Getting To Know CEO Nick DeBenedictis

You may know that Nick DeBenedictis is the President and CEO of Aqua, but what you might not about his love for dogs and a vacation spot he’s called home in the summer for six decades. Get to know Nick a little more as he answers 10 questions about the past, present and future.

1. You have been Aqua America’s CEO for more than 20 years. Looking back what do you feel is your greatest accomplishment?

Without a doubt, it’s the investment of more than $2 billion in needed water and wastewater infrastructure. Our initial and primary focus was on upgrading and rehabilitating the plants and treatment systems to stay ahead of the more stringent federal, state and local water quality regulations that were taking effect at that time. Afterward, we ramped up the replacement of our aging distribution systems. These programs were part of our mission and commitment to provide reliable service and clean, quality drinking water.

2. When you were first appointed Chairman and CEO, what was your vision for Aqua? 

I was nervous! It was my first and only position as a CEO, and although I had governmental and non-profit executive experience, I had never been at a publicly traded company. At the time, the company was not doing so well financially, so my first priority was to stabilize the finances.

3. What have you learned from the company’s success?

The successes have been our key acquisitions and the expansion of the company from local to national. We needed to do small acquisitions first and gradually take on the bigger prospects. Through this process, were able to assess the risks and apply improvements as we moved from smaller to larger acquisitions. 

4. What do you believe our employees should know about Aqua?

I think it’s important that employees understand our history and culture of being a leader in a very crucial industry. I hope that it will help them with new challenges that require a new investment of time, knowledge and money.

5. What would you like employees to know about you? 

I care a lot about the employees and the company, and what we do every day to improve the environment. The proper balancing of the four-legged stool [employees, customers, shareholders and community] is so important to our company, and I hope employees understand that it is essential to Aqua’s survival.

6. Who are the members of your immediate family? Do you have any pets? 

My wife and I have been married since 1968 — our wedding song was “Cherish” by the 5th Dimension. We have two children and five grandchildren. Throughout much of our married life, we had dogs — a Bassett Hound and Boxers. I love my dogs. We don’t have one now and I miss that. 

7. What is your favorite place to vacation? 

For 63 years I’ve been going to the North Wildwood beach [in New Jersey].

8. What is your favorite holiday? 

Christmas - the time of giving. But I’ve got to be honest, I love Halloween. Each year I try to be home because I really enjoy giving candy to the kids and seeing their costumes. Giving out the giant-sized Hershey bars has become a tradition at my house.

 

9. Do you have a role model or a hero? Who is it? 

My father, he had the most influence on me. He was hardworking and very generous — always giving to others, he was a very nice guy.

10. There are many grateful recipients of your personal thank-you notes. How did someone in environmental engineering become so communication savvy?

It’s just instinctive to acknowledge and show respect for people who do something good for the company or society. I’ve learned that expressing your appreciation verbally or in writing with genuine thank-you notes is a small but sincere gesture.

 

For More Information:

Aqua Management

Nick DeBenedictis Forbes Profile

Drexel University LeBow College Of Business Nick DeBenedictis Highlight

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Paperless Billing Delivers Benefits

In today’s tight economy, utility companies are pressured to improve customer satisfaction, reduce costs, and protect the environment. A successful billing method helps Aqua America achieve all of these goals.

Aqua Online, the paperless billing solution, gives customers the option of receiving their water or wastewater bill electronically through the Aqua website. It also allows customers the option of paying their bill electronically. The system is convenient for customers, lowers paper and postage costs and saves trees.

The move to Aqua Online will bring rewards. According to a survey by PayItGreen, there is a direct connection between paperless billing and customer satisfaction – customers who switch to online payments tend to be happier. The paperless system will also bring significant cost savings to Aqua “Financially, it’s less expensive for the company to send an electronic bill than a paper bill, mainly because we eliminate the cost of postage,” explained Aqua Regional President Rick Fox, who was vice president of customer operations when the company developed Aqua Online. 

“There’s also a much quicker delivery time, and when people get a paperless bill, they typically pay a few days sooner than they do with a paper bill.”

The change to paperless will also conserve tress. Aqua typically mails around 850,000 paper bills a month, each one generating at least three pieces of paper: the bill, the return envelope and the mailing envelope. Often, other paper materials – billing stuffers, letters and regulatory information, such as water-quality reports – are also enclosed in the mailings.

Using less paper is only part of the environmental picture. According the PayItGreen survey, if 20 percent of American households switched to paperless bills, statements and payments, more than 100 million gallons of gasoline would be saved, annually, and greenhouse gases emitted by delivery vehicles would be reduced. 

 

For more Information: 

Sign-Up for Aqua Online Billing

 

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Laying The Groundwork For Fun

Aqua delivers drinking water 24/7, but our Virginia team recently delivered a lot of fun for students at the Carysbrook Elementary School in Fork Union, Fluvanna County. Many of the Carysbrook students’ families are served by Aqua in the nearby Lake Monticello community.

Last year, Shannon Becker, president of Aqua Virginia, and Tim Castillo, operations manager, started plans to identify, buy, refurbish and donate playground equipment for the school. Aqua employees installed the equipment in October, and Becker and Castillo joined third and fourth graders during recess on Nov. 15th to cut the ribbon.

Carysbrook Principal Don Stribling, Fluvanna County School Superintendent Gena Keller, and Director of Elementary Instruction Brenda Gilliam hosted Aqua at the school.


 

Principal Stribling led the kids as they recited the CAR’s Stars Pledge:

I will:

Show Citizenship

Take Responsibility

Act Kindly

Respect Others

Stay Safe


 

After the ribbon cutting, the kids were free to play. “Aqua is proud to contribute to some of the youngest members of the community,” said Becker. “We hope children enjoy the playground set for years to come.”

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Rate Cases Made Simple

Have you ever wondered what’s behind an Aqua rate increase? If the “when?” and “why?” are lost on you, you’re not alone. Believe it or not, there is a rhyme and reason behind Aqua’s rate cases, and there are checks in place to make sure that each case is fair and warranted. Did you know that in most states, you cannot file for a rate increase until after you invest money into your water system? For Aqua that means first we must invest the capital for improvements in infrastructure, new tanks or plant upgrades.

Only after these improvements are made can Aqua request to raise rates to recover our investment. Aqua cannot request a rate increase to finance a future project according to the regulations of most states. When putting the case together, Aqua must determine a “test year.” This is a one-year financial snapshot of the system in which Aqua is filing the case. Each state has a regulating body — the Public Utility Commission (PUC) — that ensures the increase is both fair and warranted.

Once it decides to file a rate increase, Aqua must compile the proper paperwork and notify our state PUC that it plans to request a rate increase. Aqua must provide the necessary documentation supporting the investments made in the test year that provide just cause for the increase.

Improvements often include:

 • Water main replacements 

• Loops to improve water pressure

 • New hydrant installation to support the local fire department

 • Added tanks for increased capacity 

• Upgraded tanks to improve water quality.

Most state commissions require water utilities to notify their customers once they file a rate request. These notices can take the form of a bill stuffer, an ad, a postcard or a letter. These notices must contain instructions on how to intervene. Customers or other third parties who wish to formally block a rate increase for any particular reason are known as “interveners.” Interveners must file with the commission for this status.

After the request is filed, Aqua compiles all of the official paperwork, supporting documents and supporting numbers for the PUC. Once all necessary documents are filed, the PUC then has several months to rule on the case. During the assessment process, the PUC conducts public hearings, which allow customers, elected officials, stakeholders and interveners to voice their concerns. Information gathered in public hearings is taken into account by the PUC as they look to make a decision on the rate request.

Once the PUC has analyzed Aqua’s request, it rules on whether to grant the proposed rate increase. The PUC can grant or deny the new proposed rates. Additionally, the PUC can grant Aqua a rate increase, but at a different level than what was proposed. In some cases, it will grant increases for some but not all of the items requested. It is important for the company to demonstrate that all of our expenses and infrastructure improvements are just and reasonable.

Once the request is approved, Aqua usually is required to notify our customers of their new rates and when they will take effect. These notices are usually in the form of a paid newspaper advertisement, bill stuffers or customer letters.

Aqua’s goal is to recover investments made to improve infrastructure while still striving to keep rates manageable for customers. Our proactive capital investment plan ensures that pipes and equipment are properly maintained to guarantee quality water and uninterrupted service.

As infrastructure ages, it becomes less reliable. When main breaks occur or equipment breaks down, the cost to repair them is greater than the cost of a proactive replacement. Additionally, customers may not have service during the time it takes to fix the emergency.

“While no customer wants to hear that their rates are increasing, we strive to help them understand that, without our improvements, it would not be possible for them to continue to receive quality water,” said Regulatory Affairs Manager Kim Joyce. “Our capital improvement model and rates schedule aim to improve each system over time so that each rate request is spaced out appropriately so as not to overwhelm customers whenever possible. Furthermore, each of our requests is carefully scrutinized by the Public Utility Commission to ensure that what we are asking for is warranted.” Even as rates continue to change in Aqua’s 10 states, Aqua is proud of the fact that (in most of our systems) the company is still able to deliver quality water to our customers for approximately a penny per gallon.

 

For Additional Information:

Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission

Aqua America States 

 

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Using Technology At Aqua

Aqua’s Pennsylvania region is executing an active water main renewal program that includes both replacement of water mains as well as cleaning and cement mortar lining of unlined cast iron pipe. In 2012 alone, the utility spent $259 million on infrastructure improvement projects in the state, including the replacement or cleaning and lining of 140 miles of aging water main. Such projects are critical to ensuring water quality, service reliability, and increasing firefighting capabilities.

After a public company partners with a private water system, one of the greatest challenges can be prioritizing a huge backlog of infrastructure improvement projects. In evaluating how to best accomplish this, Aqua Pennsylvania recognized that it needed to develop a more formalized and efficient approach to prioritizing renewal projects. To address this, Aqua Pennsylvania implemented two technology-based, information management initiatives in its Pennsylvania subsidiary. The first, Asset Information Management System (AIMS), is a web-based platform that allows employees to retrieve information on pipes, hydrants, main breaks, and customer taps. It also provides a link to more than 50,000 scanned images of construction as-built plans, providing "one-stop-shopping" for distribution system information.

A second information management system, geographic information system (GIS) allows users to visually retrieve and display much of the same information as AIMS using a map-based system. Weekly updated maps are generated from the GIS and are made available to users as Adobe PDF images via AIMS. In addition, simple viewers are created that provide a live view of the GIS database. The viewers are easy to use, do not require sophisticated training, and are deployed using free software.

With an insurmountable amount of data to work with in the region, AIMS and the GIS provide Aqua Pennsylvania with the tools needed to prioritize its water main renewal program effectively and efficiently. 

For more information: 

What is GIS?

Aqua Pennsylvania Receives Award Recognizing Its Sustainability Report and Environmental Efforts

 2013 Aqua Sustainability Report

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