any size
  • Water
  • Pebbles, rocks, sea glass or decorative items of your choosing
  • Additional aquarium decorations (optional)
  • Marimo (which you can buy on Amazon, Ebay or from individual merchants)

What to do:

  1. Clean your bowl and container and place it on your work area.
  2. Take your choice of assorted gravel and spread evenly on the bottom of the container.
  3. Place your marimo into the container and fill with cool (70 degrees Fahrenheit or lower) water.
  4. Add your decorations, and voilà—your marimo aquarium is complete!

Tips to keep your marimo healthy:

  • If you use tap water to fill up your marimo’s tank, be careful of the chlorine content, as a high level of chlorine could make your marimo sick.
  • Marimo aren’t used to sunlight, so keep them away from the window to avoid burning them.
  • Marimo need their water to be changed every few weeks, so be sure to give them the fresh water they need.

Remember to have fun with your marimo! You can put them in containers of all sizes, from jars that are the size of a necklace, like the above photo, to the size of a standard goldfish bowl. It’s up to you to personalize your marimo’s home.

Let us know how your aquarium turns out! Tag us on Facebook or Twitter with pictures of your very own DIY marimo habitat. 

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Aqua Pennsylvania steps in to rehabilitate troubled Sun Valley water system

 

By Marc Lucca, Aqua Pennsylvania President

As a leader in the water and wastewater industry, Aqua is committed to improving our nation’s infrastructure through thoughtful capital investment, which improves customer service and satisfaction. Over the past five years, Aqua Pennsylvania has invested $1.16 billion in infrastructure improvements, including hundreds of miles of pipe replacement and plant upgrades to enhance water quality and ensure reliable water and wastewater services. In 2018, Pennsylvania plans to invest more than $238.8 million to strengthen infrastructure in the communities we have the privilege of serving. 

One of Aqua’s investment focuses is partnering with municipalities that are struggling to maintain their own water or wastewater systems – whether because of water quality issues, critical infrastructure investment needs, or budgetary constraints. By leveraging our compliance expertise, purchasing power and operational efficiencies, our company is able to infuse needed capital into systems and develop the infrastructure required for clean drinking water and environmentally sound wastewater services.

Aqua Operator outside the existing Sun Valley well station.

Given our reputation for bringing troubled systems into compliance with environmental regulations to ensure public health, State Rep. Jack Rader and Sen. Mario Scavello recently asked Aqua Pennsylvania to consider taking over the small but troubled Sun Valley water system. The system, which serves approximately 200 residents in Chestnut Hill Township, Monroe County, did not have any consistent oversight or maintenance, and as a result, was in an extremely dilapidated state. In fact, since 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection had been advising customers to boil their water before consumption.

Although Aqua Pennsylvania specializes in larger water systems serving towns and municipalities, we were pleased to be able to jump into action to help a community that had nowhere else to turn. Within eight days of being granted official approval by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to take over the system, we were able to make enough short-term improvements to have the boil water advisory lifted. My team did a great job and I’m extremely proud of their efforts to make this really important improvement.

Sun Valley's existing storage tank.

The ongoing absence of rehabilitation and maintenance to the Sun Valley water system has made it necessary to rebuild the entire system to ensure reliable service and safe water going forward. Aqua Pennsylvania will construct a new well and water tank, replace all of the pipes and install water meters. The cost will likely exceed $2 million, which will be funded in part by state loans and grants.

The work Aqua Pennsylvania is doing in Sun Valley is an extreme example of what’s occurring with water infrastructure across the country, and it highlights the important role that publicly regulated companies can play in addressing our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. With over a century of experience in water and wastewater operations, Aqua has the ability to help troubled water and wastewater systems, and we will continue to lend our expertise to ensure communities across the country have access to safe and clean water and reliable service.

Sun Valley's existing well station chemical feed.

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Digging Deep into Groundwater Treatment

Welcome back to Aquastructure, our year-long blog series where we help you, loyal water user, become a real-life expert on all things H2O. We’re going behind the scenes of Aqua’s daily operations to break down all the complicated systems that work together to bring you clean, refreshing water each and every day.

Last month, we learned all about surface water and the treatment process that goes into making water from lakes, rivers and reservoirs clean and crisp. This month, we’ll tackle groundwater and learn a bit about how that water becomes something we actually can put into our bodies.

We turned to Alissa Vanim, manager of environmental compliance at Aqua New Jersey and Joe Mingle, director of operations at Aqua New Jersey, to get the 411 on groundwater treatment.

So what makes groundwater special?

Let’s start with the most obvious fact: groundwater comes from—drum roll, please—the ground. Deep within the earth, there are underground wells that collect buckets beyond buckets of water from aquifers, which are layers of rock and soil that transmit water. Those aquifers contain water from a mix of natural sources, such as precipitation (like rain or snow) and nearby rivers and streams.

But that well water isn’t as drinkable as we’d like—it’s been hanging out in the dark hundreds of feet below the ground, after all.  

Okay, but how does the groundwater leave the ground?

After a while, those wells fill up, and it’s time for all that groundwater to see the light of day. So off it goes to a treatment plant, where the water undergoes various treatment processes depending on its quality. This may include a bit of the ion-exchange process. The ion-exchange process sounds super complicated, but it’s really just a mix of positively and negatively charged ions doing some black magic to remove contaminants such as nitrate, fluoride, sulfate and arsenic.

Is that all?

Of course not—that’d be too easy. There are also activated-carbon contactors that absorb other chemicals that don’t belong in our drinking water. This improves the taste of the water and removes odors as well.

Sometimes nuisance metals, like iron or manganese, seep into the water, so that’s where sequestration comes in. This process makes sure the water isn’t discolored or metallic.

Lastly, there’s aeration, which raises the pH levels and removes CO2 gases from the groundwater. All in all, this pre-treatment process is just a necessary step we have to take to remove a ton of harmful pollutants from our water. 

Is the next stop chlorination?

Back in the day, waterborne diseases wreaked havoc on society. But thanks to chlorination, all those harmful bacteria and viruses (think: salmonella, E-Coli, Coliform, Legionella and fecal coliform) get destroyed so we can go on living happy, healthy, hydrated lives.

Once all that water has been chlorinated, it moves on to post-treatment. Here, green sand filters pull out any additional iron manganese and hydrogen sulfide to achieve optimal water quality. Finally, post-treatment chlorination is added as the last process before delivery.

Can I get the water now?

Now that the water is clean, it’s time to send it off to you, the water customers of the world. If the water is not immediately needed, it is transported into large, elevated storage tanks. From there, all that safe, drinkable water gets distributed to you via underground pipes so that you can drink it, cook with it, wash with it or flush it away to your heart’s desire.

Ta-da! That’s all for groundwater treatment, folks. Join us next month, where we’ll provide all of the (dirty) details on wastewater. 

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Winter is Freezing—But Your Pipes Don’t Have to Be

As we all know, winter is here, and that means it’s cold outside. While you can keep yourself warm by throwing on another jacket or blanket, it’s important to remember that your pipes don’t have the same option. The water inside them can freeze and expand, causing major problems throughout the winter season.

Want to avoid that nightmare? We want to help you do so. We’ve recruited the help of our old friends Fred Wags and Felicia Fluff to help teach you the steps you can take to prevent frozen pipes.  

Step One: Thaw

If your pipes are starting to freeze, follow Fred’s lead and grab a hair dryer. Hold it about six inches away from the frozen area of the pipe, and move it back and forth to thaw out the pipes and get your water flowing again.

Step Two: Insulate 

Fred and Felicia are keeping warm, but that’s because they have fur. Pipes don’t have jackets or fur, so insulation is the next best thing! If you’re unsure about how to insulate your pipes, check out this video by the U.S. Department of Energy. Make sure you follow the step-by-step instructions to insulate the pipes in the cold areas of your house so you don’t have to worry about breaking out the hair dryer again.

Step Three: Open Doors

While we aren’t telling you to keep any major entry or exit points open, there are a few doors in your house that should stay ajar this winter season. Any cabinet doors underneath a sink should be left open to allow hot air to flow in and warm up the pipes. Just make sure Fred and Felicia don’t get their paws on anything they shouldn’t!

Step Four: Remove Hoses

Before it gets too cold, make sure to go outside and pack your hoses away for the winter. It sounds simple, but this quick action will keep hoses from getting exposed to the elements, freezing or getting damaged over the winter months.

Step Five: Keep Water Running

Felicia and Fred are thirsty little creatures, and if you want to keep them hydrated, listen up. Make sure to keep the water source furthest away from your heater running with a small stream if the temperature outside gets below 10 degrees. Moving water doesn’t freeze, so this trick will ensure that your pipes don’t, either.

Step Six: Eliminate Drafts 

If you want to keep Fred, Felicia and your pipes warm, it’s important to eliminate any drafts you have coming into your house. Your pets will be happier, and you will be too. If you’re not quite sure how to fix drafts, this guide from This Old House should send you in the right direction.

Thanks for taking the time to learn about ways to prevent your pipes from freezing this winter season. Fred and Felicia are feeling confident the pipes won't freeze this winter, and you should too.

Stay warm, and stay safe!

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