Aqua Pennsylvania steps in to rehabilitate troubled Sun Valley water system

 

By Marc Lucca, Aqua Pennsylvania President

As a leader in the water and wastewater industry, Aqua is committed to improving our nation’s infrastructure through thoughtful capital investment, which improves customer service and satisfaction. Over the past five years, Aqua Pennsylvania has invested $1.16 billion in infrastructure improvements, including hundreds of miles of pipe replacement and plant upgrades to enhance water quality and ensure reliable water and wastewater services. In 2018, Pennsylvania plans to invest more than $238.8 million to strengthen infrastructure in the communities we have the privilege of serving. 

One of Aqua’s investment focuses is partnering with municipalities that are struggling to maintain their own water or wastewater systems – whether because of water quality issues, critical infrastructure investment needs, or budgetary constraints. By leveraging our compliance expertise, purchasing power and operational efficiencies, our company is able to infuse needed capital into systems and develop the infrastructure required for clean drinking water and environmentally sound wastewater services.

Aqua Operator outside the existing Sun Valley well station.

Given our reputation for bringing troubled systems into compliance with environmental regulations to ensure public health, State Rep. Jack Rader and Sen. Mario Scavello recently asked Aqua Pennsylvania to consider taking over the small but troubled Sun Valley water system. The system, which serves approximately 200 residents in Chestnut Hill Township, Monroe County, did not have any consistent oversight or maintenance, and as a result, was in an extremely dilapidated state. In fact, since 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection had been advising customers to boil their water before consumption.

Although Aqua Pennsylvania specializes in larger water systems serving towns and municipalities, we were pleased to be able to jump into action to help a community that had nowhere else to turn. Within eight days of being granted official approval by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to take over the system, we were able to make enough short-term improvements to have the boil water advisory lifted. My team did a great job and I’m extremely proud of their efforts to make this really important improvement.

Sun Valley's existing storage tank.

The ongoing absence of rehabilitation and maintenance to the Sun Valley water system has made it necessary to rebuild the entire system to ensure reliable service and safe water going forward. Aqua Pennsylvania will construct a new well and water tank, replace all of the pipes and install water meters. The cost will likely exceed $2 million, which will be funded in part by state loans and grants.

The work Aqua Pennsylvania is doing in Sun Valley is an extreme example of what’s occurring with water infrastructure across the country, and it highlights the important role that publicly regulated companies can play in addressing our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. With over a century of experience in water and wastewater operations, Aqua has the ability to help troubled water and wastewater systems, and we will continue to lend our expertise to ensure communities across the country have access to safe and clean water and reliable service.

Sun Valley's existing well station chemical feed.

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Digging Deep into Groundwater Treatment

Welcome back to Aquastructure, our year-long blog series where we help you, loyal water user, become a real-life expert on all things H2O. We’re going behind the scenes of Aqua’s daily operations to break down all the complicated systems that work together to bring you clean, refreshing water each and every day.

Last month, we learned all about surface water and the treatment process that goes into making water from lakes, rivers and reservoirs clean and crisp. This month, we’ll tackle groundwater and learn a bit about how that water becomes something we actually can put into our bodies.

We turned to Alissa Vanim, manager of environmental compliance at Aqua New Jersey and Joe Mingle, director of operations at Aqua New Jersey, to get the 411 on groundwater treatment.

So what makes groundwater special?

Let’s start with the most obvious fact: groundwater comes from—drum roll, please—the ground. Deep within the earth, there are underground wells that collect buckets beyond buckets of water from aquifers, which are layers of rock and soil that transmit water. Those aquifers contain water from a mix of natural sources, such as precipitation (like rain or snow) and nearby rivers and streams.

But that well water isn’t as drinkable as we’d like—it’s been hanging out in the dark hundreds of feet below the ground, after all.  

Okay, but how does the groundwater leave the ground?

After a while, those wells fill up, and it’s time for all that groundwater to see the light of day. So off it goes to a treatment plant, where the water undergoes various treatment processes depending on its quality. This may include a bit of the ion-exchange process. The ion-exchange process sounds super complicated, but it’s really just a mix of positively and negatively charged ions doing some black magic to remove contaminants such as nitrate, fluoride, sulfate and arsenic.

Is that all?

Of course not—that’d be too easy. There are also activated-carbon contactors that absorb other chemicals that don’t belong in our drinking water. This improves the taste of the water and removes odors as well.

Sometimes nuisance metals, like iron or manganese, seep into the water, so that’s where sequestration comes in. This process makes sure the water isn’t discolored or metallic.

Lastly, there’s aeration, which raises the pH levels and removes CO2 gases from the groundwater. All in all, this pre-treatment process is just a necessary step we have to take to remove a ton of harmful pollutants from our water. 

Is the next stop chlorination?

Back in the day, waterborne diseases wreaked havoc on society. But thanks to chlorination, all those harmful bacteria and viruses (think: salmonella, E-Coli, Coliform, Legionella and fecal coliform) get destroyed so we can go on living happy, healthy, hydrated lives.

Once all that water has been chlorinated, it moves on to post-treatment. Here, green sand filters pull out any additional iron manganese and hydrogen sulfide to achieve optimal water quality. Finally, post-treatment chlorination is added as the last process before delivery.

Can I get the water now?

Now that the water is clean, it’s time to send it off to you, the water customers of the world. If the water is not immediately needed, it is transported into large, elevated storage tanks. From there, all that safe, drinkable water gets distributed to you via underground pipes so that you can drink it, cook with it, wash with it or flush it away to your heart’s desire.

Ta-da! That’s all for groundwater treatment, folks. Join us next month, where we’ll provide all of the (dirty) details on wastewater. 

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Winter is Freezing—But Your Pipes Don’t Have to Be

As we all know, winter is here, and that means it’s cold outside. While you can keep yourself warm by throwing on another jacket or blanket, it’s important to remember that your pipes don’t have the same option. The water inside them can freeze and expand, causing major problems throughout the winter season.

Want to avoid that nightmare? We want to help you do so. We’ve recruited the help of our old friends Fred Wags and Felicia Fluff to help teach you the steps you can take to prevent frozen pipes.  

Step One: Thaw

If your pipes are starting to freeze, follow Fred’s lead and grab a hair dryer. Hold it about six inches away from the frozen area of the pipe, and move it back and forth to thaw out the pipes and get your water flowing again.

Step Two: Insulate 

Fred and Felicia are keeping warm, but that’s because they have fur. Pipes don’t have jackets or fur, so insulation is the next best thing! If you’re unsure about how to insulate your pipes, check out this video by the U.S. Department of Energy. Make sure you follow the step-by-step instructions to insulate the pipes in the cold areas of your house so you don’t have to worry about breaking out the hair dryer again.

Step Three: Open Doors

While we aren’t telling you to keep any major entry or exit points open, there are a few doors in your house that should stay ajar this winter season. Any cabinet doors underneath a sink should be left open to allow hot air to flow in and warm up the pipes. Just make sure Fred and Felicia don’t get their paws on anything they shouldn’t!

Step Four: Remove Hoses

Before it gets too cold, make sure to go outside and pack your hoses away for the winter. It sounds simple, but this quick action will keep hoses from getting exposed to the elements, freezing or getting damaged over the winter months.

Step Five: Keep Water Running

Felicia and Fred are thirsty little creatures, and if you want to keep them hydrated, listen up. Make sure to keep the water source furthest away from your heater running with a small stream if the temperature outside gets below 10 degrees. Moving water doesn’t freeze, so this trick will ensure that your pipes don’t, either.

Step Six: Eliminate Drafts 

If you want to keep Fred, Felicia and your pipes warm, it’s important to eliminate any drafts you have coming into your house. Your pets will be happier, and you will be too. If you’re not quite sure how to fix drafts, this guide from This Old House should send you in the right direction.

Thanks for taking the time to learn about ways to prevent your pipes from freezing this winter season. Fred and Felicia are feeling confident the pipes won't freeze this winter, and you should too.

Stay warm, and stay safe!

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From Lake to Tap: Become a Surface Water Pro in a Snap

 

You turn on the faucet, and water comes out. You flush the toilet, and a new pool of water appears as soon as the previous one is gone.

We’re used to water being available on demand, but rarely do we stop to ask a crucial question: Where does that water come from, anyway?

It’s a valid question—and one that we’re going to address throughout a yearlong series we’re launching today called Aquastructure. From water purification to the infrastructure improvements on systems both existing and new, we want to demystify the operations and structures through which clean, reliable water is delivered to the homes of our customers. With Aquastructure, we will show you, literally, the structure of Aqua.

So, back to my toilet…

Right. The water that was there before you flushed—and the water that reappears seconds later—comes to your home after undergoing a series of treatment processes, but it originally comes from either the ground or a surface body of water, such as a lake, river or reservoir.

We asked Jim Barbato, director of corporate engineering at Aqua, to help explain how Aqua utilizes these surface water sources to withdraw “raw” water from lakes, rivers, streams and reservoirs. (Fresh water is collected from these sources and then screened to remove fish, leaves and debris—a.k.a. all the things you definitely don’t want coming out of your faucets.)

What’s the difference between gathering water from these sources as opposed to the ground?

“Well, surface water requires more treatment and barriers, such as filtration, to protect public health from harmful waterborne contaminants,” Barbato says.

Okay, so there’s more stuff in untreated surface water before it goes through the purification process. That makes sense.

He broke down some of the numbers when it comes to sourcing: Out of the total amount of surface water that Aqua treats per day, about 20 percent (30 million gallons) comes from reservoirs. The other 80 percent (112 million gallons) of surface water treated per day comes from rivers and/or lakes.

Moving on: After surface water is sourced, coagulants are added to the water and cause dirt and other particles to stick together so that they can be removed.

Okay… Coagu-whats? Barbato to the rescue.

“Coagulants are special water treatment chemicals that are added to the water to cause the particles in the water to adhere to one another, making them heavy enough to settle into a basin from which the sediment is removed,” he says, adding that Aqua utilizes several different coagulants, one of which is aluminum sulfate (alum).

Got it. What next?

To put it simply: a lot. The next few steps of the surface water treatment process may seem quite similar, but we can assure you that they’re all essential to ensuring clean water. Let’s take a closer look.

  • Getting settled: After contact with the coagulants, larger particles sink to the bottom of the tanks so they can be removed.
  • Filter, filter, filter: The water then goes on a fun little journey through filters of anthracite (a coal-like mineral), sand and gravel to remove even smaller particles.
  • Living the chlorine dream: Next, chlorine is added to disinfect the water and eliminate any potentially harmful organisms. See ya later, bacteria! 
  • Final treatment: The end is in sight as sodium hydroxide, lime or additional custom treatments are added to adjust the pH (acidity level) of the water before it makes its grand debut as clean, drinkable water in your home.

You might be wondering: Do all of these steps take place at the same facility, or are they spread out between the water source and the final destination?

The answer is a little of both. Barbato notes that while sometimes the source water intake structure may be remote from the main treatment plant, the rest of the treatment process typically happens at the same facility. The more you know!

So how does Aqua keep my water safe?

Providing clean water to you, our customers, is at the core of what we do. And we take plenty of steps to ensure that we’re able to do exactly that.

Many of Aqua’s surface water treatment plants participate in the American Water Works Association’s Partnership for Safe Water, which exists to improve the quality of water delivered to customers by optimizing water system operations. By participating in the program, utilities such as Aqua demonstrate a commitment to protecting public health and providing exceptional water quality to customers.

Participating in the partnership is no walk in the park, though! Barbato let us know that plants must demonstrate water quality results that meet all regulatory requirements in order to be involved. Only about 200 water utilities across the country participate in the partnership, and you bet that Aqua is proud to be one of them. 

Clean, safe water is what it’s all about.

On top of that, Aqua’s five largest surface water treatment plants in Pennsylvania—Neshaminy, Ingram’s Mill, Pickering East, Pickering West and Shenango—all employ an early event detection technology that monitors outside factors to surface water sources. That means that if a large storm or a seasonal shift changes the input of surface water in the sourcing process, plant engineers are well-equipped to detect and manage these changes.

Cool. Anything else I should know?

You’ll remember that not all of Aqua’s water comes from surface sources—plenty comes from the ground, and we’ll cover that process in our next Aquastructure feature. In meantime, make sure you're signed up for WaterSmart alerts so you never miss a beat about changes to your water service.

We’ll see you back here next month. Stay hydrated, stay warm and stay ready to learn! 

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Water Goals for the New Year

Image via Pexels

With a new year comes the opportunity for new goals, and as we head into 2018, Aqua is committed, as always, to fulfilling our mission to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource.

Since water is a crucial part of our daily lives, why not make some water-related goals for the year? Consider adding some of these resolutions to your 2018 agenda so you can be a champion of water every day.

Up your eco-friendliness

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Most people use between 80 to 100 gallons of water per day for basic necessities. This year, consider how you can make your water usage as friendly to the environment as possible.

  • Cut down on paper and plastic drinking vessels. Instead of buying bottled water, invest in a trusty reusable water bottle to fill with tap water—you’ll save money and ensure you always have water on the go.
  • Reduce the amount of water in which you cook food. Did you know that doing so actually helps your food retain more nutrients?
  • Fully load your dishwasher and clothes washer. Don’t run the wash if you’re not getting full use out of it! Plus, washing dark clothes in cold water saves energy and helps your clothes retain their color.

Staying Healthy

Image via Unsplash

Plenty of people’s goals for the new year involve fitness, and it’s safe to say that water comes into play with all of them. Hydration and physical activity go hand-in-hand, so keep these tips in mind:

Be a water advocate

Image via Unsplash

Without water, life as we know it would not exist. In fact, 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is water-covered. Staying educated and volunteering are both ways to make a difference when it comes to protecting our most essential natural resource in 2018.

  • Learn more about water issues. Make sure you and the children in your life know about the water cycle and the importance of treating Earth’s most essential resource with kindness.
  • Find a water-focused organization you’re passionate about. Consider volunteering with a nonprofit in your area dedicated to providing water to people around the world and in your communities, or give back through an organization focused on a specific water issue, from protecting our oceans to advocating for infrastructure improvements.

There are plenty of additional ways to make water a significant part of your new year. What are your goals for 2018? Let us know!

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