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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Aqua President and CEO Chris Franklin talks water infrastructure with national media, congress

 

By Aqua President and CEO Chris Franklin

Over the past few weeks, I had the pleasure of talking with some national news outlets as well as congressional subcommittee members about the state of water infrastructure in America and Aqua’s commitment to investing in our aging water systems.

As you can see in my CNBC’s Squawk Box segment, the American Society of Civil Engineers recently released its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, giving U.S. water infrastructure a “D” grade and wastewater infrastructure a “D+.” The reality is that our country has more than 1 million miles of water pipe, much of which was laid in the early 20th century and in critical need of replacement.

While this is a major challenge facing our country, Aqua is working to be a part of the solution. We are committed to renewing and improving water and wastewater infrastructure through thoughtful and continuous capital investment. It’s why Aqua will invest more than $450 million in water and wastewater infrastructure in 2017 alone, after having invested $1.5 billion in capital improvements over the past five years. 

I also spoke with national infrastructure reporters about the importance of letting private capital go to work to assist municipalities struggling with aging water systems, instead of providing federal financing for infrastructure projects. Aqua has a proven record of purchasing both municipal and private water systems, injecting needed capital into the systems and developing the infrastructure required for clean drinking water and wastewater. You can read more about that in my interview with Hilary Russ of Reuters.

As then president-elect of the National Association of Water Companies, I also had the opportunity last month to provide testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives' Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment. I underscored with our elected officials that companies like Aqua and our fellow NAWC member organizations are well-positioned to help cities and towns address long-neglected water and wastewater infrastructure maintenance. It’s my firm belief that we will continue to be part of the solution.

I’m proud that Aqua is playing a leading role in providing solutions for struggling water and wastewater systems. In speaking out on these issues, I hope to continue to raise awareness on the importance of water and wastewater infrastructure in our country and of Aqua’s role as a leader in protecting and providing Earth’s most valuable resource.

 

 

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Asset Management Program Helps us Invest in Water Infrastructure

 

By Aqua President and Chief Executive Officer Christopher Franklin

Chris Franklin spoke to industry experts who visited Philadelphia from around the world at the recent American Water Works Association annual conference. Here’s a synopsis of what he shared during his panel.

Aqua works every day across our eight states to deliver safe drinking water to customers, and to return wastewater responsibly to the environment. But as the nation’s water infrastructure ages, there is a greater need for significant investment in rebuilding or replacing the systems that deliver and store water and wastewater. As a best practice, Aqua constantly repairs and replaces old, outdated facilities, water main, water and wastewater plants, and well stations across service territories.

To help face the challenges of repairing and replacing infrastructure on a large scale, Aqua began developing a formal, enterprise-wide asset management program. Aqua’s asset management program tracks assets based on risk  and ensures that the appropriate proactive maintenance, repairs and upgrades occur based on those risk scores.  Aqua is developing plans across a variety of assets including wells, water distribution systems, wastewater facilities, wastewater collection systems and surface water treatment plants. Having a robust asset management program in place ensures that all systems remain in good working order, can improve response to emergencies and helps meet customer expectations for good service. 

  

Aqua based the company-wide program on the U.S. EPA Asset Management Framework, which is widely used by water and wastewater utilities. This framework asks:

·   What is the current state of the assets?

·   What is the required sustainable level of service?

·   Which assets are critical to sustained performance?

·   What are the minimum life-cycle costs?

·   What is the best long-term funding strategy?

By developing the program with the EPA’s guidance, Aqua is able to extend the life of assets and make more informed decisions about maintenance, repair or replacement. Aqua Pennsylvania has successfully used this framework for more than 20 years and continues to see improvements in its infrastructure improvement efforts, thanks to the employees who contribute every day to our asset management program. Over the last 10 years, Aqua Pennsylvania has averaged 128 miles of water main replacements per year, and over that time, we’ve seen customer complaints about water quality significantly decrease. There’s a clear connection there. And we’ve got plans to invest $292 million in replacements, improvements, and a significant water meter exchange program by the end of 2017. 

At Aqua, we see it as a great responsibility to replace aging infrastructure and deliver reliable drinking water and wastewater services to our customers. We will continue to build valuable internal processes like asset management that allow us to continue our mission to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource.

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Drinking Water Week Highlights the Vital Role of Water


By Aqua President and Chief Executive Officer Christopher Franklin

Every day of the year, the Aqua team works to ensure the drinking water we provide in the communities we serve is clean and safe. That responsibility is something we take extremely seriously.

Water is a precious resource that plays a critical role in sustaining life. This year, American Water Works Association’s annual Drinking Water Week serves to highlight the vital part drinking water plays in our daily lives.

According to the EPA, the United States has one of the most reliable and safest supplies of drinking water in the world. While this is something to be proud of, we must be mindful that as a nation, we are facing significant challenges to our aging water infrastructure, much of which needs to be upgraded or replaced. Cracked pipes, water main breaks and other age-related issues, including lead service lines, can impact water quality and increase the risk for contamination.  

 

Aqua actively works to replace our mains to ensure we maintain our customers’ water quality and reliable service. In fact, just last year, we replaced about 150 miles of aged water mains throughout our eight states.  

Similarly, the types of service lines on our customers’ property can impact the quality of the drinking water inside. Homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures and solder, and this can cause lead exposure in a homeowner’s water supply. It is important that homeowners understand their individual situation.

We invest millions of dollars each year to improve our plants, tanks, distribution systems and other infrastructure, including removing Aqua-owned lead service lines when present, so that we can better provide quality, reliable drinking water to all of our customers.

I hope you’ll take a few moments to watch our lead education video to help you better understand this national issue, and also, to reflect on just how essential water is in your daily lives, on the occasion of Drinking Water Week, and every week.

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A Reminder on World Water Day

A flow test is completed for a proposed water supply for a school in Waslala, Nicaragua.

By Aqua President and Chief Executive Officer Christopher Franklin

Every year, the United Nations’ World Water Day serves as a reminder that access to clean, safe water is a struggle for many communities throughout the world. For 663 million people – double the number of people living in the United States – water sources may be scarce, contaminated or far away. In fact, many people trek to streams and rivers with buckets and horses to carry home enough water for just one day.

This World Water Day, I’m reflecting on Aqua America’s mission to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource - water, and the part our employees are playing to bring quality drinking water to homes in other areas of the world.

Our efforts to make a positive difference stem from a combination of our corporate giving and volunteerism programs. It’s part of my commitment, our senior team’s commitment, and our employees’ commitment to be caring corporate citizens for the neighborhoods we serve, and those internationally that can benefit from our expertise.

So in 2016, we took our mission global and partnered with Villanova University to provide better access to water in communities in Nicaragua and Panama.  

In Nicaragua, we are working with Villanova engineering professors and students, as well as the local community, to build a water distribution system for the people in Kasquita. Currently, the 140 people living in this very isolated town use surface water from one of three nearby streams for all their needs.

A flow test is completed on the two springs that combined make up one water source for Kasquita, Nicaragua.

Aqua employees were on site in Kasquita earlier this month to participate in the groundbreaking on this project. During the trip, we worked to provide the rock base for two spring sources, which will act as the main water supply for the town, and surveyed the town to see if higher elevation homes could potentially be served by the system.

The location where our group stayed, which is home to a couple and their seven children. 

While this project will take a while to complete, we are excited at the prospect of providing a fully-functioning water distribution system to people who need it. For the people of Kasquita, this project is life-changing. Not only will it eliminate the need to use surface water, it will create a household connection to each home in the town. It’s also transformative for the Aqua employees participating in the project. They have lived and worked with the families who will be served by the water system, learning from them and listening to the appreciation they have firsthand.

The backyard and water source of a home in Kasquita, Nicaragua.

While this project is just in the beginning stages, it certainty won’t be the last project we have in Nicaragua. Aqua team members are already participating in project evaluations to provide reliable, clean water to the children’s local school centers. 

In Panama, we are working with Villanova to enhance a water system currently providing water on an alternating basis to half the population in the town of Agua Fría every other day. Over the 2016 holiday season, we provided supervision as Villanova students and local community members fixed a water collection tank, removing concerns of structural integrity and the potential for leaks. Now that the tank repairs are in place, we plan to join Villanova in an upcoming trip to Panama to replace supply lines that will allow each household in the community to have access to water each and every day.

Not only will the people of these remote regions in Nicaragua and Panama have daily access to running water in their homes, but the water will also be filtered to ensure it is potable for cooking, drinking, cleaning, bathing and so on. This eliminates any potential health risks from surface water that can be contaminated with chemicals, particulates and bacteria.

It’s important to me that we share our time, treasure and talents to make the world a better place. It’s is humbling to work with Villanova University to provide mentorship to the next generation of engineers and to bring water to more people.  Last week, four students presented their project work at a lunch n’ learn event for our employees. Hearing these budding engineers talk about how our projects are leading them down new service-oriented paths they never imagined allows us to recognize that we’re making a difference in central America, and also, in the lives of these students.

The next generation of Villanova University engineers shared their experiences with Aqua in Bryn Mawr.

Access to clean, safe water is something many of us take for granted. On World Water Day, I challenge you to consider the ways you use water, and reflect on how you can join with us to protect Earth’s most essential resource.

 

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