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 As a best practice, Aqua constantly repairs and replaces old, outdated facilities, water main, water and wastewater plants, and well stations across service territories.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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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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Get the (Earth Day) Party Started with Aqua!

 

At Aqua, we’re obsessed with all things related to our most precious resource: water

Since we’re also obsessed with the source of that water (Earth) it should come as no surprise that we’re big fans of Earth Day

In anticipation of the upcoming occasion, which eco-conscious folks all over the world will celebrate on April 22, we thought we’d take an inside look at the ways Aqua is committed to acting as a sustainable steward to the environment.

Read our thought-provoking conversation below with Network Control Engineer Dan Kirchheimer, our Aqua employee responsible for compiling Aqua’s sustainability report.

 

 

Dan Kirchheimer

With Earth Day just around the corner, what does Aqua do as a company to celebrate or recognize the occasion?

Aqua sponsors a number of stream cleanup days throughout March and April where employees and other volunteers walk along streams, creeks and rivers and pick up trash and debris that have collected along the shoreline and in the water. Each year, volunteers pull hundreds of tons of trash across numerous cleanup sites.

The final mountains of trash bags contain more than just plastic bags, paper and soda cans. Volunteers find tires, engines, refrigerators, shopping carts, scrap metal and just about anything you can imagine. Aqua partners with the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy, the Chester Ridley Crum Watersheds Association (CRC), and the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance, just to name a few. The annual CRC cleanup alone has removed more than 600,000 pounds of debris over the last 18 years.

Aqua Illinois customers in Kankakee depend solely on the Kankakee River to serve more than 80,000 residents. Aqua Illinois employees and local volunteers are now entering their 34th annual river cleanup as part of the Adopt-a-River program. The company is responsible for a one mile portion of the river that employees clean twice a year. This is one of the oldest continuous river clean-ups in the country.

Aqua Pennsylvania has also supported the TreeVitalize Watersheds program since 2005. This group has assisted in the planting of more than 40,000 trees along the banks of key watersheds for the last decade.

By investing in reforesting stream banks, this natural infrastructure helps reduce the amount of contaminants reaching our source water and helps slow natural erosion and soil degradation. This greatly improves stream water quality, improves the habitat for local environments and decreases storm water runoff.

 

Aqua Illinois employees during the annual Kankakee River Clean Up

What can Aqua customers do to make a sustainable difference this Earth Day? 

Carry a Nalgene, thermos or other water bottle around with you – even a simple cup with a lid. You’ll be amazed how easy it is to save money and still have fresh, cold water at hand.

Other ideas for how to help in a positive way on Earth Day include:

·      Volunteering for a local stream cleaning event. It will only take a few hours, and your actions will make a huge difference and make you feel great.

·      Planting trees along a creek, in a park or even your own backyard.

·      Composting your old food scraps and feeding that to your hungry plants.

·      Replacing a shower head to a low flow variety. If you live in a drought-prone area, this can save thousands of gallons of water over its lifetime for only a few dollars.

Just keep in mind, if you do nothing, expect nothing to change. One person may not make a difference, but if everybody just helped a little bit, things would start to look a lot better.

How would you like to see Aqua and similar organizations continue to practice and improve sustainability efforts in the future? 

Ever since the Industrial Revolution,  man has created amazing machines and technology to increase efficiency, production and our way of life. However, for too long, the environment has paid the price for our actions. In this modern era, we have the knowledge and ability to do things better and keep the environment in mind. Being sustainable doesn’t always have to cost more. I’d like to see more companies get creative and create mutually beneficial partnerships that both save money and help protect the environment.

“Going green” shouldn’t be a catch phrase or a way to simply cut costs. Companies have the power to inspire and create change. They can and should find opportunities that help everyone involved.

We don’t always have to keep doing things because we’ve always done them that way. Change can be good. We should embrace technology, new ideas, methods, viewpoints and ways of thinking.

Inspired to make a change this Earth Day? Remember what Dan said – everyone pitching in a little bit can make a big difference.

 

What will you pledge to do for your planet on Earth Day 2016?

 

 

 

 

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Water Infrastructure: A Brief History

Think for a second: How did water infrastructure get so advanced?

Access to water has become almost second nature to us. We turn the faucet on and out comes clear, clean water. We don’t even think about it. Isn’t that amazing? A feat of human ingenuity, the way water is delivered to us today is by no means a simple feat. Take a look below for a brief timeline of the evolution of water infrastructure:

Sure, there were plenty of innovations and breakthroughs along the way, but think of the above as a major highlights reel. Let’s walk through them.

 


Ancient Rome

The Roman Empire made its mark on the Western world in a number of ways, most notably through groundbreaking advancements in engineering. The invention of the aqueduct, the world’s first formal plumbing and water transportation system, truly helped early Rome become as vast and forward-thinking as it became. Many European societies soon followed suit by adopting the aqueduct system.

 

The Enlightenment

As European civilization rapidly expanded and populations increased, new advancements in water were made, primarily in water sanitation. Private water companies were established to account for the vast intake of water, and developments in water filtration found sand filters to be useful (if rudimentary) in removing water of contaminants.

 

The 1900s

The use of filters in water sanitation was abandoned in the 19th century for chlorination. This process is the fundamental way we sanitize water today, and prevents the possible spread of diseases that filtration would oftentimes result in.

 

Today

Today, clean water is an absolute priority. New water sanitation techniques, like desalination and fluoridation offer innovative and forward-thinking means to ensuring our water is the best it can be. The Safe Drinking Water Act, passed in 1974, placed an emphasis on the quality of the water that is consumed. The act is still enforced today.

The future of water infrastructure is still unwritten. Between engineering and scientific breakthroughs throughout the course of history, we are always working toward making sure we all have access to safe, quality water. Water is one of our most precious and valuable natural resources, so we must all do our part to make sure that it remains in good hands.

 

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Why Water Mains Break

One of the biggest concerns for water utilities during extremely hot or cold weather is water main breaks. Water mains are expected to last a long time – as long as 100 years in many cases. But with many miles of pipe buried underground, it’s reasonable to expect a particular section of pipe will fail or break at some point. The challenge for water utilities is to work proactively to minimize the number of breaks and to respond effectively when a main does break.

While the oldest water mains were made of wood, by the late 1800s, a variety of iron pipe was being used to construct water distribution systems. Common iron varieties included cast and galvanized in the early part of the 20th Century, with galvanized used primarily for smaller diameter pipe. Cast iron pipe was used until the late 1950s when stronger, more flexible ductile iron pipe became common. Plastic pipe, including Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) became common in the 1970s. The primary difference between these two plastic pipes is that PVC is stiffer than HDPE, which is more flexible. Even though pipe is expected to last for decades, that doesn’t mean it won’t break at some point. While it is impossible to predict specific pipe breaks, we know that environmental conditions are a major factor in water main breaks.

In the northern and northeast areas of the country where winters are more extreme, cold soils and cold water combine to add stress to pipes, which can—and often do—result in breaks. Iron, like all metals, contracts as temperatures drop. This problem is more common when the source water is surface water (rivers and lakes). These waters are significantly affected by air temperature and can drop to near freezing in the winter. A temperature difference of just 10 degrees in water or air temperatures can cause pipes to contract or expand. Additional stress inside and outside the pipe occurs as temperatures near the freezing point, making the pipe vulnerable to breakage. Water temperature changes more slowly than air temperature changes so the impact of cold water on pipes can cause breakage to take place as many as a couple days after temperatures freeze. Water systems with groundwater sources (wells) have more stable water temperatures because the water is not affected by air temperatures, and therefore, not as significantly impacted. 

Just as pipes are adversely affected by cold weather conditions, they are also affected by severe heat. In some groundwater systems in the southern and southwestern states, the soils are like sponges and hold lots of water. However, during extended periods of hot temperature when high demands for water increases water withdrawal from the aquifers, the soil becomes very dry. In these conditions, the soil contracts and subsides, pulling away from the pipe and diminishing support for the water main. The absence of support for the main can cause it to break. This particular problem led the City of Houston, Texas to begin to convert its groundwater supply to surface water.

Although older mains are generally more susceptible to breaks, breaks can occur on newer mains. This is most likely the result of improper installation or a manufacturing issue with that particular section of pipe. By examining trends in water main breaks over time, a utility is better able to identify categories of pipe that are more prone to breaks, and thus proactively target that pipe for replacement. Aqua employs such tactics in determining which mains to replace. By the end of 2013, Aqua expects to have spent $170 million of its $325 million capital improvement program on water main replacement and associated work.

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