U.S. Water Week Highlights Technology and Water Protection

At Aqua, we know that water is the most essential resource to the world. Each day, the Aqua team works to provide clean, safe drinking water to the millions of people we serve, while at the same time being environmentally sustainable.

This year’s U.S. Water Week, which is recognized from April 15 to 21, focuses on how crucial it is to improve water and water infrastructure funding in the United States.

According to Aqua’s Chief Environmental Officer Chris Crockett, America’s current infrastructure is sorely neglected and failing: service outages are increasing, advance refunding has been taken away, and increasing regulations inhibit protection of our water resources.

Surprisingly, U.S. water usage has actually declined over the last decade or so. From 1996 to 2016, average annual indoor household water usage has decreased by 22 percent. However, staggering population growth, both in the U.S. and around the world, pose a serious challenge to declining natural water resources. 

Source: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision

According to the World Resources Institute, a majority of the United States is under high risk concerning water quantity, which will have a short or long term impact on water being available to those living in the region.

 

Source: World Resources Institute

Technology can help solve the water system challenges we are facing, but people have to advocate education efforts to policymakers about the importance of water infrastructure funding.

In order to think about water and all of its interconnections, Crockett asks us to think about how we would manage water and wastewater if we were to build a city from scratch. Think about the water cycle, the drinking water and fire suppression systems.

In the end, though, Crockett says that nothing beats nature.

“Nature must be more fully integrated into our communities to clean and protect drinking water as a first step,” he says. While technology will help us in solving some of the challenges our water infrastructure system faces, we need to focus on how we can help preserve the environment.

Aqua tries to make environmentally sustainable choices in everything we do, because we know the importance of water. By cleaning the wastewater produced by the communities we serve each day and returning this safe water back into local rivers, we work to prevent pollution, protect wildlife and champion the environment.

Plus, since 2005, we have partnered up with Treevitalize and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to plant 43,658 trees at 277 locations, and Aqua volunteers have been involved in cleaning up rivers and fundraising for fire departments.

It’s necessary to protect and preserve nature in order to maintain safe water for generations to come, and as a company, we’re proud to say our team continues to work year-round to do just that.

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Every Day is Earth Day at Aqua!

Aqua employees participate in stream clean up efforts throughout our eight states.

 By Aqua Vice President and Chief Environmental Officer Chris Crockett

It’s always a good time to consider how we can be better stewards of our environment. At Aqua, we think about this question every day as we strive to carry out our mission of protecting and providing Earth’s most essential resource. With Earth Day tomorrow, Saturday, April 22, we hope this question is on everyone’s minds, at Aqua and beyond.


As the vice president and chief environmental officer, I am routinely asked how Aqua is helping the planet and what we could be doing better. Let me take a moment to explain some specific things we’re doing and how they’ve made a difference in the environment. I’ll also explain our efforts to develop a sustainability plan for Aqua to help guide and improve our environmental impacts moving forward.

Believe it or not, there are more than 100 activities Aqua does company-wide to help protect the planet, and we do some of them every day.

Reducing Lost Water

Since only 2.5 percent of the world’s water is fresh water, and only about a third of that, or less than one percent, is accessible, it’s our most significant responsibility as a water utility to manage our water resources carefully. One key daily activity that’s fundamental to our company’s sustainability is our ability to reduce water loss. We’re experts at replacing pipes, changing meters and re-using water in various ways. 

Keeping our Streams and Rivers Clean

Another aspect of our daily work is treating wastewater. Our nearly 175 wastewater plants return 26 million gallons of wastewater per day back into our streams and rivers cleaner than it came out. This water is not only critical to water supplies, but it’s also critical to the multitude of fish and flora that need it to survive. 

Aqua employees at the Media Wastewater Plant in PA.

Protecting our Water Supplies for Future Generations

Protecting the aquifers, streams and rivers that supply our water is also a critical daily function. In Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois, teams work to manage lakes and reservoirs and protect the streams that feed them to keep their quantity and quality sustainable. This involves preserving lands, monitoring our streams, planting trees, educating communities and local leaders, partnering with environmental or watershed groups, conducting stream cleanups, or providing input on local development and local ordinances. Aqua Illinois recently won the American Water Works Association (AWWA) source water protection award for their efforts.  

Reducing Waste From Our Business

Treating water also creates waste from the things we take out of the water and wastewater to clean it. At our water plants, we use belt filter presses to drain water from the sludge from treatment to reduce the amount we need to send to landfills. We have also explored and use efforts to beneficially reuse the waste from wastewater treatment to put nutrients on farm fields. In some areas, we use spray irrigation to apply treated wastewater to fields to recharge the groundwater and avoid impacts on local streams.

Using Energy Wisely

Aqua uses many innovative approaches to reduce our energy use. These activities include LED lighting, pump-curve calibrations, variable-flow (VFD) pumps, peak-demand response, air blower and diffuser improvements and solar panels. We also manage energy through our fleet. We measure idling times to reduce gas waste and air emissions and look for efficiency improvements when we buy new cars and trucks. 

   

Aqua solar fields benefit the environment across some of our eight states. One of which is at our Pickering Water Treatment Plant in PA, which is 6.5 acres and reduces our usage by 2.2 million kWh annually. This is the equivalent of avoiding 51,450 gallons of gasoline per year or the equivalent emissions as 380 passenger cars.

Sustainability Planning

Aqua is embarking on a multi-year effort to develop a sustainability plan. This effort involves a couple of steps, starting with benchmarking Aqua’s sustainability metrics against other utilities and developing a sustainability activity inventory. This will take most of 2017 to complete as we look at more than 34 different standard metrics from the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). 

In 2018, we’ll begin to understand which sustainability metrics are important to our employees and our customers to help determine which areas will become our core focus. Next, we’ll develop a governance structure to help drive the achievement and measurement of our sustainability effort. Finally, in 2019, we’ll develop a plan that sets the goals, objectives, and short- and long-term actions we need to take to improve our sustainability as a company. We know Aqua does many things that are sustainable, but we can and need to do better if we want to catch up to our peers in the industry.

We’ll be soliciting ideas and feedback in the future, so please keep an eye out for ways you can share your thoughts.

Last, I want to thank everyone at Aqua for protecting and providing Earth’s most essential resource every day! There is no greater responsibility to our communities, our families and our planet!

Did you know? Other ways Aqua is making a difference:

  • Some of Aqua’s reservoirs have preserved land around them. This land is home to threatened and endangered species. By preserving land to protect our water supplies, we are also helping to protect and re-establish threatened and endangered species
  • Aqua has been participating in TreeVitalize in Pennsylvania since 2005. In total, Aqua has planted more than 43,658 trees for 277 projects, equal to 302 acres of trees. What does this mean for the environment? Well, each tree sequesters 26 to 48 pounds of carbon per year depending on size. Each acre of trees counters about 26,000 miles of driving roughly, so in total, these trees counter about 7.8 million miles of driving per year. Aqua’s fleet drives about 17.4 million miles per year, so these trees counter roughly 45 percent of Aqua’s carbon footprint from driving.
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