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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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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