Driving Sustainability: How Compressed Natural Gas Can Fuel a Cleaner Future

I believe our commitment to sustainability is critical across all sectors. We can all help build the foundation for a sustainable future.

- Nicholas DeBenedictis, Chairman, President and CEO of Aqua America in a commentary titled “Driving Sustainability: How Compressed Natural Gas Can Fuel a Cleaner Future published* in the spring issue of Energy & Infrastructure magazine 

Companies all across America are evaluating how to reduce their environmental impact as it becomes clearer that we all need to take action to protect our environment for future generations. For some, this might mean using recycled materials for packaging, developing safer materials, using alternative fuel sources or streamlining operations to reduce waste. Private utilities, such as water companies, are no exception.

Water and energy share a close relationship – every process of the water system requires energy from initial treatment, delivery through pipes, the transportation of resources, and service representatives to keep systems up-to-date and address problems. Weighing in at eight pounds per gallon, keeping America’s water systems flowing is no small feat.

At Aqua America, we are pursuing different avenues to do our part. For instance, we are investing in vehicles for our fleet that will run on clean-burning compressed natural gas(CNG). CNG fuel can replace gasoline and diesel fuel and produces less undesirable air emissions when used. It is safer than other fuels in the event of a spill, because natural gas is lighter than air and dispenses quickly when released. 

Supplementing the environmental benefits, CNG is credited with creating more than 88,000 jobs in Pennsylvania to date, enhancing air quality and lowering energy costs, all while generating more than $389 million in state and local tax revenue.

At Aqua, we led the charge to utilize this resource nearly two decades ago. Aqua purchased its first bi-fuel pick-up truck in 1997. Today, we continue to add new vehicles to our fleet and plan to have a full fleet of CNG-fueled vehicles within the next five years.

To prepare for our upcoming transition to a full CNG fleet, we built a time-fill station at Aqua’s Springfield, Pa., operations center last year and we are working to install time-fill in four additional nearby operations centers. You can learn more about how natural gas vehicles operate here.

We also announced last week the receipt of a $225,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Act 13 fund. The grant will fund the purchase of nine dump trucks that run off of CNG to add to our growing alternative energy fleet. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett awarded the grant as a part of $7.7 million in total funding given to 25 companies and organizations in the state for natural gas vehicle conversion.

In 2013, Aqua received an Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant (AFIG) of $86,812 from the DEP for the purchase of 14 new CNG-fueled vans. Aqua also received two grants for approximately $70,000 for infrastructure and plans to install private fueling stations at its West Chester and Willow Grove Operations Centers. To date, we have invested $675,000 in CNG through vehicle purchases and infrastructure upgrades, including the construction of slow-fill fueling stations.

Our new CNG vans will be used to serve water customers in the inspection of pipeline restoration. So if you see us driving around, give us a honk or a wave!

* Access the full commentary from Nick DeBenedictis in the Spring Issue of Energy & Infrastructure magazine

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Water for Elephants

Ann Lewis has been fascinated by elephants – or “ellies” as she affectionately calls them – ever since she was a child.

Before she joined Aqua’s Human Resources Department and became responsible for employee training and development, Ann began a personal mission to educate the public on the ivory trade crisis and elephant welfare.

For several years, Ann has supported the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a field organization in Kenya dedicated to rescuing orphaned elephants wandering alone in the wild after their families - tragically - have been killed by poachers for their tusks. These orphans are the youngest victims of the poaching crisis. She will be traveling to Africa this Fall to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and to also go on a safari, where she is excited about seeing wild elephants in their natural habitat.

Last year, Ann had the opportunity to volunteer at the world-renowned sanctuary, Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, where she personally interacted with elephants. This experience was life-changing and strengthened her already deep passion for saving elephants from extinction.

After her trip to Thailand, Ann participated in the International March for Elephants, held in Washington, D.C. last year. The march was as part of the iWorry campaign organized by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. It was there that Ann and fellow activists decided to form Elephants DC, a non-profit organization, which aims to end the ivory trade and promote elephant welfare through education, advocacy and awareness.

Ann is also an active member of Animal ACTivists of Philly, where she protests the use of captive elephants in circuses.

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40,000 Trees And Counting

Whether it’s planting trees, sampling aquatic organisms with high school students, helping a watershed association with their stream clean-ups, or speaking with community groups – Aqua’s environmental affairs team takes every opportunity to enlist other watershed stakeholders as advocates for the stream.

The watershed in Southeast Pennsylvania is hundreds of square miles that drain into Aqua’s raw-water sources. There are nine rivers and streams monitored and protected by a team of Aqua’s environmental specialists. Robert Kahley and Craig Marleton are on call 24/7 and must react quickly to identify any potential dangers to our water supply.

Reacting quickly to prevent pollutants – like fuel and chemical spills – from entering Aqua’s water-system intake has both obvious and immediate benefits, but the environmental affairs team considers their proactive efforts an equally important investment in the long-term protection of our water supply.

 

For example, over the last decade, Aqua’s TreeVitalize Watersheds initiative has recruited volunteers to plant 40,000 trees and shrubs in hundreds of areas along stream banks in the Delaware Valley.  As they grow along the banks of drinking-water sources, trees naturally offer several layers of protection from contaminants. Recently, the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society presented the Binney Award to Aqua for TreeVitalize at the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show. The award, named for the first president of the society, is given to a company that exemplifies environmental stewardship, a tenet of PHS’s mission.

The Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy has been receiving TreeVitalize grants for many years, and they have become the core of our fall restoration projects,” explains Conservation Coordinator for Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy Krista Scheirer. “These projects not only lead to better water and habitat quality; they help educate thousands of our volunteers and local residents on protecting our watershed, which has an even greater impact.”

Despite the success of TreeVitalize, Tony Fernandes, who manages the environmental affairs team, explains that protecting the watershed is a long-term process. “Any stream-bank repair project we complete fixes only a tiny fraction of the total stream length.  It would be impossible to measure the benefit of repairing a 500-foot stretch of steam bank along a 25-mile-long stream, and it will take many years for the 5,000 trees we plant this year to become large enough to form a mature canopy and provide the full storm-water filtering capacity, nutrient uptake, temperature control, and erosion protection to the stream.”

There are powerful long-term benefits to doing all these proactive efforts. After all, Aqua has delivered high-quality water to our customers for more than 125-years, a legacy we plan to protect and enhance for the future.  

 

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From Caddy To President

When Don Donatoni was just 12 years old, he fell in love with the game of golf. He would hit plastic golf balls around the yard of his house and pretend that each of three balls was a famous golf pro — Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. Whichever ball hit the flagpole in his front yard first won the game. He never imagined that he would one day meet all three of his golfing heroes in person and become a champion in his own right. He went on to win the 2010, 2012 and 2013 Pennsylvania Golf Association state championships; has qualified for and played in the United States Senior Amateur Championships; and in 2013 earned “Player of the Year” status for the Super Senior Division of the Philadelphia Golf Association.

Donatoni has also learned many life lessons through the game of golf. He discovered the value of a strong work ethic, perseverance and building relationships. This has served him well in the business world, where he is vice president and regional general manager of Aqua Pennsylvania; president of Aqua Resources;and president of soon-to-be Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater, Inc.

Donatoni is the son of a hard-working lumberjack and sawmill owner. At 13 years old, he gravitated to the local country club where he hoped to become a caddy. He soon learned that he had to work his way up by shagging balls. “In those days, they didn’t have big machines to pick up the balls on a driving range,” he explained. “Back then, every member brought their own bag of used balls to hit on the range. After every shot, the caddies had to run and pick up the ball and put it back in the empty bag. When the player was finished, I ran back and handed him his shag bag full of balls and he handed me my tip, the first dollar I ever earned! When I got my first caddy job carrying a bag, I was paid $4.50. Today, some caddies make as much as $100 per bag!”

Although it was hard work, caddying did carry some privileges. Every Monday when the club was shut down for maintenance, caddies could play for free. “We played from sun up to sundown until our hands were raw,” recalled Donatoni. “That’s where I developed a real love for golf.”

As a high school senior, Donatoni won the North Jersey High School Scholastic Golf Championship, the first of many victories. While an engineering student at Villanova University, he took his only hiatus from golf in order to keep up with academic demands. After graduating, he was back on the links as a member of White Manor Country Club in Malvern where he won the club championship during his very first year as a member. Since then, he has won 28 club championships; a formidable record that will likely never be broken.

In 2010, he reached the pinnacle of his amateur golf career, winning the Pennsylvania state championship as well as the Philadelphia Golf Association’s prestigious Tournament of Champions in which he surpassed all private club champions in southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware with a score of 68.

“To come out on top is something very special that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.” Donatoni said that golf has also helped him establish and build long-lasting business relationships over the years. “I can’t tell you how many deals I’ve been able develop or close as a result of playing golf,” he said. “You have the opportunity to become friendly and begin building working relationships with people.

“Golf is a fascinating study of human behavior,” he continued. “You learn a lot about a person over 18 holes. You’ll see how they react to the highs and lows of the game. You’ll gain an understanding of the person’s character, personality, attitude and competitiveness, and you’ll know immediately whether this is someone you can work with and trust in a business deal.”

Golf is also a great escape for Donatoni. “There’s nothing better than being out on the golf range on a warm, windless night in summer hitting practice balls as the sun goes down. It takes you away from the pressures of the world and just makes you feel good. At the same time, the practice helps you stay sharp,” said Donatoni, whose handicap is 0 (scratch).

 

For More Information:

White Manor's Donatoni completes Super-Senior Division sweep

2013 Player's Dinner: Don Donatoni speech

White Manor's Donatoni tops USGA Senior Amateur Qualifier

Aqua Resources Leadership Team

 

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Using Technology At Aqua

Aqua’s Pennsylvania region is executing an active water main renewal program that includes both replacement of water mains as well as cleaning and cement mortar lining of unlined cast iron pipe. In 2012 alone, the utility spent $259 million on infrastructure improvement projects in the state, including the replacement or cleaning and lining of 140 miles of aging water main. Such projects are critical to ensuring water quality, service reliability, and increasing firefighting capabilities.

After a public company partners with a private water system, one of the greatest challenges can be prioritizing a huge backlog of infrastructure improvement projects. In evaluating how to best accomplish this, Aqua Pennsylvania recognized that it needed to develop a more formalized and efficient approach to prioritizing renewal projects. To address this, Aqua Pennsylvania implemented two technology-based, information management initiatives in its Pennsylvania subsidiary. The first, Asset Information Management System (AIMS), is a web-based platform that allows employees to retrieve information on pipes, hydrants, main breaks, and customer taps. It also provides a link to more than 50,000 scanned images of construction as-built plans, providing "one-stop-shopping" for distribution system information.

A second information management system, geographic information system (GIS) allows users to visually retrieve and display much of the same information as AIMS using a map-based system. Weekly updated maps are generated from the GIS and are made available to users as Adobe PDF images via AIMS. In addition, simple viewers are created that provide a live view of the GIS database. The viewers are easy to use, do not require sophisticated training, and are deployed using free software.

With an insurmountable amount of data to work with in the region, AIMS and the GIS provide Aqua Pennsylvania with the tools needed to prioritize its water main renewal program effectively and efficiently. 

For more information: 

What is GIS?

Aqua Pennsylvania Receives Award Recognizing Its Sustainability Report and Environmental Efforts

 2013 Aqua Sustainability Report

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