How does water infrastructure affect public health?

There’s no question that water is Earth’s most essential resource—as a society, we use it for tasks both mundane and extraordinary every day.

At Aqua, we understand and value the importance of monitoring and repairing the systems responsible for bringing us that water. When infrastructure is outdated or damaged, it can cause problems that extend far beyond individual home plumbing systems.

We caught up with Vice President and Chief Environmental Officer Chris Crockett to better understand why Aqua’s determination to rebuild and repair our nation’s water infrastructure isn’t just important—it’s essential in order to maintain public health.

How your water travels to you matters—a lot.

It might seem like water simply rushes out of the tap, but its journey from the well or water treatment plant to your area is longer than you’d think. It’s possible that water has traveled many miles to reach your home, or maybe it was waiting to be released from a storage tank. This time spent traveling or sitting is called water age, and it can cause some less-than-ideal changes to the water.

“The longer the water sits in the pipes or tanks, the more things can happen to change its quality,” Crockett explains. “For example, the chlorine in the water will slowly degrade, and if it’s there too long, the chlorine can actually disappear.”

Though chlorine makes many people think of pool water (yuck), you’ll remember from our water purification blog that the proper amount needs to be present to keep your water safe for drinking. If pipes are outdated or rusty, the quality and safeness of the water can suffer. Without the presence of chlorine, bacteria and viruses can breed in the water supply, and that’s where things can go wrong.

Out with the old—especially pipes.

Pipes make up most of our water infrastructure systems, which makes their physical integrity of the utmost importance.

“Old, corroding pipes can grow a biofilm of bacteria that lives in the rust and can reduce the chlorine levels in the water as it sits in the pipe,” says Crockett. Not only do these biofilms eat away at pipes, but they also can give the water a slight unpleasant odor or taste.

Pipe problems don’t stop there. Crockett adds that “leaking pipes not only let water leak out, but under very specific conditions of low pressure could let water outside the pipe leak in, introducing contamination and dirt.”

According to a report from the American Water Works Association (AWWA), most of America’s drinking water distribution system is more than 50 years old. Although this infrastructure was built to last, Aqua is determined to stay ahead of deterioration to protect our customers’ water supplies.

Where does public health come in?

Water traveling through compromised (or just plain out-of-date) infrastructure can be contaminated through intrusion, corrosion, biofilms, sediment, water age, or any combination of these factors.

According to the AWWA report, a 2006 national estimate attributed nearly 50 percent of the risk of contracting a waterborne illness to distribution systems. As the AWWA puts it, there are three main concerns when it comes to understanding and tracking how water infrastructure can impact public health:

Chart via AWWA (Figure 3)

Using these three pillars, it’s easy to understand that poor infrastructure conditions can make water susceptible to more contaminants, which can affect public health through consumption and use of compromised water.

Although that’s a mouthful (and can sound concerning), allow us to give you peace of mind: Aqua is one step ahead of the game.

How, exactly?

Upgrading water infrastructure is no small task, but we know the benefits are worth it. By now, you understand the impact that outdated systems can have on your everyday life, but rest assured that Aqua takes plenty of action to keep your water safe and reliable.

According to Crockett, in addition to using sophisticated computer programs to monitor the state of the system, replacing old pipes, and flushing newer pipes with chemicals to keep them from corroding, Aqua also has plenty of boots on the ground.

“We conduct extensive flushing exercises,” he explains. “We go out in areas that may need help moving the water, and we flush it via hydrants to get out the rust and bring in fresh water.”

If you keep an eye out, you might even see members of our team in your area flushing hydrants. It’s one simple step that we can take to continue our mission to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource.

Stay tuned for another year of exploration and education throughout our Aquastructure blog series. See you next month!

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Love poems about water

February is the month of love, and since there’s nothing we love more than water, we decided that it should be our valentine this year. To celebrate, we thought we’d get a little cheesy with some love poems to show water just how much we appreciate everything it does for us.

Join us in the love fest below!

 

An Ode to Water

Our favorite drink is water

Because it tastes so great.

We always have our bottles,

It’s so easy to hydrate.

 

When we want to mix it up,

We’ll add a bag and make some tea.

A splash of milk, a squirt of lemon,

It’s delicious as can be.

 

Water keeps our bodies moving

And for that we’re very glad.

It’s always there when we need it,

It’s the best drink we’ve ever had.

 

 

Wash Away

We love that water washes away

The mud and sweat that surrounds us all day

Water is the best

For every kind of mess

It’s essential in every single way

 

H2O Makes Me Smile

A little drop of toothpaste

And a splash of water too,

I’m always in a happy haste

To get my teeth clean as new.

 

Brushing helps my breath smell good,

Toothpaste keeps my teeth white.

My smile looks just how it should,

Because water helps me brush right.

 

 

Laundry Day

Every Sunday afternoon

The machine fills with dirty clothes,

But not without water.

 

Soap goes in

And stains come out, 

But not without water.

 

Garments swirl around

With detergent and fabric softener,

But not without water.

 

The clothes are clean

And ready to wear again,

But not without water.

 

Help us spread the love by thinking about how important water is to you. Which of your daily activities would be impossible without water? 

Happy Valentine’s Day from Aqua. We love water—and you too!

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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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