Shedding light on the state of U.S. water infrastructure

 

From filling up the bathtub to boiling a pot of water to watering the plants, we rely on a ton of water for our daily needs and activities. 

And because water utilities like Aqua work so hard behind the scenes to make it seamless, it can be easy to take Earth’s most essential resource for granted. However, there’s a lot more that goes into our steady and reliable water supply than meets the eye. In fact, sometimes you have to go hundreds of feet underground to see it. 

The intricacies of water infrastructure tend to be out of sight and out of mind for many of us, and we wanted to shed a bit of light on the state of all those systems. So, we talked with Aqua Chairman and CEO Chris Franklin to get the scoop on the state of water infrastructure systems across the United States. 


Aqua Chairman and CEO Chris Franklin (left), employees and board members tour an Aqua facility in Illinois.

You mentioned water infrastructure. What does that look like?

First, let’s go back in time to the beginning of the 20thcentury, which is when the U.S. started laying miles and miles of pipelines deep within the Earth (one million miles, to be exact). These are the pipes that collect water from the ground and surface sources and transport it all the way to your tap. 

The good news is that underground water pipes last up to 100 years, so this infrastructure has provided us with reliable drinking water throughout the past century. The bad news, though, is that a lot of time has passed and those pipes desperately need to be replaced. 

How desperately? 

Well, every four years the American Society of Civil Engineers issues a report card on the current status of water and wastewater infrastructure across the nation. Let’s just say it wasn’t a report card you’d want to bring home to mom and dad. (Spoiler alert: the United States got a D). 

Here’s the thing: we are facing a very serious water quality challenge in the U.S. due to aging water systems, stringent drinking water and wastewater regulations, and budgetary constraints. The time to take action is now.

Tell me more about this dilemma…

According to Franklin, many aging water systems are falling behind because it’s simply too pricey for communities to upgrade or replace all those old, deteriorating pipelines. And we’re talking big bucks: according to the American Water Works Association, we need about $1 trillion over the next 20 years to get water infrastructure to where it should be. 

Most of the country’s water systems are municipally managed, and the truth of the matter is that municipalities having competing priorities for funds to improve and replace the pipes. They have to prioritize water projects with other needs like schools, police and fire departments, roadways, and bridges, which can be rather tricky. However, prolonging investment in water infrastructure improvements can have serious consequences on the safety and quality of our drinking water over time. 

“Although the challenge to the U.S. water infrastructure is less visible than other infrastructure concerns, it’s no less important,” Franklin reminds us.  


Pipes, pipes, and more pipes: Looks like infrastructure! 

What about Aqua’s water? 

“Since Aqua’s only focus is on water, Aqua customers can feel confident that we are actively updating and upgrading infrastructure to meet the needs of their families and communities,” Franklin says. 

This means new pipes, efficient treatments from the source through the plant, and sturdy storage tanks for all. Additionally, Franklin assures us that because investment in water infrastructure is a key pillar of Aqua’s business strategy, Aqua customers can continue to expect clean, safe, and reliable drinking water and wastewater services

Back to the infrastructure dilemma. There has to be a solution, right?

Thankfully, yes, and that’s where Aqua comes into play. Over the past several decades, Aqua has teamed up with and acquired many municipal and private water companies that are struggling to keep up with their water and wastewater systems and injected some much-needed capital into their aging water systems. 

Plus, when Aqua makes these infrastructure improvements, cost-effectiveness is always kept in mind. That means that we take measures like purchasing pipes in bulk and using scientific approaches to tracking main break history, pipe age and more to ensure that rate increases are kept to a minimum for the benefit of our customers.  

 Our board looks forward to any opportunity to learn more about Aqua’s infrastructure systems.

In just 2017 alone, Aqua invested a ton of money (as in more than $450 million) in water and wastewater infrastructure, and since 2007, Aqua has acquired (and drastically improved) 174 water and wastewater systems. Looking forward, you can expect Aqua to play a leading role in fixing up many of these deteriorating water systems. 

“Aqua is committed to renewing and improving water and wastewater infrastructure through thoughtful and continuous capital investment,” Franklin adds.

 The next time you take a sip of water or wash your hands in the sink, try to remember all the hard-working Aqua team members that are dedicated every day to bring you clean and safe water. See you back here next month, where we’ll reveal the best kept secret to safe, reliable drinking water.  

 

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Aqua employees volunteer their time during National Volunteer Month

April was National Volunteer Month, and Aqua employees all across the company took part.

Aqua recognizes the many benefits of volunteering and rolled out The Ripple Effect campaign in 2017 that helped solidify all the good the company and its employees do for each other, and in the communities it serves. Overseeing the effort is Kimberly Joyce, vice president of legislative, regulatory and external affairs, who explained that “The Ripple Effect represents Aqua’s continued commitment to reinforcing the ideals of our mission, vision and core values, now and in the future.”

Throughout the entire month of April, Aqua employees gathered together and participated in #NationalVolunteerMonth through various environmental improvement projects as well as several charitable giving opportunities. Check out their efforts!

(Above) Aqua Illinois employees cleared debris, removed buckthorn, and planted oak seedlings and perennial plants at two locations in Hawthorn Woods;  removed invasive honeysuckle, and shredded it for mulching paths at Camp Shaw-waw-nas-see in Manteno, volunteers; and participated in the Food for the Children backpack program, where they helped fill backpacks with nutritious food to benefit more than 300 children in the Danville school district.

 

 

(Above) Aqua Indiana employees took place in the annual Team Up 2 Clean Up event, organized with the focus of beautifying local parks and surrounding community properties.

 

(Above) Aqua North Carolina donated $2,500 to local food banks, and nearly 60 employees volunteered at various locations including Greensboro Urban Ministry Food Pantry (Aqua Kernersville), Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina (Aqua Cary), Second Harvest Food Bank of Southeast North Carolina (Aqua Fayetteville) and Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina (Aqua Denver).

 

(Above) Aqua New Jersey joined One Simple Wish in their efforts to spread love, hope and joy to children impacted by foster care, abuse and neglect. Volunteers helped pack “lovedby bags” for children, which are filled with arts and craft supplies, and added a personalized touch by decorating journals with drawings and inspirational words. They were also able to grant five wishes, which ranged from assisting with medical bills to groceries to new sneakers.

 

 

 

(Above) Aqua Ohio contributed $3,000 and several volunteer hours to multiple charitable organizations throughout its service territory, including Habit for Humanity, the American Red Cross, the Franklin County Food Bank and the Marion County Park District.

 

(Above) Aqua Pennsylvania participated in two clean up events at Brandywine Red Clay Alliance and the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy. For the Perkiomen event, they also provided funding, as well as bags and gloves for the volunteers, and assisted with tire recycling afterwards.


(Above) Aqua Virginia participated in two Habitat for Humanity events at Fluvanna County Habitat for Humanity and Hanover Habitat for Humanity.

 

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U.S. Water Week Highlights Technology and Water Protection

At Aqua, we know that water is the most essential resource to the world. Each day, the Aqua team works to provide clean, safe drinking water to the millions of people we serve, while at the same time being environmentally sustainable.

This year’s U.S. Water Week, which is recognized from April 15 to 21, focuses on how crucial it is to improve water and water infrastructure funding in the United States.

According to Aqua’s Chief Environmental Officer Chris Crockett, America’s current infrastructure is sorely neglected and failing: service outages are increasing, advance refunding has been taken away, and increasing regulations inhibit protection of our water resources.

Surprisingly, U.S. water usage has actually declined over the last decade or so. From 1996 to 2016, average annual indoor household water usage has decreased by 22 percent. However, staggering population growth, both in the U.S. and around the world, pose a serious challenge to declining natural water resources. 

Source: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision

According to the World Resources Institute, a majority of the United States is under high risk concerning water quantity, which will have a short or long term impact on water being available to those living in the region.

 

Source: World Resources Institute

Technology can help solve the water system challenges we are facing, but people have to advocate education efforts to policymakers about the importance of water infrastructure funding.

In order to think about water and all of its interconnections, Crockett asks us to think about how we would manage water and wastewater if we were to build a city from scratch. Think about the water cycle, the drinking water and fire suppression systems.

In the end, though, Crockett says that nothing beats nature.

“Nature must be more fully integrated into our communities to clean and protect drinking water as a first step,” he says. While technology will help us in solving some of the challenges our water infrastructure system faces, we need to focus on how we can help preserve the environment.

Aqua tries to make environmentally sustainable choices in everything we do, because we know the importance of water. By cleaning the wastewater produced by the communities we serve each day and returning this safe water back into local rivers, we work to prevent pollution, protect wildlife and champion the environment.

Plus, since 2005, we have partnered up with Treevitalize and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to plant 43,658 trees at 277 locations, and Aqua volunteers have been involved in cleaning up rivers and fundraising for fire departments.

It’s necessary to protect and preserve nature in order to maintain safe water for generations to come, and as a company, we’re proud to say our team continues to work year-round to do just that.

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Taking a Green Glimpse at Aqua’s Eco-Friendly Initiatives

Now that we’ve covered the different processes by which Aqua treats and distributes water, it’s time to take a step back and look at how we keep it green. With Earth Day right around the corner, we were curious about all the eco-friendly and sustainable ways in which Aqua does its part for our planet. But first, we wanted to know: why is it so important to be “green” in the first place?

To find out, we spoke with Aqua team members Krista Scheirer, environmental specialist, Mark Bubel, project engineer, and Chris Crockett, vice president and chief environmental officer. And we’re not exaggerating when we say they gave us a lot to think about.

What’s all this talk about a carbon footprint?

You’ve probably read about this concept at some point, but every person, place and object in this world has a carbon footprint.

A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide each entity releases into the air and serves as a way of measuring our impact on the environment. The larger the carbon footprint, the greater the damage is to our environment.

What does Aqua think about all of this?

Because the decisions we make today are crucial to ensuring that we have reliable sources of drinking water in the future, Aqua is always on the lookout for improvement projects and opportunities that will help us function as sustainably as possible. In fact, our processes are already quite eco-friendly!

Good to know, but how exactly?

Let’s start with the easiest process: groundwater treatment. Because groundwater is typically quite clean from being filtered in the infiltration process, it doesn’t require too much work. So even when it does require some extra TLC, we’re able to keep our treatment’s carbon footprint to a minimum.

That’s not so hard. Right?

Well, surface water treatment is a bit trickier. We protect our surface water sources as much as possible, because the cleaner the water is when it reaches the treatment plants, the less chemicals and power are required to treat it.

Additionally, we use renewable energy at many of our treatment facilities (think: LED lighting and solar panels) and frequently replace old pipes and meters, which significantly reduces water loss.

Finally, remember the various materials (hint: mainly dirt) that get filtered out of surface water during the treatment process? Well, at Aqua, we are exploring “upcycling” those waste materials to make things like bricks.

Hold up. How can you prevent waste from going to waste?

Back in the third installation in our Aquastructure series, we talked about how microorganisms are dumped into the wastewater to get rid of organic matter containing carbon and nitrogen.

In order for these microorganisms to work, they need oxygen. So much, in fact, that feeding the microorganisms oxygen usually accounts for more than half of the energy used at the plants. (Yep, you read that right: HALF!) To improve efficiency and cut back on oxygen, we installed sensors that adjust and recirculate oxygen levels, which ensures that all our precious energy and oxygen isn’t going to waste. 

Meanwhile, those microorganisms are alive, so they begin to grow and reproduce, forming a nutrient-rich “sludge.” In the past, this sludge was pumped out of the tanks and sent straight to a landfill. However, we figured there must be a better way to deal with this sludge, so we found a solution to get rid of it once and for all.

This is where anaerobic digester tanks come in. These digesters mix and heat the sludge, which significantly reduces the remaining amount. The leftover bits and pieces of sludge can then be reused for fertilizer. Yum!

Ok, so it’s not so simple after all.

No, not really! And this only covers our eco-friendly practices when it comes to our treatment plants. At Aqua, we also host staff volunteer days for tree plantings, stream cleanups and habitat restorations. Our foundation contributes funding to dozens of environmental groups, and we work with more than 50 community organizations and regulatory agencies on water quality improvement projects.

Oh, and did we mention that Aqua facilities are home to many local ecosystems and endangered species? It’s true: From bird sanctuaries to diverse landscapes to valuable forests, we do our very best to protect these resources for the magnificent wildlife and aquatic life, and, of course, future generations.

Here’s the thing: Aqua completely relies on the health of our natural resources. Whatever we do to the land, the air or the water ultimately finds its way back into our wells and reservoirs. Aqua doesn’t just want to make sustainable decisions for the environment—we need to. 

 

Be sure to tune in next month when we jump into the current state of water infrastructure in the U.S. and discover how it impacts each and every one of us.

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Save Water (and Cash) with the Ultimate Leak-Fixing Guide

 

 Drip drip drip.

Leaky faucets can be annoying, expensive and bad for the environment. It is the EPA’s 10th annual Fix a Leak Week, and we’re taking the opportunity to encourage everyone to ensure that the pesky drip-drip-dripping is out of our lives for good.

What’s the big deal with leaks?

Here are just a few facts from the EPA to get you thinking about the implications of a leaky faucet or toilet:

  1. The average household can leak more than 10,000 gallons of water every year.
  2. A single leaky faucet can waste 3,000 gallons of water per year.
  3. Nationwide, we waste one trillion gallons of water per year. (Psst: that’s the amount of water used by 11 million homes in one year.)
  4. Fixing leaks can save up to 10 percent on water bills. 

How do I know if I have a leak?

There are a few simple ways to identify whether or not you have a leak in your home:

  1. Check your water bill. Is it noticeably higher than other months? If so, has your usage changed drastically? If not, you may have a leak.
  2. Turn off your water and note the gallons used on the water meter. Wait 20 to 30 minutes and compare. If there has been an increase in the water used, it’s safe to assume that there is a leak.

(via giphy)

When is it my job to fix a leak?

Knowing when a leak is your responsibility versus our responsibility is a common question, so don’t feel alone.

Field Supervisor James Watson of Aqua Ohio is here to help clarify. “Aqua is responsible for maintaining and repairing all water-mains, valves and hydrants in the water distribution system, as well as the company-owned portion of residential service connections,” he said.

If you have identified a major leak that you think is our responsibility to fix, make sure to get in contact with us. If the leak doesn’t fall into the categories mentioned by Watson, though, then it is most likely the responsibility of the homeowner. One thing to keep in mind is that homeowners are responsible for maintaining the residential service line and the easement lines that enter their homes.

Otherwise, a general rule of thumb is that if the leak is within your home, it’s your responsibility. Things like boilers, hot water tanks, internal pressure pumps, faucets and toilets are all the responsibility of the property owner. One exception is your water meter—but only if it is housed within the residence. Luckily, fixing most of these leak areas is a fairly simple process.  

How do I find the leak?

Toilets and faucets are the most common places for there to be leaks, so it could be helpful to check them first.

Faucet issues are easy to identify; if you see or hear them dripping, you’ve got a leak. Toilets, on the other hand, are a little bit more difficult. An easy way to check for a leaky toilet is with food dye:

  1. Drop the food dye into the toilet tank.
  2. Wait 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. If the dye has made its way from the tank to the toilet itself, there is a leak.

If you’re really having trouble identifying a leak, check out our step-by-step guide to detecting these issues.

I found the leak, but I don’t know how to fix it.

If your faucet is the problem, it most likely requires you to replace a washer. This process is very simple, and if you’re comfortable with using some fairly basic tools, it won’t be an issue at all. Check out this helpful walkthrough from HowCast:

Toilets are a bit more complicated, so watch this video from Home Repair Tutor for tips on fixing one of the most common toilet leakage issues:

 

Of course, if you are feeling uncomfortable completing any of these tasks, or if you have a leak that you are unsure how to fix on your own, make sure to call your local plumber.

We want everyone to be aware of their water usage and how they can fix leaks. Join us in identifying and fixing a leak this week to cut down on the trillions of gallons of water that we waste every year. 

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