Meet the water quality hotshots known as Aqua’s Hot Spot team

 L-R: Treatment Manager Dave Rustay; Plant Supervisor Kyle McCullough; Technical Services Specialist Ryan Evans; Project Engineer I Tom Klein; Environmental Compliance Specialist III Carolyn Hathaway Manager, Control Center Operations Jim McGinley; Director, Water Quality Chuck Hertz; and Vice President, Planning and Engineering Joe Thurwanger.

With a water system as large and complex as our Southeastern Pennsylvania (SEPA) operation, teamwork is a necessity in order to ensure that all processes run smoothly. One way that we exercise this collaborative spirit at Aqua is through our Hot Spot Program, launched in 2014 as a cross-divisional effort to identify potential “hot spots,” or issues in water quality, before they occur. 

While every task we perform is a team effort, this project captures the essence of our service-centered mission particularly well. In honor of National Water Quality Month, we asked Environmental Compliance Specialist III Carolyn Hathaway to discuss the benefits and collaborative nature of the Hot Spot Program with us.

Environmental Compliance Specialist III Carolyn Hathaway leads Pennsylvania's Hot Spot team,
which is made up of nearly 20 employees from a cross-section of specialties throughout the organization. 

What is the Hot Spot Program?

As you’ve learned by now, the Hot Spot Program’s goal is to proactively address water quality issues in our SEPA service area. According to Hathaway, the Hot Spot team is “made up of representatives from different areas of expertise, from distribution and treatment to design and analysis” who “seek and identify potential water quality problems and develop solutions before real issues develop." 

In their monthly meetings, the team discusses items like data, water quality in the distribution system and tanks, and flushing. Since Aqua’s SEPA service area contains one of the largest integrated water systems in the country, the team is always seeking ways to improve processes. 

What makes it so collaborative?

At Aqua, we’ve found that the most effective improvements come from encouraging team members to cross departmental lines to brainstorm together, leveraging the strength of their combined experience and expertise. This close collaboration results in innovative solutions that are tailor-made to resolve complex issues more quickly and efficiently. 

For Hot Spot team members, working alongside colleagues from different areas of the company is gratifying. “This team is willing to challenge each other in a respectful way to better understand the data and opportunities for system improvement,” Hathaway says. In turn, this collaboration allows us to better serve our customers and protect water quality in the SEPA service area.

The Hot Spot team meets monthly to proactively search for and identify conditions that could
potentially impact water quality and address them before they become problematic.

What’s in it for customers?

As a result of the Hot Spot Program, SEPA has had significantly fewer water quality issues, particularly low-chlorine events, than before the program started. One notable challenge came during the summer of 2018 when several months of unusual weather created an issue that needed the Hot Spot team's attention. Thanks to the team’s diverse perspectives, they were able to analyze the data and make proactive adjustments to maintain service during disruptive conditions. 

Following the success of the program in SEPA, the Hot Spot team is examining ways to share their findings with colleagues across Aqua, including the possibility of developing similar programs in other areas of the company. We’re confident that fostering this collaboration will yield more accessible solutions to water quality issues for customers nationwide. 

Whether we’re working in Pennsylvania or in any of the eight states we serve, we’re dedicated to providing safe, reliable water to all of our customers. We’re grateful to our Hot Spot team for helping us uphold our core values of integrity, respect, and the pursuit of excellence in everything we do. 

 

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In Indiana, upgraded mains make the water flow round—literally!

If you’ve been keeping up with our Aquastructure blog series, you know that water mains play an integral role in providing reliable water service to surrounding communities. That’s why we’re excited to share that Aqua recently took on a water main improvement project in Indiana, installing over 3,000 feet of new water mains and five new fire hydrants in the town of Darlington.

In order to fully grasp the value and extent of these upgrades, we connected with Kieran Tansy, area manager at Aqua Indiana. Let’s explore what exactly makes this project so beneficial for our customers in Darlington. 

What’s the big deal with a water main replacement?

"When a water main is replaced, the new line is installed near the old line. Those new customer service lines are run from the new main to each existing meter pit or curb stop,” Tansy explains. Lines are installed either through direct excavation or underground drilling when appropriate. 

Tansy reports that the new lines have been professionally engineered by Aqua to be sized and located appropriately to provide the best long-term service to our customers and provide safe access to Aqua employees for maintenance activities.

A behind-the-scenes look at infrastructure upgrades in Darlington.

Why replace it now?

Over the course of this project, our team uncovered 3,215 feet of unreliable plastic, transite, and steel lines, which resulted in some main breaks since the lines were rarely located where the plans indicated. Despite these obstacles, Tansy says, “the customers, town employees, and town officials were very patient and wonderful to work with during these interruptions in service.”

Replacing these worn lines was necessary to improve not only water flow, but also water pressure. With these newer and more durable lines, the water mains will be able to carry a higher volume of water to our customers in their homes, businesses, and offices. 

Don’t forget the additional perks!

Aqua Indiana officials and Darlington town council members also celebrated the installation of five new fire hydrants and all of the new water main with a ceremonial “Fire Hydrant Opening” in June. “Although the Darlington water system is not required to provide fire protection, we are glad to provide more hydrants that are available for the fire department’s use,” Tansy adds. 

Ta-da: Part of the finished product on Madison Street looking South.

Additionally, these new lines will bring higher and more consistent water pressure to our customers, especially during peak usage times. Our crews are pleased with the final result of this project, and our entire Aqua Indiana team looks forward to providing even more reliable service to the Darlington community. 

Whether we’re working in Indiana or any of the eight states we serve, we’re dedicated to providing safe, reliable water to all of our customers. Stay tuned to learn more about our infrastructure improvement projects in our next Aquastructure blog! 

 

 

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Breaking ground and beating droughts in Texas

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It’s summertime, and staying hydrated is a top priority. But what about hydrating the ground we walk on?

At Aqua, we work carefully to address drought conditions that affect our service areas. That’s why we are so excited about the upcoming completion of our first surface water treatment plant in Barton Creek, Texas, a state that last year experienced its most severe drought since 2015.

To learn more about the importance of this project, we reached out to Scot Foltz, environmental compliance manager at Aqua Texas.

What’s the big deal?

“There’s significant concern over the long-term viability of the groundwater supply for the growing Barton Creek Lakeside community,” says Foltz. With the help of this project, he says, Aqua will be able to “manage the available resources more effectively and ensure an adequate supply of water for the service area.”

Macintosh HD:Users:valeriehoke:Desktop:images:AQUA:Aquastructure:2019:June:961CBB08.jpgBehind-the-scenes as crews prepare to begin laying block for the walls

These efforts should alleviate a great deal of stress for families, farmers, and all other customers in Texas. Since the area has proven to be “highly susceptible to drought,” Foltz explains that the construction of this plant is “intended to reduce the impacts of drought and increase source reliability.”

What’s in it for the customers?

The completion of this project will produce several notable benefits for our customers. Aqua recognizes the necessary community restrictions on water intended to aid conservation efforts. However, Foltz says “the surface water plant will help alleviate some restrictions as we work with LCRA [Lower Colorado River Authority] to ensure conservation measures are followed.”

Customers may also notice improvements in the general aesthetic quality of the water. “The water hardness and dissolved mineral content of the lake water is naturally lower than groundwater in the area,” says Foltz. “While looks aren’t everything, we’re happy to be a part of efforts to improve overall experiences for our customers.”

Another glimpse at the work site

So when can you expect to start seeing all of these benefits? We’ve got great news for you. After conducting preliminary studies on the groundwater and determining that surface water supply was the best alternative for long-term source reliability, the team received approval from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and began construction in late 2018. He expects construction to be completed by the end of 2019.

But wait—there’s more!

Barton Creek, Texas event

Front row: Terry Franks, Aqua Texas Business Development Director; Scot Foltz, Aqua Texas Environmental Compliance Manger; State Representative Vikki Goodwin; Bob Laughman, Aqua Texas President; Michael Fruge, Barton Creek Lakeside POA Board President; Carol Birsa, Barton Creek Lakeside POA Board Secretary.  
Back row: Shawn Hammons, Aqua Texas Safety Specialist; Brent Reeh, Aqua Texas Regional Manager; Matt Morgan, Peyton Construction Project Manager; Mark Wetzel, Barton Creek POA Board Member; Marty Kurtz, Barton Creek POA Board Member; David Lee, Barton Creek POA Board Member.  

As part of our commitment to the effective management of water resources, Aqua Texas acknowledges the state’s increasing demand for water services. “Aqua is committed to effectively managing our water resources by encouraging conservation, making capital investments to improve efficiency within our systems, and working with our community partners to develop solutions to the increasing demand for water,” Foltz adds.

Whether we’re working in Texas or any of the eight states we serve, we are dedicated to providing safe, reliable water to all of our customers. Stay tuned to learn about another recent infrastructure project in our next Aquastructure blog! 

 

 

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Spice up your summer with a DIY garden

Summer is officially upon us, which means it’s time for tons of fun in the sun and a lot more time on your hands. What better way to spend that time than starting a DIY garden in the backyard?

At Aqua, we’re committed not just to providing water, but also celebrating the (sometimes literal) fruits of its labor. Planting an at-home garden this summer is not only good for the environment, but it also might even get the kids interested in eating their veggies.

In order to start you off on the right foot, we’ve laid out all of the best tips for planning your summer garden, watering it with care, and supporting Mother Earth at the same time. Grab your shovel—let’s dig in.

Selecting your seeds


Before you can enjoy your home-grown produce, consider which plants are best suited for your local environment and, of course, for your tastebuds.

While greens like lettuce and arugula thrive with 3–4 hours of sun exposure per day, broccoli and carrots require 4–6 hours, and summertime favorites like watermelon and tomatoes are happier with 6–8 hours of sunshine.

Keen on getting the kids involved? Impress the little ones with the ease of planting strawberries or the various shapes and sizes of potatoes. (Purple french fries, anyone?) Harvesting beets, digging holes, or even weeding can give children a sense of responsibility and pride at having contributed to a memorable summer.

When and what to water

Once you’ve picked which plants will work best in your garden, it’s time to lay down some ground rules. What’s most important is consistency. In order to ensure healthy, developing plants, it’s best to establish a routine in the frequency with which you water them and the amount of water you use.

For warm-weather plants, plan to do your watering in the early morning so the plants can soak up the water ahead of the afternoon heat. Overwatering can lead to fungus and other plant-related diseases, so an ideal watering will penetrate the soil but not leave it soggy. Don’t forget that the root systems of newer plants are not fully developed and will therefore need to be watered more frequently.

Using your green thumb


If organic produce and family fun isn’t enough to convince you to start digging, consider your impact on the environment. While it may seem like a small contribution, community gardens compose more than 25 percent of the trees in non-forest environments. Plus, growing your food at home means less air pollution from grocery delivery trucks.

Think back to elementary school science: Every plant undergoes photosynthesis, which actively converts carbon dioxide to valuable oxygen molecules. That means that more plants result in more oxygen and less carbon dioxide. Sounds like a win-win to us!

Don’t forget about the small critters that keep our ecosystems alive. Without gardens—even small, DIY ones—we run the risk of endangering essential insects and wildlife. Gardening plays a small but vital role in preserving our planet and the species that we know and love.

Planning an at-home garden this summer? Let us know how it goes on Facebook or Twitter—we want to hear all about your gardening adventures.

 

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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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