Innovating Infrastructure in Lake Monticello

 

Our Aqua Virginia team recently completed an innovative wastewater treatment plant upgrade to improve service, protect local waterways, and operate more efficiently for the Lake Monticello community just outside Charlottesville.

 

Aqua had two overarching goals. We wanted to improve the quality of the plant’s treated wastewater, which is discharged into the stringently regulated Chesapeake Bay watershed. We also wanted to minimize future rate increases for customers by reducing operating expenses and deferring the need for a major plant overhaul, which would cost much more.

 

Consulting the Expert

 

We spoke to Aqua’s operations manager Dan Hingley, who engineered the project and oversaw construction. “While upgrades to water systems typically result in obvious improvements for customers — like better pressure or more reliable service — improvements to a wastewater system often go unnoticed,” said Hingley. “In fact, many of us don’t even think about our wastewater after it goes down the drain or is flushed away. Meanwhile, a lot of effort goes into collecting, transporting, and cleaning wastewater, and customers rely on us to protect the environment and their local waterways. This project demonstrates how we do that.”

 

 

 

The treatment concepts we used aren’t new, but the way we applied them required creativity and innovation to achieve goals at a lower cost. Making wise decisions about which treatment process to use and which types of equipment to install alleviated the total capital cost of the project. 

 

Aqua reconfigured the layout of the wastewater plant and added some new aeration system controls to optimize treatment. The team used baffle walls to create new zones within the existing tanks. These baffles control water flow, prolong the amount of time the wastewater spends in treatment tanks, and separate a single tank into multiple treatment stages. While the previous process was a single tank that was continuously aerated, the modified process added new zones that weren’t aerated to allow specific bacteria to eat organic matter in the untreated wastewater, which removes a nutrient called nitrogen.

 

In these new unaerated zones, Aqua had to install a mixing system since it was no longer being provided by the diffused aeration system. Aqua collaborated with a neighboring utility to design and build mixers that connect to the existing air supply system and release large air bubbles, rather than the smaller diffused air bubbles, to induce mixing. This solution costs less to create and costs less to operate than installing mechanical mixers.

 

 

 

 

Award-Winning Innovation

 

“Aqua’s top priority is to deliver safe, reliable drinking water and wastewater services to our customers,” noted Aqua Virginia President John Aulbach. “These upgrades in Lake Monticello will strengthen our infrastructure, improve service, and help protect the environment.” 

 

At its 2019 Summit, the National Association for Water Companies awarded Aqua a Management Innovation award for this project completed at the Lake Monticello wastewater treatment plant. The award recognizes a utility that has implemented groundbreaking and industry-changing ideas. 

 

Aqua provides water and wastewater service to about 80,000 people in 37 counties across Virginia. 

 

Keep an eye on our blog to go behind the scenes of more of our infrastructure improvement projects throughout 2020!

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Bringing e-Billing Ease to Aqua

As the decade comes to a close, we can’t help but look back and reflect on all of the growth of the company and the new services and projects we’ve introduced to our customers over the past 10 years.

Speaking of new services, did you know that we have multiple new e-Billing features that make it easier than ever to pay your water bill? To learn even more, we spoke with Manager of Collections, Billing, and Cash Applications Jack Farnsworth to get the details of four newly improved features and how they benefit Aqua customers across all eight of the states we serve.

Payment arrangement

We’re pleased to say that our payment arrangement feature is now active in all Aqua states. Payment arrangements are available to any Aqua customer who has fallen behind on their payments, and the feature allows customers to take the past due months and stretch them out for several months until they are caught up.

“The invoices were modified to clearly provide the monthly installment, the number of payments remaining and the total balance of the payment arrangement,” Farnsworth added. “At Aqua, we listen and value our customers—this change came directly from customer feedback. We’re glad that these new invoices help customers better understand their payment arrangements for a stress-free experience.”

Text reminders

Constantly worried about missing a payment? Never fear! Aqua has partnered with Speedpay to give our customers the option to receive text reminders to easily avoid late charges. The text feature sends a message five days before the payment is due, the day it is due, and five days after.

The text reminders also provide a hyperlink that customers can click through to make their payments. Head here to become one of the 14,000 and counting Aqua customers utilizing this convenient text option! 

Daily account balance

You asked, we listened. Our call centers have received a large volume of customers asking for their current account balance over the years, so Aqua decided to make it even easier to check your bill. Simply log onto the Aqua WaterSmart website to view your daily balance. Easy peasy!

One-time payment availability

Previously, only Aqua customers enrolled in e-Billing were able to make a one-time payment via the WaterSmart website. Now, all customers can use this feature to pay bills electronically as many times as they please. We’ve seen an increase in customers utilizing this feature in 2019, and we hope to continue this growth through 2020. 

“Everything proposed, achieved, or rejected is for a better customer experience,” Farnsworth said of all these e-Billing improvements. “These features were all created to provide our customers with more information, faster information, and ease of payment.”

“I am very excited about all the customer enhancements we have implemented this year,” said Georgetta Parisi-Knup, vice president, customer operations. “Offering our customers a wide range of options across multiple platforms is important as we continue to focus on improving our customers’ experience with Aqua.” 

Our customers are always our priority, and we hope these efficient new features make life just a little bit easier. Cheers to a great 2019 and an even better 2020!

 

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Inside the Lake Vermillion Dam Restoration

Sure, the weather is getting colder, and it’s the time of year when we all spend a little more time indoors. But did you know that our Aqua Illinois team has entered the initial stages of a dam restoration project in Danville, Illinois to improve the reliability and quality of the water in Lake Vermilion

As the Aqua Illinois team prepares for excavation, Bob Ervin, director of operations for Illinois, spoke with us to dig a little deeper into what exactly this major renovation project means for Danville, Illinois, and the surrounding area.

Why restore the dam?

While we regularly complete routine maintenance work on all of our systems, including the Lake Vermilion Dam, Ervin says that this specific renovation “will ensure a reliable water source for residents of Danville and Vermilion County for generations to come.”

Ervin went on to explain that the dam “creates a man-made impoundment of water, which is critical to meeting the water demands of the Danville area” and that the renovation project will continue to allow the water within the dam to exceed the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act regulations. 

What’s the status?

In preparation for the construction phase, crew members set up cranes, boats, air compressors, generators, ramps, barges, and more. After this initial stage, the project moved into construction, which  entailed the removal and replacement of six of the 10 tainter gates in 2019. The remaining four tainter gates and the high-level sluice gate will be completed in 2020.

To complete the renovation, workers will use anchoring to perform post-tension support work, followed by a teardown, clean up and removal of all worksite equipment and materials. We’re dedicated to keeping the Danville service area clean and functional, and we’re committed to minimizing any potential inconveniences to local customers.

What about customers who want to use the lake recreationally?

During construction, our crews reduce potential disruptions by installing a high visibility safety float barrier on the lake from shoreline to shoreline, stretching 650 feet in length with orange buoys as markers. This safety measure is an effort to protect those who wish to use the lake recreationally over the course of the dam restoration.

Aqua Illinois recognizes Lake Vermilion’s role as the primary water source for Danville and Vermilion County as well as its many recreational purposes. Ervin ensures that Aqua will provide regular communications to the public, including residents who live along Wilkin Road, which leads to the dam site, and to residents living around the lake itself.

Whether we’re working in Illinois or any of the eight states we serve, we’re dedicated to improving our infrastructure systems on a continual basis in order to provide safe, reliable water to all of our customers. Stay tuned to learn more about our infrastructure improvement projects in our next Aquastructure blog!  

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How much water is in your favorite Thanksgiving foods?

Water is all around us—even on Thanksgiving! Before the big meal, take a second to learn about how much water is in all of your favorite dishes.

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Breaking Down the 2019 Backhoe Challenge

 

Our team at Aqua has provided safe, reliable water service for our customers across the country for more than 130 years, and it wouldn’t be possible without each and every one of our employees. That’s why every year we celebrate everyone from our engineers to our customer service representatives at our annual company picnic.

In 2016, we kicked things up a notch with our now-famous Backhoe Challenge, and we continued the tradition this year on September 19 in Newtown Square.

So, what’s the backhoe challenge anyway? Let’s start from the beginning: It was designed by construction equipment vendor John Deere, and this year, it was coordinated by our very own Southern Maintenance Manager Paul Alberici and Field Supervisor Larry Weaver.

This challenge requires major skills and focus. While the competition is just for fun, the talent on display shows the finess and precision our team uses when they excavate streets to access and replace broken mains and other buried infrastructure.

Round 1: Balancing Balls

The first event in the Backhoe Challenge requires tons of precision and patience. In this challenge, operators remove 10-inch bouncy balls from the top of a traffic cone and place them in a small bucket.

The team then returns the bucket to the starting board, but if any mistakes are made, they have to start all over again. The pressure was high, but our Aqua team is made for this kind of thing. On to the next task!

Round 2: The egg challenge

 The second event requires operators to pick up an egg from a sand mound and place it on a tiny bale of hay. Though that doesn’t sound too complicated, try doing it using a tablespoon attached to a backhoe bucket! If the egg doesn’t stay intact, it’s back to the beginning. Needless to say, this challenge is always a bit of a nail-biter.

 

Round 3: The wine pour

That’s right—operators get to play bartender in the last challenge! This event asks teams to fill three wine glasses from a bottle hooked to the teeth of the backhoe in the fastest time, but naturally, pouring a glass of wine is a lot harder in this situation.

Now it's trophy time...

 

The first place winner of the 2019 Aqua Backhoe Challenge was Rob Delio, leader of our Springfield maintenance team, with an astounding collective time of 2:26 for all three events. Congratulations, Rob!

In second and third place, respectively, were Jesse Batyko, leader of our Great Valley maintenance team (3:06) and Dennis Wiley, foreman of our Willow Grove maintenance team (5:01). We’re proud of all of our operators and their ability to have fun and prove their skills with some friendly competition.

Our maintenance employees serve an integral role within our larger team—it’s safe to say they’re a vital part of our Aquastructure. All competition aside, each and every member of our team is a winner in our book!

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