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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Behind The Front Line: Assisting Abington's Bravest

Aqua is committed to making sure you have clean and affordable water to drink, cook and shower with, and take care of all of your household needs. What you might not realize is the very important role Aqua can play in saving your life and home if firefighters have to respond to a fire. We are proud to be a force behind the brave firefighters who serve your community. 

On October 30, when a fire started in the rental office of a large apartment complex in Abington, Pennsylvania, Aqua received an emergency call requesting the presence of water distribution staff at the scene. Aqua’s control center responded dispatching Emergency Utility John Loeffel to the scene. His presence was helpful and appreciated.

Speaking with an NBC10 reporter at the scene that night, McKinley Fire Company Chief Chris Bors cited the benefit of having a representative from Aqua on the scene when his firefighters were forced to abandon their interior attack when fire spread to the roof, threatening a cave-in. “When we switched to the exterior attack, obviously we were going to be requiring very large volumes of water. The county dispatch center sent a representative from Aqua Pennsylvania out and we got a couple extra supply lines laid from other hydrants that helped us out quite a lot,” said Bors.


 (via Twitter, @KatyZachry)

While some might find it curious for a water company to be called to the scene of a fire, that’s not the case for Aqua’s Assistant Superintendent of Network Operations Vince Santangelo, for whom these occasions represent just another day–or night—at the office. Santangelo, who has worked in Aqua’s distribution department for 17 of his 31 years in the water industry, has plenty of experience manning and sending operators to man fires to ensure there is enough ammunition for the utility to perform what he considers one of its most important responsibilities: supply water to fight fires. 

“It takes a more than just pressure in the system to effectively fight a fire,” said Santangelo. “You have to have to have good infrastructure. That is another reason why all of the main replacement and cleaning and lining we’re doing is so important. We’re putting in larger mains and cleaning and relining the older mains with restricted flow, which is so important for firefighting.” 

He recalls a massive fire in Conshocken Borough, Montgomery County a few years ago. “In Conshohocken we had a lot of pressure, but the fire was so large and there were so many fire companies hooked to so many hydrants, we needed to be onsite to ensure there was consistent flow.”

Many people have a difficult time understanding the difference between pressure and flow. Santangelo shares a unique scenario to explain the difference. “If you carry a 5-gallon bucket of water up a step ladder and spill the water on someone’s head, then do the same with a 10-gallon bucket of water, the difference in what they feel is flow. The pressure is the same because the water is being dropped from the same height in both instances. However, the person getting splashed will feel quite a difference between the 5-gallon splash and the 10-gallon splash. “

Santangelo said when distribution operators arrive on the scene of a fire, they are able to direct firefighters to hydrants that are on larger mains.  “When firefighters arrive, they will generally look for the nearest hydrants,” said Santangelo. “What they might not realize is that the hydrants might be on smaller mains. If multiple trucks hook up to hydrants on the same main, they have reduced capacity.  We know the intimate details of the distribution system, what size mains are connected to what hydrants and how pressure zones affect the system. This is valuable information we can provide to firefighters at the scene,” said Santangelo.

In addition to guiding firefighters to the best hydrants to use based on location and main size, he said, Distribution operators on site can contact the distribution control center to request that larger pumps be turned on to push more water into the area.

When fires are successfully extinguished, the distribution operator’s job is not done. “After the fire, we inspect every hydrant and automatic valve that was used during the fire to ensure that each is still working properly and ready for the next fire. In the case of the Abington fire, Santangelo’s team found two hydrants that required repairs, which were made by the company’s maintenance department following the fire. “While distribution operators are the foot soldiers in this effort, the process works well because it is truly a company-wide effort that involves good engineering, construction, maintenance and operations.”

“I know our primary service is public health because we are responsible for providing public drinking water, which all of us need to live. But public safety is a very close second in my opinion because we play a key role in helping firefighters protect the lives we nourish with our water.”

 

Fore more information:

NBC10 Philadelphia News Report

Abington Township Fire Department

 

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Employee Spotlight - Mark Aurich

Aqua has many talented and hardworking employees who come in and out of the office each day, but who would have thought there was a true blue cowboy in our midst? Forty-five year-old, Mark Aurich has been a part of the Aqua team for 13 years and many are unaware of his interesting life outside of the workplace. Known by some as “Michigan Slim,” Aurich has been moonlighting as a wastewater treatment plant supervisor in Fort Wayne, Indiana during the workweek, but in his spare time is a part of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) and Paradise Pass. It’s here where he along with family and the friends he has made over the years as a registered member enjoy a day of authentic old western inspired camaraderie. Paradise Pass is home to an Old Western venue that is a dreamland for anybody with fond childhood memories of playing “Cowboys and Indians.” Paradise Pass hosts Cowboy Action Shooting events for men and women of every age, background and skill level with different stages and thrill inducing competitions. At these events, participants recreate the cowboy time period through dress and use of single action pistols, shotguns and rifles.  Aurich has been attending events with Paradise Pass since 2003 and has gotten his wife Tracey and children Joseph (18) and Emily (13) involved in the fun. This year, Aurich was proud to include daughter Emily in the most recent Paradise Pass named the Cowboy Action Shoot in which she dressed as Kaya, an American Girl doll, alongside her father. Folks were amazed at how fast she picked it up. On his daughter’s performance, Aurich laughs, “She beat her dad on four out of the five stages we shot that first day, then beat me at long range lever rifle and long range pistol just to rub it in!” At the Cowboy Action Shoot, over 130 participants came from great distances to participate in costume and skill competitions and enjoy a day living in ‘The Old West’. Awards and cool prizes are up for grabs at the end of the day, including a gun holder, a custom set of spurs and awards for best costume. “I had fun before my family started shooting with me but I could never have imagined the great times we have together doing this...I came to watch, and then shoot but I stayed for the people,” Aurich says about his membership in Paradise Pass. The members of Paradise Pass have become an extended family for one another and look forward to having a good time and seeing friends at each event. Taking part in Cowboy Action Shooting gives Mark the opportunity to take a break from the constant hustle and bustle to enjoy a unique and exciting experience.  Aurich is an exemplary employee with Aqua and just as outstanding in the Wild West, where he lives out his passion and spends time alongside his family. For over a decade he has strived to be a standout employee and father.  Mark and his family also participate in hunting, fishing and spend quality time in their cabin located in northern Michigan. Mark is always hoping to welcome more people to join him and his family, including other Aqua employees to join Paradise Pass. If you ever make your way to Paradise Pass, just ask for “Slim.”

 

For more information:

Experience Michiana: Paradise Pass

Paradise Pass Regulators

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