Aqua PA Spotlight: Wastewater Operations Superintendent Bob Soltis

Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater Operations Superintendent Bob Soltis or “Aqua Bob” as he is affectionately known throughout his service area, is incredibly passionate about his work at the 14 Aqua wastewater plants he oversees in Northeast Pennsylvania. In fact, one could say Soltis eats, sleeps and eventually drinks wastewater. He holds Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection class A and E wastewater licenses, and subclasses 1, 2, 3 and 4, which equate to the highest operations licensure available in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

“The wastewater we discharge has to be clean and clear or I can’t sleep at night,” said Soltis. “Somebody, somewhere is going to eventually drink this water, whether it is an animal, a human, or the aquatic life in the receiving waters!”

By cleaning wastewater for discharge into streams, or for reuse like irrigation, water treatment plants speed up the natural process of water purification. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency considers wastewater treatment one of the most common forms of pollution control. Because of this, Soltis considers his number one job to be one of the greatest examples of environmental stewardship.

“Aqua acquired the Washington Park treatment plant about five years ago. Before we took over operations, the water was so dirty that the entire stream was devoid of any life,” said Soltis. “Now, there is vibrant plant and animal life living around the stream and that is a testament to Aqua’s dedication to putting out quality water.”

(Above) Original Washington Park wastewater treatment facility.
(Below) New Washington Park wastewater treatment facility near completion.

Treating wastewater presents a set of challenges that are completely different from those faced when processing drinking water. Not only is it technically, physically and financially more difficult to operate these plants, but treating wastewater is a biological, chemical, and mechanical process that requires constant vigilance from operators.

“The nutrients and the raw sewage entering the plant changes hourly and we are constantly monitoring the wastewater,” said Soltis. “We do some testing, but being able to do an empirical assessment of what is happening during the treatment process – what the wastewater looks and smells like – and making proper adjustments based on that is what makes the water Aqua discharges great.”

Over his 10 years at Aqua Pennsylvania, Soltis has managed the complete overhauls of several wastewater plants acquired by Aqua including Masthope, Bunker Hill, Washington Park, Laurel Lakes, River Crest, Pine Crest and Lake Harmony. Each treatment plant now runs incredibly efficiently.

“I take great pride in my work, but the spotlight really belongs on my operators and wastewater treatment plants,” said Soltis. “The performance of each treatment plant is a team effort. I cannot accomplish anything I do on my own and that’s what makes this organization shine.” 

 

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Tree Planting with Aqua at the Perkiomen Creek Watershed

Here at Aqua, we take pride in coming together with local conservationists and residents to improve water quality in an eco-friendly way.

 

 That’s why on Friday, Oct. 7, several Aqua employees, along with dozens of volunteers, showed up to plant native trees at the Perkiomen Creek Watershed, adjacent to our Green Lane reservoir. Aqua’s Watershed Specialist Robert Kahley, Chief Environmental Officer Chris Crockett, Manager - Water Resources Engineering Tony Fernandes, and Director of Environmental Compliance Deborah Watkins, were among the green-thumbed volunteers protecting our local water ecosystems through environmental stewardship.

 

 

In less than two hours, the volunteers planted 120 new trees, and by the end of the day, the number was up to an impressive 620. Think about it — that’s 620 new native trees, releasing fresh oxygen into the air that wasn’t there before. The trees may be short in height now, but their positive impact on the environment is nothing close to small.

Join us in thanking our stellar Aqua employees for their continued hard work, both for our customers and the world around us.  

 

 To learn more, visit: http://bit.ly/2e2Tw4d

 

 

 

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Imposter Alert: Protect Yourself and Your Belongings

Aqua recently learned of an incident involving a man identifying himself as a water company employee to gain access into a customer’s home and steal their belongings. Aqua would like to use this unfortunate event as an opportunity to remind our customers about this issue so you’re more aware in the future.

 

Imagine it’s the early morning and you’re home alone. A man outside identifies himself as a water company employee. He says there are leaks in your area, and he’s checking the homes on your street and needs to check your meter and the inside pipes. Once inside, he asks you to run water in the util­ity sink as he checks the upstairs bathroom sink. While upstairs, he steals jewelry and money left on a dresser.

 

In most cases, the only time Aqua would need to be inside your home is to service or exchange a meter or to respond to a problem about which you called us. In the former case, Aqua would contact you by mail or phone to schedule an appointment first.

 

There are a few exceptions when you might receive an unannounced visit from Aqua:

 

  • An employee might come to your door to make you aware of an unscheduled service outage, such as a main break. In this case, the employee would not need to access the inside of your home. An Aqua employee might also make an unannounced visit to investigate a property that has had multiple “zero usage” bills or an account that has not had a meter read for more than 45 days.
  • If a meter reader has trouble getting a remote meter read from outside your home, he might ask to enter you home to read the meter, in which case he would present a photo ID card.

 

 

For your safety and security, we encourage all customers to be extra cautious. Unfortunately, thieves like these might strike again. You can protect yourself by remembering the following information.

  1. All Aqua employees carry company identifica­tion. In all cases, please confirm the representative’s identification before letting them into your home.
  2. All employees dress in Aqua-branded attire similar to the uniform shown above.
  3. Company vehicles (mostly white Chevrolets) with the Aqua logo prominently displayed are always used.

If you encounter someone who is pretending to be an Aqua employee, please call your local police department and report them.

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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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Drink Up: Here’s to Spring!

After a long winter of snow, sleet, rain and polar vortexes, we bid adieu to the winter of 2013-14 by raising a glass of iced cold tap water during Drinking Water Week. The winter weather wreaked havoc on much of the country and did a number on water mains across the country too. But thanks to Aqua’s commitment to infrastructure renewal and putting miles of new water mains in the ground, we’ve had fewer main breaks than in the past thanks. Get a taste of what it was like on the front lines with a breakdown of Aqua’s fight against winter weather in Southeastern PA: 

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