Winter weather is no match for reliable water

 

As temperatures get colder and snow, hail and sleet storms strike, you’ll likely depend on access to hot water more than ever. After all, nothing beats a hot shower and a warm meal during the wintertime.

We get it. So much, in fact, that at Aqua, we have an entire process in place to keep your water flowing in even the harshest of conditions. No matter what kind of winter mix hits your town, our field workers have you covered.

We spoke with John Aulbach, president of Aqua Virginia, and Ed Kolodziej, president and COO of Aqua Ohio, to get the scoop on how Aqua braces for winter weather.

Nature throws plenty of curveballs.

Let’s face it: Weather can be weird. One day it’s warm and sunny, and the next day there are little pieces of ice falling out of the sky. Because we don’t have any weather psychics on staff, our team must be prepared for whatever weather the world decides to throw our way.

For example, down in Virginia, things are a bit, well, calmer than they are up north. However, that’s not to say Virginia doesn’t get its fair share of winter weather.

“Freezing rain is a threat to our mobility and slows our response times. Plus, icy branches and wires can interrupt the power for pumps we use to keep the water flowing,” says Aulbach. “That’s what makes our standby generators so important.”

Heavy snowfall tends to hit Virginia in the western, northern and central parts of the state. And when the sun pops out and snow melts, flooding can occur.

Ohio also has its fair share of freezing rain and intense snowstorms, but our friends in the Midwest are also susceptible to a phenomenon called frazil ice.

Frazil ice in the Great Lakes (via the Aqua Ohio team)

 

“Think of a sno-cone without the sugary goodness,” says Kolodziej. “That [consistency] can threaten the flow through our raw water intakes from Lake Erie. When the lake turns to frazil ice, it’s difficult for the heaters on our intakes to keep up.”

When frazil ice strikes, the Aqua team has to force a block of ice and straw (called a “straw pig”) through the intake pipes by reversing the water flow from the plant into the lake. The straw pigs then scrub the inside of the pipe, and when the water temperatures rise, everything melts without having a harsh impact on the ecosystem. Hooray for science!

Pipes will freeze—it’s inevitable.

Here’s the deal with frozen pipes: When stationary water inside pipes drops to about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, the pipes freeze. It’s that simple. According to Kolodziej, it happens each and every winter without fail.

When water freezes, it expands, which can then break pipes, flood interiors and cause major damage. It’s no good.

“As a preventive measure, we encourage customers to insulate or use heat tape to protect pipes in unheated areas such as outdoor faucets, crawlspaces and garages,” Kolodziej explains. “They can also leave cabinet doors under sinks open to allow warm air to reach pipes or even leave a trickle of water (about the size of pencil lead) running overnight.”

Wondering why you would ever knowingly leave your faucet on all night? Well, according to Kolodziej, it all comes down to the fact that moving water is less likely to freeze. The water entering your house is usually about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which can prevent ice from forming.

However, if things do freeze over and a pipe bursts, you’ll want to shut off the valve for your water supply as soon as possible. This action can be the difference between a small mess and a huge nightmare.

It’s cold out there, folks.

When the weather ramps up, our workers can’t exactly call it a day and go home. Our customers rely on having access to safe water each and every day, and that often means our workers have to lace up their boots and tackle the storm in all sorts of wild conditions.

Recently, for example, Aulbach’s team in Virginia experienced a winter weather line break on Thanksgiving morning that impacted about 150 homes. Before the damage could wreak havoc on everyone’s meal preparations, the team located the leak and restored service before the repair was even completed. The Virginia team also distributed bottled water door to door so that Thanksgiving cooking could go on while the team kept working on the repair.

Frozen pipe (via Pixabay)

 

We can’t always predict what Mother Nature has in store for us, but we can make sure our team is fully prepared and ready for any challenge. Whether it’s rain, shine, sleet, or snow, we always encourage our workers to be safe, stay warm, and ask for help if they need it.

Providing water and wastewater service to communities and being able to sanitize and deliver reliable, safe drinking water is a true privilege, says Kolodziej.

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Helpful tips for National Preparedness Month

 

Disasters happen. Does your family have a plan? 

At Aqua, we care not only about the quality of your water, but also about your family’s safety and well-being. The thought of being caught in an emergency can be frightening, but the first step towards safety is learning how to prepare.

With Hurricane Florence likely arriving on the eastern coast of the country this weekend, it’s especially important to recognize FEMA’s National Preparedness Month. Whether you’ll be affected by this weekend’s storm or you just want to get ahead of the game, let’s talk about how you can be prepared.

Have an Emergency Plan

Making a plan is crucial, and it’s easier than you’d think. Let’s start with the basics: evacuation and communication. If your home is threatened or compromised by a natural disaster or a local emergency, you may need to seek shelter elsewhere. We recommend having a list of options for local safe spaces, and a planned route to get there. Keep this list somewhere accessible—like on your fridge—so everyone in your home can see easily see it.

There is no such thing as being too prepared. If you have children or pets, it can be beneficial to practice your emergency plan. Practicing can help your family perfect the plan in a timely manner, which can help reduce panic when an emergency occurs. In the case of evacuation, consider taking supplies with you when you seek shelter. The most important part of having an emergency plan is talking about it. Communication is key during times of crisis!

Stock Up on Essentials 

It’s no secret that water is our specialty. And in case of an emergency, it’s essential that you have clean drinking water for you and your family. If your water source is compromised during a natural disaster, have a solidified plan determined by your family’s water needs. We recommend storing an emergency water supply in a safe place for dire situations. 

In the case of an emergency or extreme weather conditions, Aqua might issue a precautionary boil water advisory to our affected customers. We also encourage you to sign-up for our WaterSmart Alerts to stay informed about your water quality and service in real time.

Don’t forget to put aside food, clothing, and extra funds in case of natural disasters. Packing an emergency kit is a great solution for families or individuals who want to have the proper arrangements ready to go.

Check Your Coverage

Knowledge is power. If you don’t know what your insurance covers in the case of a disaster, pick up the phone and call your insurance provider to discuss their policies. Depending on your plan, some major costs could be covered by your health or home insurance policies. Once you know your provider’s policies, you can better understand what kind of funds you should put aside in case of an emergency.

Take Action

We have a challenge for you! Saturday, Sept. 15 is Ready.gov’s National Day of Action. On this day, we encourage you to perform one small act of preparation: start a conversation with your family about an emergency plan, pick up some extra canned foods, or sign up for WaterSmart Alerts from Aqua. These small acts can have a huge impact when it comes to keeping you and your loved ones safe.

If your area will be affected by the upcoming storm, we suggest reading up on hurricane preparation tips. Stay safe and remember that you can reach our customer service team by calling 877.987.2782.

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What does it take to acquire and upgrade a water system?

 

Let’s be frank: Operating and maintaining water systems is not an easy task, especially when they need tons of infrastructural improvements.  

Earlier in our Aquastructure blog series, we shed a bit of light on the state of our nation’s water infrastructureand pointed out that most of the pipelines we depend on each and every day were built at the start of the 20thcentury. In the present day, all of that infrastructure is near the end of its life, which means that upkeep and updates are a pressing need. 

Considering those challenges, how does a company like Aqua continue to provide efficient and affordable service? It all comes down to the water systems Aqua acquires, along with regular updates to existing infrastructure.

Craig Blanchette, president of Aqua Illinois, checked in to give us some insight into Aqua’s acquisition and upgrade processes. 


Blanchette (third from right in sunglasses) with fellow Aqua Illinois employees during a local volunteer project.

More water, less problems

Since 1995, Aqua has acquired more than 300 water systems, most of which are from municipalities (which own 85 percent of the nation’s water systems). However, sometimes those systems come from other sources, such as smaller regulated utilities, homeowners associations, water and sewer districts, and developer-owned systems. 

As the number of water systems in Aqua’s network grows, the efficiency and affordability of its services grow, too. The theory at play here is “economies of scale,” which is the economic principle that the more goods or services can be produced at a larger scale, the higher the savings in costs.

“By adding customers, Aqua is able to spread these fixed costs over a larger customer base, alleviating much of the burden from our new and existing customers,” Blanchette explains. 

What happens if Aqua wants to acquire a new system?

When Aqua is preparing to acquire a new system, typically Aqua and the other party—whether it’s a municipality or some other organization—begin by sitting down and talking shop (think inspections and negotiations). This can take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years. The goal is to create a partnership which benefits the community.

After that, an asset purchase agreement is created, which outlines all the details of the transaction, such as pricing and inclusion of assets. The APA must then be approved by the state public utility commission, which takes about six months to a year. During the PUC approval process, an administrative law judge takes on the case, and expert witnesses, like engineers, accountants and financial advisors, must evaluate and vouch for the legitimacy and benefits of the proposed acquisition. 

Once the agreement is reviewed, modified and approved by the administrative law judge it is then forwarded to the PUC for its final approval. Once this is complete, Aqua can sit down with the seller and officially take ownership.  

And then it’s smooth sailing?

With the right due diligence, yes! A lot of these existing water systems must be assessed to ensure everything is up to speed. In most cases, many of the system’s assets are underground and cannot be easily inspected.

“In these cases, we rely heavily on the maintenance records of the municipality in determining where future replacements are needed,” Blanchette notes. 

The most common upgrade is water main replacements, which are predominantly located underground and are often left out of a municipality’s investment plan. Blanchette adds that water service lines, main line valves and fire hydrants are also among the areas of a water system that may need more attention. 

“These assets are incredibly important because they are the backbone of any community,” Blanchette says. “Reliability of a water system is important in providing Earth’s most essential resource.” 

Whenever Aqua acquires a new system, they prepare a new capital investment plan to help determine where and when adjustments and updates are needed in each system’s infrastructure. Aqua then reevaluates that plan to determine future improvement needs. From that point forward, investment in the existing infrastructure is constant. 

It seems to be a team effort.

Very much so! Aqua works closely with the communities it serves andregularly meets with community members to coordinate all these infrastructure improvement projects. 

For example, if Aqua wants to do a water main or sewer replacement, they’ll first run it by the local road authority to plan resources accordingly. 

 

“If a road authority is planning to resurface a roadway where Aqua is also looking to replace a water or sewer main, it saves our customers the cost of restoring the roadway,” Blanchette explains.  

Now that is what we call synergy. 

Thanks for tuning in, water and sewer connoisseurs! We’ll see you next month! 

 

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Sweeten Your Summer with DIY Fruit-Filled Water Popsicles

With Memorial Day weekend just days away, people all across the country are dreaming up ways to stay cool and have some fun in the sun while celebrating the (unofficial) start to summer.

You might remember that during last year’s Drinking Water Week, we whipped up some tasty and healthy recipes to bring fruity flavors into your regular drinking water. Now, to shake things up a bit, we’re back with some ideas for how to transform those refreshing drinks into icy popsicles.

Here are four different types of water-based fruit popsicles to quench your thirst—and your sweet tooth!

What you need:

●      16 ounces of prickly pears

●      6 cups of water

●      Popsicle molds

What to do:

The first step is to get the juice out of the prickly pear. You can do this with a juicer or by scooping out the insides. Put the fruit and the water into a blender or food processor and blend everything to a smooth, watery consistency. Pour mixture into your popsicle molds and freeze. Once frozen, remove the popsicles from the mold and enjoy!

What you need:

●      6 cups of water

●      2 cups of blackberries

●      ½ cup of mint leaves

●      Popsicle molds

What to do:

Cut one and a half cups of blackberries in half. Mash one half cup of blackberries. Lightly chop all mint leaves. Combine mashed blackberries and lightly chopped mint leaves with water and warm over low heat for about 5 minutes to allow the mint to infuse with the water. Let the mixture cool and mix in halved blackberries. Pour everything into popsicle molds and let sit overnight before eating.

What you need:

●      2 limes

●      8 mint leaves

●      6 cups of water

●      Popsicle molds

What to do:

Juice and zest both limes. Lightly chop mint leaves. Combine the juice, zest, mint leaves and water. Warm over low heat for about 5 minutes to allow for the mint to infuse into the mixture. Allow everything to cool, and then pour into popsicle molds.

What you need:

●      6 cups of water

●      2 mandarin oranges, sliced into wedges

●      Handful of blueberries

●      Ice

●      Popsicle molds

What to do:

Juice one mandarin orange. Peel the other mandarin orange and slice into small wedges. Mix the juice, water, orange wedges and blueberries. Pour mixture into popsicle molds and freeze overnight.

Get excited: You’re heading into Memorial Day weekend with four different types of popsicles to keep you and your family hydrated and happy. Tap into our Facebook and Twitter pages to stay updated on more fun activities to do with water all summer long.

 

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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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