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 Leadership Travels to Panama to Provide Water Quality Expertise

Aqua’s leadership team recently joined forces with Villanova University to provide hands-on water quality expertise in Panama. The trip is one of the first in a new partnership between Aqua and the University’s College of Engineering to provide water infrastructure expertise in developing countries.

 

The team from Aqua traveled with representatives from Villanova Engineering Service Learning (VESL) to inspect water sites and meet with local community members and non-governmental organization partners. The six-day trip to the Alto Bayano region of Panama took place from August 11 to 16.

 

Aqua’s Rick Fox, Chief Operating Officer, Peter Virag (Corporate Energy Manager), Ryan Coombs (Chemist) and Deborah Watkins (Director, Water Quality & Environmental Compliance traveled to Panama with Jim O’Brien and Frank Falcone of the University’s College of Engineering.

 

 

A Panamanian representative, Father “Wally” Pablo Kasuboski, a Capuchin missionary priest from Wisconsin that has been serving in Panama for more than 30 years, led the representatives from Aqua and Villanova. Father Wally was the trip's visionary leader and works tirelessly on improving community conditions through ministry; building churches, roads, bridges, and water systems; and leading an agriculture cooperative while preserving the rain forests.

 

There were three specific goals defined by Aqua and Villanova going into the trip. These goals included:

·      developing an understanding of local culture and the four water systems in the Alto Bayano region;

·      evaluating existing water system challenges in the region including five leaking storage tanks and water quality concerns associated with chlorination and turbidity control during the rainy season; and

·      brainstorming ideas to address these challenges while understanding the capabilities of the local operators, materials available, and the economy of the region.  

 

Each day the team participated in different projects, including visiting a reservoir and dam, evaluating water storage and treatment methods, and analyzing samples from customers’ premises, storage tanks, and water sources in the region. The team attained a better understanding of the region's water systems and, throughout the course of their visit, collected samples for more detailed analysis at Aqua’s laboratory in Bryn Mawr.

 

While Aqua and the Villanova team were able to provide their expertise and services to one of the largest rural water supply systems in Central America, they also found time to experience the culture surrounding the Alto Bayano region. The team enjoyed a region filled with a beautiful mosaic of farmland, pastures, jungles, and city life. Life at the mission, the team’s home base, was delightful (and hot) with a smorgasbord of bunkhouses surrounded with wild animal noises, open air, copious amounts of rainfall, and great home cooking. The participants had the delight of trying the local cuisine including plantains, yucca root, beans, rice, Panamanian pizza, and Panamanian-influenced Chinese food.

 

The Panama trip participants enjoyed lending their expertise, learning about a new culture, and cautiously exploring the wildlife that calls the region home. Aqua and Villanova are looking forward to continuing their partnership and initiative to help international communities in desperate need of clean, safe drinking water. 

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Aqua America Partners with Villanova University College of Engineering on International Water Infrastructure Projects

Aqua America, Inc. today announced a partnership with Villanova University’s College of Engineering to provide mentorship opportunities, hands-on water quality expertise and foundation support for the college’s international service work. As part of this partnership, Aqua leadership and engineers will travel with Villanova faculty and students to various projects internationally to provide engineering and water infrastructure expertise.

Aqua’s on-site engagement with Villanova begins with a trip to Nicaragua on August 4 and a visit to Panama on August 11. Members of Aqua’s leadership team will accompany the Aqua team that includes engineers and water quality experts. They will travel with Villanova Engineering Service Learning (VESL) representatives to inspect water project sites, meet with community members and connect with local nongovernmental organization (NGO) partners. The partnership reflects Aqua’s greater initiative of partnering with community-based nonprofit organizations that advocate for the environment.

An important part of the success of the Villanova program has been working with in-country partners who have the capacity to implement these projects. In the Alto Bayano region of Panama, VESL has been providing engineering support on water-related infrastructure projects for 25 years. In collaboration with local NGO’s, they have helped to develop one of the largest rural water supply systems in Central America. Similarly, over the past decade, the college has worked with local partners in Waslala, Nicaragua to design and implement water supply networks that provide safe drinking water for rural communities. Through the Aqua America partnership, VESL hopes to improve the sustainability of water delivery services in these areas, while creating unique learning opportunities for its local partners and student participants.

“We are excited about the opportunity to work with Aqua America in what is a true partnership,” said Villanova’s Dr. Gary A. Gabriele, Drosdick-Endowed Dean of Engineering. “Aqua is VESL’s first corporate partner to put boots on the ground, and we look forward to the continued growth of this partnership.”

Aqua’s President and Chief Executive Officer Christopher Franklin highlighted that the company has a long history of demonstrating commitment to the communities it serves.

“Because this commitment has become part of our culture, it will continue long into the future,” Franklin said. “When we consider how fortunate we are to live in the United States where clean drinking water is almost taken for granted, we must consider what other human beings in other countries endure each day to find clean water for their children to drink.”

Franklin noted that with this in mind, Aqua made the decision to take a small portion of the Aqua foundation budget and combine it with the talents its employees possess to make a meaningful difference for those who live in these countries.

He added, “As one of the nation’s leading water companies, our mission is to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource. In our own small way, we will demonstrate our commitment in a few communities outside the U.S. where clean, safe drinking water is so desperately needed. We look forward to leveraging our expertise and partnering with Villanova’s distinguished College of Engineering faculty and students on this program.” 

Aqua supports environmental projects through the Aqua Charitable Trust and forming important partnerships with community-based nonprofit organizations within the company’s territory. This partnership with Villanova marks the first time Aqua will be taking its commitment internationally.

Villanova is highly regarded in the area of water resource management and sustainability. In addition to offering graduate degrees in sustainable engineering and water resources and environmental engineering, the university is home to the Villanova Center for the Advancement of Sustainability in Engineering and the Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership. Given this area of expertise, in addition to Panama and Nicaragua, VESL water projects are underway in Ghana, Honduras, India and Madagascar. The college’s other service projects include robotics for unexploded ordnance removal in Cambodia, and mobile health programs in Nicaragua. More than half of Villanova’s engineering undergraduates participate in service-learning projects or experiences.

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