Breaking ground and beating droughts in Texas

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It’s summertime, and staying hydrated is a top priority. But what about hydrating the ground we walk on?

At Aqua, we work carefully to address drought conditions that affect our service areas. That’s why we are so excited about the upcoming completion of our first surface water treatment plant in Barton Creek, Texas, a state that last year experienced its most severe drought since 2015.

To learn more about the importance of this project, we reached out to Scot Foltz, environmental compliance manager at Aqua Texas.

What’s the big deal?

“There’s significant concern over the long-term viability of the groundwater supply for the growing Barton Creek Lakeside community,” says Foltz. With the help of this project, he says, Aqua will be able to “manage the available resources more effectively and ensure an adequate supply of water for the service area.”

Macintosh HD:Users:valeriehoke:Desktop:images:AQUA:Aquastructure:2019:June:961CBB08.jpgBehind-the-scenes as crews prepare to begin laying block for the walls

These efforts should alleviate a great deal of stress for families, farmers, and all other customers in Texas. Since the area has proven to be “highly susceptible to drought,” Foltz explains that the construction of this plant is “intended to reduce the impacts of drought and increase source reliability.”

What’s in it for the customers?

The completion of this project will produce several notable benefits for our customers. Aqua recognizes the necessary community restrictions on water intended to aid conservation efforts. However, Foltz says “the surface water plant will help alleviate some restrictions as we work with LCRA [Lower Colorado River Authority] to ensure conservation measures are followed.”

Customers may also notice improvements in the general aesthetic quality of the water. “The water hardness and dissolved mineral content of the lake water is naturally lower than groundwater in the area,” says Foltz. “While looks aren’t everything, we’re happy to be a part of efforts to improve overall experiences for our customers.”

Another glimpse at the work site

So when can you expect to start seeing all of these benefits? We’ve got great news for you. After conducting preliminary studies on the groundwater and determining that surface water supply was the best alternative for long-term source reliability, the team received approval from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and began construction in late 2018. He expects construction to be completed by the end of 2019.

But wait—there’s more!

Barton Creek, Texas event

Front row: Terry Franks, Aqua Texas Business Development Director; Scot Foltz, Aqua Texas Environmental Compliance Manger; State Representative Vikki Goodwin; Bob Laughman, Aqua Texas President; Michael Fruge, Barton Creek Lakeside POA Board President; Carol Birsa, Barton Creek Lakeside POA Board Secretary.  
Back row: Shawn Hammons, Aqua Texas Safety Specialist; Brent Reeh, Aqua Texas Regional Manager; Matt Morgan, Peyton Construction Project Manager; Mark Wetzel, Barton Creek POA Board Member; Marty Kurtz, Barton Creek POA Board Member; David Lee, Barton Creek POA Board Member.  

As part of our commitment to the effective management of water resources, Aqua Texas acknowledges the state’s increasing demand for water services. “Aqua is committed to effectively managing our water resources by encouraging conservation, making capital investments to improve efficiency within our systems, and working with our community partners to develop solutions to the increasing demand for water,” Foltz adds.

Whether we’re working in Texas or any of the eight states we serve, we are dedicated to providing safe, reliable water to all of our customers. Stay tuned to learn about another recent infrastructure project in our next Aquastructure blog! 

 

 

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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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The Groundwork for a Better Tomorrow

When Aqua says we’re laying the groundwork for a better tomorrow, we’re usually talking about building the pipes, treatment plants, and other infrastructure that clean and deliver drinking water to families — and carry away and clean up their wastewater. 

Of course, before a family can turn on the tap, they need a home. Aqua’s Austin-based Brent Reeh and Troy Bolin joined about a dozen or so volunteers with Habitat for Humanity on Feb. 1 to help build a new home for a family in North Woodcreek in the Texas Hill Country. Reeh and Bolin spent the day mostly painting the interior of the house.

Whether we’re laying pipe or rolling a second coat of paint, we’re proud to build a better tomorrow for the communities we serve.

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