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.  

 

Share This Post:

Aqua’s Mission is Earth Day-Critical

Aqua facility operators learn about the controls for the new oxidation ditches at the Midwest Water Resource Recovery Facility

By Aqua Indiana Area Manager Jeff Gard

Having spent most of my professional career in the water industry, I knew little, nor cared much, about wastewater. I mean, that is what we were trying to get rid of in drinking water, right? 

Having come from another water utility to Aqua Indiana with a little knowledge of the subject, my scientific background got the better of me and I started digging in to learn more about the difference. First, I learned that unlike water treatment, which is solely a chemical process, wastewater treatment is primarily a biological process. The languages are as different as the processes: digesters, SBRs, ditches, solids and presses. There are also chlorinators, clarifiers and splitters, all of which piqued my interest. 

Aqua’s mission statement is protecting and providing Earth’s most essential resource. In water treatment, we provide the most essential resource to consumers to protect their health. We have wellhead protection plans, river clean-ups and education campaigns all designed for the protection of the source water.

The opportunity to join Aqua Indiana as an area manager for Aqua’s two largest wastewater plants began to change my perspective on the role of wastewater treatment. It is a true biological art form of protection for Earth’s most essential resource. Ultimately the treated wastewater is going to become the water source that water operators will treat and provide to others. 

 

Aqua Indiana Facility Operator Carolyn Stout

Not only does Aqua’s largest wastewater plant – the Midwest Water Resource Recovery Facility – sit right next to one of the nation’s largest wetlands preservation areas, but the plant’s effluent discharges into the Graham-McCullough ditch (you read it right) that flows right through the middle of this pristine nature preserve.

 

Aqua's Midwest Water Resource Recovery Facility

Now my perspective of our mission statement is completely understood. My team’s duty and mission is to treat the wastewater so well that no one can call into question our commitment to protect Earth’s most essential resource, for the flora and fauna of the Little River Wetland’s Eagle Marsh and those who are provided drinking water from the Wabash, Ohio or Mississippi rivers. 

What became a new mission perspective for me, was likely already known amongst the Aqua employees who work at wastewater systems. Yeah it still stinks, but not when it is returned to the Graham-McCullough Ditch. Would I drink it? I probably could. I am proud that my job is to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource. We celebrated Earth Day earlier this month, but our mission celebrates Earth Day every day. 

Aqua Indiana Wastewater Treatment Plant Supervisor Mark Aurich

 

Share This Post: