Solving Long-Term Water Challenges

In today’s society, water is available in seemingly endless abundance. Access to clean water for everything from personal hygiene to recreational use seems to know no bounds. Water is such a commonplace resource that we even throw it away without much thought. 

Professionals working in various sectors of the water industry, however, are privy to the effort, planning and resources needed to deliver clean, safe water to people every day. A major concern is the nation’s crumbling water infrastructure system. With some systems more than a century old, many municipalities are facing challenges regarding how to execute rehabilitation or replacement projects to keep systems functioning, and doing so affordably. 

The issue of America’s aging water systems is widely recognized throughout the water industry, from representatives in rural municipalities to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Last spring, the EPA released its projections from a survey, showing that approximately $384 billion of infrastructure improvements are needed through the year 2030 for systems to continue providing safe drinking water to 297 million Americans.

To address this problem, private companies and municipalities are working with a public-private partnership model, under which municipalities can identify longstanding concerns with their systems and prioritize projects that need immediate work. Municipalities are finding that private utilities have the needed capital resources required to update infrastructure and are in the financial position to invest resources in improvements to update aging systems. According to a study by Public Works Financing, private providers save municipalities an average of 17% in costs through operational efficiencies under a public-private partnership.

Each day, almost 73 million Americans receive water service from a private or municipal utility operating through a public-private partnership. Private utilities often serve customers who do not have many other options, such as those living in rural areas.

There also are public health benefits attached to privatization. According to EPA records, in the past five years there were 5,808 public health related Safe Drinking Water Act violations. These violations can include exceeding maximum containment levels for regulated substances or the failure to disinfect water properly. Only nine of these violations took place at facilities operated by investor-owned utility companies. 

Still, it can be difficult to dispel misconceptions about rate increases. Rates are designed to give private utilities the opportunity to recover reasonable costs for service, and a reasonable rate of return on money they have spent on the infrastructure. State utility commissions not only establish utility rates, but also closely review a utility’s rate request to ensure money is spent prudently. This means that utilities can only recover costs for projects that are necessary to serve customers and comply with state and federal laws. 

Private, publicly traded water companies spend money to make needed improvements to water and sewer systems. Only then do they ask the state utility commission for permission to recover their costs through customer rates over a period of time.  

 

For More Information:

EPA Water's Laws and Regulations Page

EPA Water's Infrastructure Information

Water & Wastes Digest's From Pipe to Faucet

 

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Aqua's Youngest Customer Calls For Help

When four-year-old Marcus in Palmyra, Virginia, accidentally flushed a coin down the toilet, he knew exactly who could help. Since Aqua runs the wastewater plant that serves his neighborhood, Marcus dictated a letter to his Mom asking us to please find the coin — he thinks it was a dime — and send it back to him. Marcus described the money for us (small and silver) and told us that if we happened to find two coins, we could give the second one to his friend, whose money had also gone missing.

 

While this dilemma was a little outside our scope of work, Aqua Virginia President Shannon Becker understands that we don’t just serve houses, we serve families, and Marcus was counting on us to fix a problem. Without getting into the complexities of sewer treatment systems, Shannon decided the original coins weren’t just hard to find, but also likely no longer desirable! That’s why Shannon dropped by to visit Marcus and his family on Monday, Oct. 14 to personally deliver two silver dollars — one for Marcus and one for his friend.

 Marcus and his family appreciated the visit, but Shannon might have enjoyed it most. “I think Marcus was amazed that his dime somehow turned into a silver dollar, although I made it pretty clear that this is not how to make your money grow,” said Shannon. “Aqua delivers a critical service that families depend on, and if they have a problem that we can help solve, they can depend on us to try to fix it.”

 

Marcus knows he can take that promise to the bank.

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Challenge Accepted: Aqua's Tough Mudders

Billed as “Ironman meets Burning Man,” Tough Mudder challenges, which are held throughout the world, are not just mud races. Rather, they are 10- to 12-mile obstacle courses designed by British Special Forces “to test all around strength, stamina, mental grit and camaraderie.” 

The desire to challenge oneself personally — on so many levels — is exactly what drew Aqua employees to the Tough Mudder challenge. Chris Luning, senior vice president and general counsel  for Aqua America, was one of the first at Aqua to take on the Tough Mudder. 

After completing his first challenge two years ago, he encouraged two colleagues at Aqua to sign up for a Tough Mudder. His persistence became the catalyst in turning Tom Rafferty, director of corporate development at AquaCapital Ventures , into a fellow Tough Mudder.

Luning’s example also paved the way for Fred Martino, senior associate of investor relations at Aqua America, to become a Tough Mudder. “Luning convinced me basically to get involved in mud runs and trail running and these military-style obstacle courses,” Martino said. 

While Luning, Rafferty and Martino were gearing up for Tough Mudder, they didn’t realize another Aqua employee was also training for the event. It wasn’t until just a few days before that they found out, by chance, that Joseph McBride, director of IT communications and call center technology for Aqua America, was a fellow Mudder.

All their training helped prepare the Aqua Mudders for the obstacles they faced the day of the challenge. Some actually emerged as favorites. For instance, the “Walk the Plank” obstacle, which involves jumping off a plank into a freezing-cold pond, was one of Luning’s favorites.

While making it through these obstacles was remarkable, McBride said the most amazing part of the whole event was the camaraderie. “Everybody checked on each other, even people you didn’t know,” he said. 

After a weekend spent on a Tough Mudder, these four Aqua employees had a lot to discuss back at the office on Monday morning. Co-workers also noticed the buzz surrounding the event.

Not only did colleagues look at the men in a new light, the men began to look at each other differently. Although Luning, Rafferty and Martino were friends before the challenge, they became closer afterwards.

 

Learn more about Tough Mudders

What is Tough Mudder?

Tough Mudders helps raise money for Wounded Warrior Project

 

 

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Sunny Outlook

It’s another sunny workday in southeastern Pennsylvania. Dave Marozzi logs on to the web-based monitoring system that tracks the performance of the new 1-megawatt photovoltaic power system at Aqua’s Ingram’s Mill Water Treatment Plant. Not a cloud is in the sky as Marozzi, superintendent of the Pickering and Ingram’s Mill plants, observes the graph that tracks the output of the solar field. As expected, the solar field started producing energy soon after sunrise. 

When performance peaks sometime between 1:30 and 2 p.m., the 3.8-acre solar field will be really humming, generating enough electricity to power the plant essentially for free.

“At peak performance, Ingram’s Mill consumes, on average, about 700 kilowatts of electricity,” Marozzi explains. “So for four to five hours a day, we are basically getting free power and selling the excess back to PECO Energy.”

The Ingram’s Mill solar field went into service in December 2009. “Since it came up to full power, it has been exceeding our expectations,” says Karl Kyriss, executive vice  president of Aqua America.

“The solar energy supplements our power demand at Ingram’s Mill, providing approximately 30 percent of the power required to operate the plant. That offsets $115,000 of expense at the anticipated yearly cost of electricity.”

Overall, the project made good economic sense. “The price of solar panels has come down, and the availability of grants and tax incentives made it a viable economic alternative to help us supplement our energy demand and to help us manage rising energy costs as we go forward,” Kyriss says.

In addition, the investment in solar energy pays annual “dividends” in the form of solar renewable energy credits (SRECs).

In 2011, utilities’ energy portfolios must contain at least 3.5 percent renewable energy. Those that do not meet their individual solar goals must make payments into a renewable energy fund at a rate of 200 percent of the market value of the SRECs.

On the plus side, owners of a facility such as the solar field at Ingram’s Mill receive one SREC for each 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity produced. These credits can be sold or traded to other companies that have not met their required goals through online trading sites such as the Flett Exchange.

For example, the solar field at Ingram’s Mill is anticipated to produce 1,280 SRECs in its first year of operation. At the current ‘spot’ market value of $325 per SREC, its total SREC value for the year is projected to be $416,000. 

 

For More Information:

Aqua Sustainability Report

 

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Our 125-Year Journey

It all began in 1886 when a group of engineering professors from Swarthmore College in southeastern Pennsylvania became concerned about the safety of the local water supply. With typhoid fever surfacing in nearby towns, they were taking no chances. They abandoned their wells and established their own water company with one primary goal: to protect public health. Starting that home-grown organization, Springfield Water Company, was like throwing a pebble in a pond.

These educators could not have imagined the huge ripple effects that would be produced by their tiny venture, which served the residents of a small village. The company ultimately grew into Aqua America, a publicly traded, water- and wastewater-utility holding company, serving about three million people in 10 states.

The company’s 125-year journey has been an adventure with growth, expansion, building and modernization. Throughout the years, the company’s core mission has remained true to its origins: to provide quality water in a way that ensures public health and environmental quality.

“We’ve always been the industry leader for sustainability of our product and environmental protection, long before those two phrases became the mantra,” said Nick DeBenedictis, Aqua America chairman and CEO. “To meet those goals, we have made huge capital investments in our infrastructure. We are an engineering and technology-driven company that strives for excellence in our product.”

During DeBenedictis’ 20-year tenure, the company has experienced unprecedented growth through acquisitions. Focusing on its core business of water and wastewater utilities, Aqua has completed more than 250 ventures, which have quadrupled its customer base and more than tripled the number of employees, from approximately 500 to 1,700.

“Our vision for growth through acquisition was driven by the need for greater efficiency in our country’s water systems,” explained DeBenedictis, the company’s longest-serving chairman.

“The United States has more than 50,000 water systems, and less than one percent of these systems serve more than 100,000 people. Much of the infrastructure dates back to the early 1900s. A huge capital investment is necessary over the next 20 years for our country’s systems to meet more stringent federal and state drinking-water regulations and standards. By acquiring smaller, less efficient, less well-capitalized companies and investing in improvements, Aqua is helping to meet this need.

“At the same time, this growth strategy benefits our customers and employees, as well as our investors,” he added. “Since 1992, we’ve increased our value to shareholders from $100 million market capitalization to about $4.5 billion market capitalization.”

For more information about Aqua America & Nicholas DeBenedictis check out:

About Aqua

What it Means to Lead: Nicholas DeBenedictis, Chairman, CEO, and President of Aqua America, Inc.

Pennoni Honors Aqua America Chairman and CEO Nicholas DeBenedictis with Award

Aqua America NY Times Section

 

 

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