Harvesting the Importance of Water

At work, Regional Compliance Manager Michael Melton ensures that Aqua’s water and wastewater systems follow North Carolina and federal laws, but he spends most of his free time working on his two-acre farm.

Many evenings, I come home, and my wife Wendy and I gather our five children and work on the farm until dark," Michael says. “I’m a hard worker by nature, so I don’t like to go home and turn on the television. I’d rather be outside spending time with the kids. We put in 10 to 15 hours a week on the farm, and I rely on them to help out — even my youngest pitches in by gathering eggs and picking beans.”

In addition to providing quality family time, the farm serves a practical purpose. “With groceries being so expensive — and with my sons being big eaters — the eggs from our chickens help keep our grocery bill down. The farm gives us broccoli, lettuce, potatoes, onions, corn, beans, peppers, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, watermelons and cantaloupes. We also make our own bath soap and laundry detergent. As prices continue to rise, many people are looking for cost-efficient ways to provide healthy food for their families.

But amid the family's agricultural successes are times when Mother Nature doesn’t play nice. “Every year there’s some sort of obstacle,” says Michael. “If you’re in a drought, you have to keep enough water on the crops or you’ll lose them. Sometimes you get a good early crop and feel like you’re ahead of the game until a hailstorm comes and ruins it, which is always hard. One year we had a bumper crop of corn and lost at least a third of it because of tornadoes, hail and bad storms. We’ve dealt with all of the problems that go along with having a farm.

On the job, Michael travels the state, guiding regulatory compliance for 702 community well systems and 61 wastewater treatment plants. “Both in the water and wastewater areas, regulations have become more stringent; they’re ever-changing,” he says. Across North Carolina, Aqua tests approximately 16,000 to 17,000 water samples every year.

Now and then, Michael's colleagues at Aqua benefit from his success on the farm.

Harvesting the crops is an exciting time, and when we have extra it’s a great blessing to be able to give some to my co-workers,” he says.

 

 

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40,000 Trees And Counting

Whether it’s planting trees, sampling aquatic organisms with high school students, helping a watershed association with their stream clean-ups, or speaking with community groups – Aqua’s environmental affairs team takes every opportunity to enlist other watershed stakeholders as advocates for the stream.

The watershed in Southeast Pennsylvania is hundreds of square miles that drain into Aqua’s raw-water sources. There are nine rivers and streams monitored and protected by a team of Aqua’s environmental specialists. Robert Kahley and Craig Marleton are on call 24/7 and must react quickly to identify any potential dangers to our water supply.

Reacting quickly to prevent pollutants – like fuel and chemical spills – from entering Aqua’s water-system intake has both obvious and immediate benefits, but the environmental affairs team considers their proactive efforts an equally important investment in the long-term protection of our water supply.

 

For example, over the last decade, Aqua’s TreeVitalize Watersheds initiative has recruited volunteers to plant 40,000 trees and shrubs in hundreds of areas along stream banks in the Delaware Valley.  As they grow along the banks of drinking-water sources, trees naturally offer several layers of protection from contaminants. Recently, the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society presented the Binney Award to Aqua for TreeVitalize at the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show. The award, named for the first president of the society, is given to a company that exemplifies environmental stewardship, a tenet of PHS’s mission.

The Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy has been receiving TreeVitalize grants for many years, and they have become the core of our fall restoration projects,” explains Conservation Coordinator for Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy Krista Scheirer. “These projects not only lead to better water and habitat quality; they help educate thousands of our volunteers and local residents on protecting our watershed, which has an even greater impact.”

Despite the success of TreeVitalize, Tony Fernandes, who manages the environmental affairs team, explains that protecting the watershed is a long-term process. “Any stream-bank repair project we complete fixes only a tiny fraction of the total stream length.  It would be impossible to measure the benefit of repairing a 500-foot stretch of steam bank along a 25-mile-long stream, and it will take many years for the 5,000 trees we plant this year to become large enough to form a mature canopy and provide the full storm-water filtering capacity, nutrient uptake, temperature control, and erosion protection to the stream.”

There are powerful long-term benefits to doing all these proactive efforts. After all, Aqua has delivered high-quality water to our customers for more than 125-years, a legacy we plan to protect and enhance for the future.  

 

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The Groundwork for a Better Tomorrow

When Aqua says we’re laying the groundwork for a better tomorrow, we’re usually talking about building the pipes, treatment plants, and other infrastructure that clean and deliver drinking water to families — and carry away and clean up their wastewater. 

Of course, before a family can turn on the tap, they need a home. Aqua’s Austin-based Brent Reeh and Troy Bolin joined about a dozen or so volunteers with Habitat for Humanity on Feb. 1 to help build a new home for a family in North Woodcreek in the Texas Hill Country. Reeh and Bolin spent the day mostly painting the interior of the house.

Whether we’re laying pipe or rolling a second coat of paint, we’re proud to build a better tomorrow for the communities we serve.

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House Hunters Aqua Edition

On a residential street in an Illinois community, you’ll find a house where no real estate agent will take you. The light beige house on a landscaped yard is home to a filter system that removes naturally occurring iron from the well water that serves thousands of people. 

The house blends into the well-kept neighborhood, providing an attractive alternative to an industrial building. Aqua operator Jennifer Murphy remembers driving a surprised environmental regulator up to the house for a plant visit. The local waste removal service dropped off a recycling bin, and a roofer once left his card. Jennifer notes that Aqua is a good neighbor. Suggestions that the house could use a little sprucing up prompted us to power wash the siding last year. Flowering pear trees planted some years ago now dot the front yard. At Aqua, we don’t just provide our neighbors with clean drinking water, we keep up with them!

 

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Polar Vortex, Polar Shmortex - Let's Go For A Swim!

You might not be surprised to learn that Aqua employees know a thing or two about plungers, but only a hardy few might take the plunge into a frozen lake. Aqua Virginia Operations Manager Tim Castillo and Area Manager Luther Ghorley dove into that challenge on Feb. 1st at the eighth annual Polar Bear Plunge in the Lake Land’Or community near Fredericksburg in central Virginia. Sponsored by the Wright's Chapel United Methodist Church in Ladysmith since 2006, the plunge raises money for programs like emergency heating assistance and food pantries that help families in need. Wright’s Chapel Pastor Charles Tillapaugh said that the event has grown to include other churches and community organizations, and the plunge raised about $19,500 this year.


 

The frosty lake temperature of 32 degrees required organizers to break the ice for about 50 swimmers, some in costume, including Castillo, who dressed as Aquaman. After the plunge, a few hundred residents enjoyed bonfires and a chili cook-off, and Aqua’s Dale Stewart served s’mores.

Castillo’s Aquaman emerged from the pack as best male costume.

Ghorley noted that the lake’s sharp ice blocks made the plunge a little painful — though bearable, and both men welcomed the opportunity to do good while having fun. “Aqua delivers essential services to families, and it’s important to us to contribute to the health and well-being of our communities,” said Castillo.

Aqua provides drinking water and wastewater service to about 4,500 people in Lake Land’or.

 

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