At Aqua, municipal fair market value legislation helps us help you

 

You may think that here at Aqua, our day-to-day operations revolve almost entirely around the intersection of science and engineering. We’re a water company, after all! 

What may surprise you, though, is that even though those fields are paramount to our mission to provide and protect Earth’s most essential resource, plenty of our work is intertwined with the worlds of finance and public policy.

Think about it: When Aqua acquires a water system from a municipality, we go through extensive legal processes in order to ensure the handoff goes smoothly. And one of the many factors that can improve those processes for all involved parties is the presence of municipal fair market value (MFMV) legislation. 

We spoke to Aqua Ohio President Ed Kolodziej to learn more about MFMV legislation and how it benefits both communities and customers. 

Ed Kolodziej (second from left) and colleagues at the opening of a new facility in Ohio

What’s the benefit to my town? 

In January 2019, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed legislation allowing companies like Aqua to pay fair market value for the purchase of water and wastewater systems. Before these changes, system values were determined by their depreciated original cost, which generally did not reflect a reasonable market value for those assets.

Think of it this way: If the value of a home was established under the old Ohio formula, you would only consider the original purchase price of the home and the cost of improvements you did, minus their depreciation over time. Under the new fair market value system, the value of a home also considers things like the recent selling prices of similar homes nearby, curb appeal, replacement cost, and desirablility of the neighborhood. All of these items can have a significant impact on the true value of the home.

When we apply this logic to the sale of water systems, it’s clear why local municipalities benefit from fair market value legislation. When Aqua purchases the system, themunicipality receives a reasonable market value in return, which can then go toward numerous other local projects, from schools to parks to fire departments. 

“By partnering with a regulated utility through a purchase agreement, an Ohio community can shed the burdens of utility operation and maintenance, immediately improve their financial position, and potentially create a new source of revenue for their general fund,” Kolodziej explained. “The regulated utility brings operational efficiencies and economies of scale along with sorely needed investment dollars to the table and therefore earns a return on their investments.”

What’s the benefit to customers like me? 

If you’ve been following our Aquastructure series since its inception, you know one thing for sure: better water infrastructure leads to better water quality. 

“Around our state, water and wastewater infrastructure is in disrepair, reliability is suffering, compliance with health and environmental regulations is at risk and government-owned utilities across the state are behind the eight ball,” said Kolodziej. 

“The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) says Ohio communities need to spend $26.78 billion on water and wastewater systems in the next 20 years. There are no easy answers, and most have no idea where the resources will come from.”

Kolodziej is right: The answers aren’t always easy. But that’s where Aqua can help. By working with municipal officials to acquire the municipal water and wastewater systems, we’re able to ease the burden of these necessary improvements for communities like yours. 

The acquisition process allows us to carefully assess the state of aging water and wastewater systems and then implement crucial upgrades, many of which are long overdue. Replacing water mains, service lines, main line valves, and fire hydrants are often among the first order of business. 

Because water infrastructure, water quality, and public health are inherently linked, these upgrades lead to delivering better drinking water, therefore leading to healthier communities as a whole. That’s something everyone can get behind. 

Anything else? 

Ohio is our sixth Aqua state to enact this type of fair market value legislation, joining states like Illinois and Pennsylvania in giving municipalities even more reason to ease the burden of water and wastewater operations. 

“I encourage elected leaders across the state, especially those with budget or environmental compliance challenges, to explore the new opportunities created by the new Municipal Fair Market Value rules,” Kolodziej added. “More and more communities are benefiting by unleashing the power of regulated utility investment.” 

 

To learn even more about how Aqua can help improve local finances in a community like yours, visit WaterByAqua.com.

 

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Bringing a fresh filtration system to North Carolina

At Aqua, we’re always proud of our projects that help to improve water quality for our customers, but this week, we have a special reason to highlight these positive changes: It’s Infrastructure Week!

As we all know by now, water infrastructure greatly impacts both the quality of your water and the quality of your life. By investing in new infrastructure in our service areas, we’re making strides to change our communities for the better. That’s why our team has been hard at work implementing a new filtration system in Upchurch Place, a community in Raleigh, North Carolina.

What’s the deal with filtration?

Filtration systems, when necessary, are a crucial part of water infrastructure—after all, they help to remove unwanted naturally occurring minerals. Aqua has provided water to Upchurch Place since 2002, and we’ve built quite a relationship with our North Carolina community.

We spoke to Aqua North Carolina’s Michael Melton, engineering manager, and Amanda Berger, environmental compliance director, to learn more about the recently completed project. Melton noted that the goal of the new filtration system is the removal of iron and manganese. While both elements are naturally present in tap water, keeping their levels below the secondary standard is important.

Changes in Upchurch Place

After hearing reports of discolored water from customers in the Upchurch area, we identified the problem and got to work on implementing a solution.

“Since installing the new filters, the treated water has iron and manganese levels well below the secondary drinking water standard,” Melton said. “In addition, we’re proud to announce that Aqua is the first privately owned water provider in North Carolina to utilize a non-discharge backwash system.” (Aqua developed the first recycle water system in 2010.)

What’s a non-discharge backwash system? Long story short: It allows us to eliminate water loss in the filtration process, therefore upholding our mission to provide and protect Earth’s most essential resource. The best part is that our customers will only see a .70 cent increase in their annual water bill for this major improvement—and it’s well worth it.

Aqua’s commitment to excellence

Providing our Upchurch customers with a new and improved filtration system was no small feat.

“On average, a filter project like the one in Upchurch can take up to nine months to engineer and construct,” Melton said. “At Aqua, we also make it a priority to work with local financial and environmental regulators to improve every aspect of our service and reliability.”

“This project is a good example of how Aqua is working with its stakeholders to achieve the goal of improving our customer’s water quality,” Berger added.

Although these projects take a good amount of time, money, and resources, they’re necessary in order to improve the state of our country's infrastructure. As water providers, it’s our goal to supply our customers with safe and reliable water—and it doesn’t hurt that we’re helping to restore our nation’s infrastructure in the process.

Stay tuned for our next Aquastructure blog to see what we’re up to next, and in the meantime, we’re wishing our customers and professional peers a very happy (and productive) Infrastructure Week!

 

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Are you up for a Drinking Water Week challenge?

 

It should come as no surprise that at Aqua, we celebrate water every day. But during the American Water Works Association’s Drinking Water Week, it’s an especially perfect time to remember how water makes up nearly 71 percent of our planet and 60 percent of the average human body. Yes, water is all around us, but remembering to drink the recommended daily amount can be hard—life gets busy, after all.

Speaking of that recommended amount, let’s get the numbers straight: Although one glass of water may feel like enough to quench your thirst, adults should drink two liters of water per day. (That equates to eight eight-ounce glasses of water.) It seems like a lot, but it’s what your body needs!

In honor of Drinking Water Week, we’re challenging YOU to make a positive change in your hydration habits. Ready for a little friendly competition at home—or even with your coworkers? Here’s Aqua’s challenge to you: drink eight eight-ounce glasses of water every day during Drinking Water Week (May 5–11). If you can do that, you might just be crowned a Hydration Hero!

Want to get your coworkers, family, or friends in on the challenge? Let’s dive in.

Setting rules and keeping score

Whether you’re implementing your Drinking Water Week challenge at home or at work, it’s important to set some ground rules.

If you’re challenging your coworkers, think about how you can keep score as a group without disrupting your workflow too much. Instead of checking in daily, it can be more efficient and suspenseful to keep a tally on the office fridge for everyone to update at their leisure. Set a deadline for when the numbers will be tallied, and get your (reusable!) water bottles ready.

How about a friendly competition at home? Teaching your families about proper hydration can help them lead healthy lifestyles and understand more about the importance of water for the human body.

Setting up a group chat can be a fun way to track each other’s progress. That way, you can all motivate each other to reach your daily goal and see who gets there first. By the end of the week, it will be easy to tell who should be awarded the Hydration Hero title.

Awarding prizes

Once you’ve tallied your scores, checked them twice, and declared a winner, it’s time to award your Hydration Hero! If your coworkers are looking for a little incentive to get involved, offering a prize is an easy way to encourage participation and excitement. Our advice? A reusable water bottle is not just fitting for the winner, but it’ll also encourage them to keep up their good hydration habits. 

If your household accepts the challenge, the stakes can be a bit higher—how about a weeklong exemption from a household chore like doing the dishes? Whatever you choose, giving your winner a little something special can make everyone eager to reach their hydration goals next year. 

Keeping up the practice

Water is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle, and the more you can incorporate hydration into your everyday routine, the better. Even though it’s normal to skip a glass or two when life gets busy, the important thing is to pay more attention to your water intake.

If you can’t hit your two liter goal every day, don’t sweat it. As long as you’re staying hydrated, spreading the word, and doing your best to appreciate all the great things that water does for you, you’re a Hydration Hero in our book!

 

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Aqua makes strides to improve Pennsylvania’s infrastructure

Think report cards don’t exist outside the classroom? Think again.

Every year, the Pennsylvania State Council of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issues a statewide infrastructure report card in areas ranging from bridges to roads to drinking water. For 2018, the council gave Pennsylvania an overall grade of C-, and while that doesn’t sound great, keep in mind that the state's grade in 2017 was a D+. It’s a small improvement, and there’s still plenty of work to be done, but it’s an improvement nonetheless.

Why should you, as a customer, care about your state’s infrastructure grade? We asked Aqua Pennsylvania President Marc Lucca.

“It really comes down to reliability of service,” he said. “If you think about the service that we provide on a daily basis, our infrastructure sustains basic services that we need as a community to exist and to thrive. If there’s interruption to service, whether it’s on the water side or the wastewater side, the community, and even our environment, can suffer.”

Aqua Pennsylvania President Marc Lucca (left) during a field visit

 

At Aqua, we’re proud to play a role in the continued improvements made to Pennsylvania’s drinking water and wastewater systems. Throughout 2018, we invested more than $340 million in a wide array of projects to upgrade water infrastructure across the Pennsylvania communities we serve, contributing to the increase in the state’s infrastructure score.

Want to know more about what these efforts entail? Let’s dig in—pun intended.

What’s the project?

One of our current infrastructure improvement projects in Pennsylvania is the upgrade of the Media Wastewater Treatment Plant in Delaware County. The project, which represents $32 million of investments in the community’s wastewater infrastructure, has been underway since June 2018, and the first phase will wrap up in December 2019.

We spoke to Dave Hughes, director of plant engineering at Aqua, who is heavily involved with the project, to learn more about its goals. Open since 1922, the plant treats 1.8 million gallons of wastewater every day. Yeah—that’s a lot of wastewater.

Building progress on the plant's new clarifier tank foundation

 

Let’s talk details, though. Improvements to the plant include upgrading all of the headworks (equipment at the beginning of the treatment process that begins the removal of pollutants) and the installation of a brand-new thickener (which removes solids and other impurities from the dirty water) and digester (which stabilizes those solids). New chemical feed systems, clarifiers, and sludge pump stations will also tremendously improve the plant’s operations.

In addition to these mechanical improvements, the project includes the construction of a new operations building to support staff and visiting specialists in their work. Finally, the plant’s electrical system will receive much-needed upgrades, including the installation of a new emergency generator to ensure smooth operations despite any bad weather or unexpected losses of power.

How do customers benefit?

All this technical talk about sludge pumps and power generators might have you wondering about the real-world impact of this project on you, the customer. According to Hughes, the benefits of these types of infrastructure improvement projects are numerous.

More progress on the plant's construction site

 

“It’s definitely going to improve the overall reliability of the plant and reduce operating costs,” he said. “And it’s going to improve the discharge water quality.” That means that these upgrades are reflected on the water released back into the environment as part of the wastewater treatment process, which is something we can all get behind. Our mission at Aqua is to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource—water—and to do that, we must do our part to take care of our planet as a whole.

A pipe's lifetime can range from 15 to 100 years, with many in Pennsylvania aged on the higher end of the spectrum—part of the reason why the state's infrastructure is in such dire need of upgrades like these. Making these changes to a plant that’s been in existence for nearly a century improves its overall reliability, and better reliability demonstrates greater social responsibility as a whole. Our water and wastewater treatment plants are not widely visible to customers, so many are not aware of the work that takes place in these facilities. Customers are likelier to see the miles of main replacements we do every year.  

“Much of our water mains we’re replacing was installed before the 1960s,” Marc Lucca added. “Here we are in 2019, and you’re looking at equipment that can be 60, 70, even 80 years old or more. A lot of these facilities were just not made to last that long.”

Lucca referenced the below photo to shed more light on the importance of upgrading aging water infrastructure.

Blast from the past: an Aqua maintenance crew in 1949

 

“When our workers installed these mains in 1949, people were probably thrilled to connect to a public water supply and to have access to public sewer,” Lucca said. “Here we are 70 years later, replacing the pipe that those men installed. In 2018, we replaced more than 150 miles of mains that had reached the end of its service life. Since the early 1990s, we have replaced almost 2,000 miles of similar main across Pennsylvania.  While this is a great benefit to the communities we serve and to the environment, we are sensitive to the temporary inconvenience it might create. People sometimes say they are upset by the traffic impact of our construction on their street or in their neighborhood. But we know that the pipes being replaced have lasted and served these neighborhoods for decades and enabled these communities and others to thrive and grow into what they are today.

“On the occasion that someone complains about us putting a new main in the ground, I usually say, ‘Well, at least you won’t see us for another 100 years, because our new pipe will last even longer.’”

How does this help Pennsylvania—and the world?

When it comes to Pennsylvania’s infrastructure report card, every improvement to the state’s infrastructure systems makes a difference, no matter how small. If outdated systems fail, there’s an increased risk of pollution or harm to the environment, and that’s no good in our books. At Aqua, our commitment to our customers and our planet drives everything we do.

Stay tuned to our Aquastructure blog series throughout 2019 for more insight into how we’re improving our nation’s infrastructure, not just in Pennsylvania but across the eight states we proudly serve.

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Fixing a small leak can make a big difference

Happy Fix a Leak Week! If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry—Aqua is here to fill you in on why the annual observation is so important. Fix a Leak Week can teach us a thing or two about how everyday household water leaks can do more damage than you’d expect.

“At Aqua, we care deeply about providing safe, reliable water to our customers, but we’re also dedicated to protecting Earth’s most essential resource: water,” said Aqua’s Superintendent of Meter Operations, Sarah Eccles. “Fix a Leak Week is a perfect opportunity for you and the members of your household to get involved, too.”

Why do household leaks matter?

That’s a great question, and there are plenty of answers. On an environmental level, it’s crucial to catch leaks on a regular basis. Check out this statistic from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

 

That’s right: Simple household leaks waste about one trillion gallons of water every year.

Did you know that a leaking shower can waste more than 500 gallons of water per year if it goes unfixed? It’s true! The longer leaks linger, the worse they can get. As a water provider, Aqua knows the importance of preserving and protecting water as a vital natural resource—not only for the sake of the environment, but also for the sake of our customers.

How do leaks affect everyday life?

Let’s start with the obvious effects of a pesky household leak: water damage and flooding. A leaking pipe can get baseboards wet, and it can even start to leak through to another floor. Not only does this cause damage to your ceilings or walls, but it can also be a health hazard and cost you an extra chunk of change to get the water damage all fixed up.

The expenses don’t stop there—think about your water bill! Although droplets of water may seem miniscule, fixing simple leaks can save homeowners around 10 percent on their water bills. Luckily for you, it’s easier to fix these leaks than you’d think, whether they’re in your bathroom or your backyard.

Tackling leaks at the source

The first step in fixing a leak is to identify it. According to the EPA, if water usage for a family of four exceeds 12,000 gallons per month during the winter, there’s likely a leak in your home that needs fixing.

If you’re still uncertain, checking your water meter is the most direct way to identify a leak that you can’t see or hear around your house. Check your water meter before and after a two-hour period during which you use no water. If there’s a change, you have a leak.

By fixing leaks and monitoring your household’s water usage, you look out for the environment and your wallet. Who could say no to that deal?  

Why does Aqua care?

It’s as simple as this: Aqua is dedicated to preserving Earth’s most essential natural resource and providing reliable water service to our customers. We’ve been a proud water provider for more than 130 years, and we love what we do.

“The more that we educate our customers on the importance of taking small steps to help preserve water, the more we can help to improve our communities and the lives of our customers,” said Eccles. “This Fix a Leak Week, consider checking your home for leaks, then rest easy knowing that you’ve taken a step to eliminate wasted water.”

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