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, especiallywhen 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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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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