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.”

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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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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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How does water infrastructure affect public health?

There’s no question that water is Earth’s most essential resource—as a society, we use it for tasks both mundane and extraordinary every day.

At Aqua, we understand and value the importance of monitoring and repairing the systems responsible for bringing us that water. When infrastructure is outdated or damaged, it can cause problems that extend far beyond individual home plumbing systems.

We caught up with Vice President and Chief Environmental Officer Chris Crockett to better understand why Aqua’s determination to rebuild and repair our nation’s water infrastructure isn’t just important—it’s essential in order to maintain public health.

How your water travels to you matters—a lot.

It might seem like water simply rushes out of the tap, but its journey from the well or water treatment plant to your area is longer than you’d think. It’s possible that water has traveled many miles to reach your home, or maybe it was waiting to be released from a storage tank. This time spent traveling or sitting is called water age, and it can cause some less-than-ideal changes to the water.

“The longer the water sits in the pipes or tanks, the more things can happen to change its quality,” Crockett explains. “For example, the chlorine in the water will slowly degrade, and if it’s there too long, the chlorine can actually disappear.”

Though chlorine makes many people think of pool water (yuck), you’ll remember from our water purification blog that the proper amount needs to be present to keep your water safe for drinking. If pipes are outdated or rusty, the quality and safeness of the water can suffer. Without the presence of chlorine, bacteria and viruses can breed in the water supply, and that’s where things can go wrong.

Out with the old—especially pipes.

Pipes make up most of our water infrastructure systems, which makes their physical integrity of the utmost importance.

“Old, corroding pipes can grow a biofilm of bacteria that lives in the rust and can reduce the chlorine levels in the water as it sits in the pipe,” says Crockett. Not only do these biofilms eat away at pipes, but they also can give the water a slight unpleasant odor or taste.

Pipe problems don’t stop there. Crockett adds that “leaking pipes not only let water leak out, but under very specific conditions of low pressure could let water outside the pipe leak in, introducing contamination and dirt.”

According to a report from the American Water Works Association (AWWA), most of America’s drinking water distribution system is more than 50 years old. Although this infrastructure was built to last, Aqua is determined to stay ahead of deterioration to protect our customers’ water supplies.

Where does public health come in?

Water traveling through compromised (or just plain out-of-date) infrastructure can be contaminated through intrusion, corrosion, biofilms, sediment, water age, or any combination of these factors.

According to the AWWA report, a 2006 national estimate attributed nearly 50 percent of the risk of contracting a waterborne illness to distribution systems. As the AWWA puts it, there are three main concerns when it comes to understanding and tracking how water infrastructure can impact public health:

Chart via AWWA (Figure 3)

Using these three pillars, it’s easy to understand that poor infrastructure conditions can make water susceptible to more contaminants, which can affect public health through consumption and use of compromised water.

Although that’s a mouthful (and can sound concerning), allow us to give you peace of mind: Aqua is one step ahead of the game.

How, exactly?

Upgrading water infrastructure is no small task, but we know the benefits are worth it. By now, you understand the impact that outdated systems can have on your everyday life, but rest assured that Aqua takes plenty of action to keep your water safe and reliable.

According to Crockett, in addition to using sophisticated computer programs to monitor the state of the system, replacing old pipes, and flushing newer pipes with chemicals to keep them from corroding, Aqua also has plenty of boots on the ground.

“We conduct extensive flushing exercises,” he explains. “We go out in areas that may need help moving the water, and we flush it via hydrants to get out the rust and bring in fresh water.”

If you keep an eye out, you might even see members of our team in your area flushing hydrants. It’s one simple step that we can take to continue our mission to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource.

Stay tuned for another year of exploration and education throughout our Aquastructure blog series. See you next month!

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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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Why fats, oils, and grease are a sewer pipe’s worst nightmare

Have you ever cooked up some bacon or boiled some chicken only to pour the leftover grease down the drain?

It seems so easy—and, let’s face it, very tempting—to dump those fats, oils and grease, aka FOG, into the sink and be done with it. But the truth of the matter is that all that FOG can cause serious havoc on your sewage system.

We talked to Joe Pearce, director of operations for Aqua North Carolina, to learn how and why fats, oils, and grease can cause damage to the pipes that take wastewater from your home.

Hot grease? More like cold, hard sludge

Here’s the deal: When you pour hot grease into your sink, it’s typically at a very high temperature, meaning the FOG flows down the drain in liquid form. 

What you might not realize, though, is that as that FOG cools off, it transforms into a solid substance that quickly clogs up the pipes in your home and downstream sewage systems.

That thick, sludgy FOG will continue to stick to the inside of your pipes and accumulate. In time, it could even block your entire drain and cause a serious backup in your home.  In the sewer system, it can cause a sanitary sewage overflow.

Meanwhile, because FOG is high in organic strength (and because anaerobic bacteria find it to be quite delicious), it begins to generate hydrogen sulfide gas. When this gas combines with water, it creates a powerful sulfuric acid that can corrode many types of piping and damage concrete and ductile iron.

Not all heroes wear capes

You might be wondering how you can be a hero and save your pipes from a clog-filled nightmare. The answer is easy: Don’t pour grease down the drain! That’s it—really.

Instead, make a point to pour FOG into empty food cans, then chuck those bad boys into the garbage. Wiping down frying pans with a paper towel to soak up the FOG before tossing it in the trash is a good trick, too.

What does Aqua do to help?

According to Pearce, infrastructure improvements are often required to fix problems created by grease damage in our sewer systems. One option is to use a type of pipe that’s less susceptible to hydrogen sulfide corrosion: plastic (PVC) pipes.

However, for a variety of reasons, that type of pipe isn’t always the best option for some of our sites. For sites that require the use of ductile iron pipe, ceramic-coated ductile iron pipe is a good alternative.

Bring on the holiday meals, please!

It’s important to talk about FOG during the holiday season since this time of year tends to come with a spike in sewage issues. All that additional cooking leads to additional grease that can quickly clog your pipes and overflow your sewage system the morning after a big holiday get together!

If you’re on your kitchen’s cleanup crew this holiday season, do yourself (and your drain) a favor by making sure all that FOG meets its fate in the trash instead of the sink.

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