Bringing a fresh filtration system to North Carolina

At Aqua, we’re always proud of our projects that help to improve water quality for our customers, but this week, we have a special reason to highlight these positive changes: It’s Infrastructure Week!

As we all know by now, water infrastructure greatly impacts both the quality of your water and the quality of your life. By investing in new infrastructure in our service areas, we’re making strides to change our communities for the better. That’s why our team has been hard at work implementing a new filtration system in Upchurch Place, a community in Raleigh, North Carolina.

What’s the deal with filtration?

Filtration systems, when necessary, are a crucial part of water infrastructure—after all, they help to remove unwanted naturally occurring minerals. Aqua has provided water to Upchurch Place since 2002, and we’ve built quite a relationship with our North Carolina community.

We spoke to Aqua North Carolina’s Michael Melton, engineering manager, and Amanda Berger, environmental compliance director, to learn more about the recently completed project. Melton noted that the goal of the new filtration system is the removal of iron and manganese. While both elements are naturally present in tap water, keeping their levels below the secondary standard is important.

Changes in Upchurch Place

After hearing reports of discolored water from customers in the Upchurch area, we identified the problem and got to work on implementing a solution.

“Since installing the new filters, the treated water has iron and manganese levels well below the secondary drinking water standard,” Melton said. “In addition, we’re proud to announce that Aqua is the first privately owned water provider in North Carolina to utilize a non-discharge backwash system.” (Aqua developed the first recycle water system in 2010.)

What’s a non-discharge backwash system? Long story short: It allows us to eliminate water loss in the filtration process, therefore upholding our mission to provide and protect Earth’s most essential resource. The best part is that our customers will only see a .70 cent increase in their annual water bill for this major improvement—and it’s well worth it.

Aqua’s commitment to excellence

Providing our Upchurch customers with a new and improved filtration system was no small feat.

“On average, a filter project like the one in Upchurch can take up to nine months to engineer and construct,” Melton said. “At Aqua, we also make it a priority to work with local financial and environmental regulators to improve every aspect of our service and reliability.”

“This project is a good example of how Aqua is working with its stakeholders to achieve the goal of improving our customer’s water quality,” Berger added.

Although these projects take a good amount of time, money, and resources, they’re necessary in order to improve the state of our country's infrastructure. As water providers, it’s our goal to supply our customers with safe and reliable water—and it doesn’t hurt that we’re helping to restore our nation’s infrastructure in the process.

Stay tuned for our next Aquastructure blog to see what we’re up to next, and in the meantime, we’re wishing our customers and professional peers a very happy (and productive) Infrastructure Week!

 

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Are you up for a Drinking Water Week challenge?

 

It should come as no surprise that at Aqua, we celebrate water every day. But during the American Water Works Association’s Drinking Water Week, it’s an especially perfect time to remember how water makes up nearly 71 percent of our planet and 60 percent of the average human body. Yes, water is all around us, but remembering to drink the recommended daily amount can be hard—life gets busy, after all.

Speaking of that recommended amount, let’s get the numbers straight: Although one glass of water may feel like enough to quench your thirst, adults should drink two liters of water per day. (That equates to eight eight-ounce glasses of water.) It seems like a lot, but it’s what your body needs!

In honor of Drinking Water Week, we’re challenging YOU to make a positive change in your hydration habits. Ready for a little friendly competition at home—or even with your coworkers? Here’s Aqua’s challenge to you: drink eight eight-ounce glasses of water every day during Drinking Water Week (May 5–11). If you can do that, you might just be crowned a Hydration Hero!

Want to get your coworkers, family, or friends in on the challenge? Let’s dive in.

Setting rules and keeping score

Whether you’re implementing your Drinking Water Week challenge at home or at work, it’s important to set some ground rules.

If you’re challenging your coworkers, think about how you can keep score as a group without disrupting your workflow too much. Instead of checking in daily, it can be more efficient and suspenseful to keep a tally on the office fridge for everyone to update at their leisure. Set a deadline for when the numbers will be tallied, and get your (reusable!) water bottles ready.

How about a friendly competition at home? Teaching your families about proper hydration can help them lead healthy lifestyles and understand more about the importance of water for the human body.

Setting up a group chat can be a fun way to track each other’s progress. That way, you can all motivate each other to reach your daily goal and see who gets there first. By the end of the week, it will be easy to tell who should be awarded the Hydration Hero title.

Awarding prizes

Once you’ve tallied your scores, checked them twice, and declared a winner, it’s time to award your Hydration Hero! If your coworkers are looking for a little incentive to get involved, offering a prize is an easy way to encourage participation and excitement. Our advice? A reusable water bottle is not just fitting for the winner, but it’ll also encourage them to keep up their good hydration habits. 

If your household accepts the challenge, the stakes can be a bit higher—how about a weeklong exemption from a household chore like doing the dishes? Whatever you choose, giving your winner a little something special can make everyone eager to reach their hydration goals next year. 

Keeping up the practice

Water is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle, and the more you can incorporate hydration into your everyday routine, the better. Even though it’s normal to skip a glass or two when life gets busy, the important thing is to pay more attention to your water intake.

If you can’t hit your two liter goal every day, don’t sweat it. As long as you’re staying hydrated, spreading the word, and doing your best to appreciate all the great things that water does for you, you’re a Hydration Hero in our book!

 

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Aqua makes strides to improve Pennsylvania’s infrastructure

Think report cards don’t exist outside the classroom? Think again.

Every year, the Pennsylvania State Council of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issues a statewide infrastructure report card in areas ranging from bridges to roads to drinking water. For 2018, the council gave Pennsylvania an overall grade of C-, and while that doesn’t sound great, keep in mind that the state's grade in 2017 was a D+. It’s a small improvement, and there’s still plenty of work to be done, but it’s an improvement nonetheless.

Why should you, as a customer, care about your state’s infrastructure grade? We asked Aqua Pennsylvania President Marc Lucca.

“It really comes down to reliability of service,” he said. “If you think about the service that we provide on a daily basis, our infrastructure sustains basic services that we need as a community to exist and to thrive. If there’s interruption to service, whether it’s on the water side or the wastewater side, the community, and even our environment, can suffer.”

Aqua Pennsylvania President Marc Lucca (left) during a field visit

 

At Aqua, we’re proud to play a role in the continued improvements made to Pennsylvania’s drinking water and wastewater systems. Throughout 2018, we invested more than $340 million in a wide array of projects to upgrade water infrastructure across the Pennsylvania communities we serve, contributing to the increase in the state’s infrastructure score.

Want to know more about what these efforts entail? Let’s dig in—pun intended.

What’s the project?

One of our current infrastructure improvement projects in Pennsylvania is the upgrade of the Media Wastewater Treatment Plant in Delaware County. The project, which represents $32 million of investments in the community’s wastewater infrastructure, has been underway since June 2018, and the first phase will wrap up in December 2019.

We spoke to Dave Hughes, director of plant engineering at Aqua, who is heavily involved with the project, to learn more about its goals. Open since 1922, the plant treats 1.8 million gallons of wastewater every day. Yeah—that’s a lot of wastewater.

Building progress on the plant's new clarifier tank foundation

 

Let’s talk details, though. Improvements to the plant include upgrading all of the headworks (equipment at the beginning of the treatment process that begins the removal of pollutants) and the installation of a brand-new thickener (which removes solids and other impurities from the dirty water) and digester (which stabilizes those solids). New chemical feed systems, clarifiers, and sludge pump stations will also tremendously improve the plant’s operations.

In addition to these mechanical improvements, the project includes the construction of a new operations building to support staff and visiting specialists in their work. Finally, the plant’s electrical system will receive much-needed upgrades, including the installation of a new emergency generator to ensure smooth operations despite any bad weather or unexpected losses of power.

How do customers benefit?

All this technical talk about sludge pumps and power generators might have you wondering about the real-world impact of this project on you, the customer. According to Hughes, the benefits of these types of infrastructure improvement projects are numerous.

More progress on the plant's construction site

 

“It’s definitely going to improve the overall reliability of the plant and reduce operating costs,” he said. “And it’s going to improve the discharge water quality.” That means that these upgrades are reflected on the water released back into the environment as part of the wastewater treatment process, which is something we can all get behind. Our mission at Aqua is to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource—water—and to do that, we must do our part to take care of our planet as a whole.

A pipe's lifetime can range from 15 to 100 years, with many in Pennsylvania aged on the higher end of the spectrum—part of the reason why the state's infrastructure is in such dire need of upgrades like these. Making these changes to a plant that’s been in existence for nearly a century improves its overall reliability, and better reliability demonstrates greater social responsibility as a whole. Our water and wastewater treatment plants are not widely visible to customers, so many are not aware of the work that takes place in these facilities. Customers are likelier to see the miles of main replacements we do every year.  

“Much of our water mains we’re replacing was installed before the 1960s,” Marc Lucca added. “Here we are in 2019, and you’re looking at equipment that can be 60, 70, even 80 years old or more. A lot of these facilities were just not made to last that long.”

Lucca referenced the below photo to shed more light on the importance of upgrading aging water infrastructure.

Blast from the past: an Aqua maintenance crew in 1949

 

“When our workers installed these mains in 1949, people were probably thrilled to connect to a public water supply and to have access to public sewer,” Lucca said. “Here we are 70 years later, replacing the pipe that those men installed. In 2018, we replaced more than 150 miles of mains that had reached the end of its service life. Since the early 1990s, we have replaced almost 2,000 miles of similar main across Pennsylvania.  While this is a great benefit to the communities we serve and to the environment, we are sensitive to the temporary inconvenience it might create. People sometimes say they are upset by the traffic impact of our construction on their street or in their neighborhood. But we know that the pipes being replaced have lasted and served these neighborhoods for decades and enabled these communities and others to thrive and grow into what they are today.

“On the occasion that someone complains about us putting a new main in the ground, I usually say, ‘Well, at least you won’t see us for another 100 years, because our new pipe will last even longer.’”

How does this help Pennsylvania—and the world?

When it comes to Pennsylvania’s infrastructure report card, every improvement to the state’s infrastructure systems makes a difference, no matter how small. If outdated systems fail, there’s an increased risk of pollution or harm to the environment, and that’s no good in our books. At Aqua, our commitment to our customers and our planet drives everything we do.

Stay tuned to our Aquastructure blog series throughout 2019 for more insight into how we’re improving our nation’s infrastructure, not just in Pennsylvania but across the eight states we proudly serve.

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Fixing a small leak can make a big difference

Happy Fix a Leak Week! If you’ve never heard of it, don’t worry—Aqua is here to fill you in on why the annual observation is so important. Fix a Leak Week can teach us a thing or two about how everyday household water leaks can do more damage than you’d expect.

“At Aqua, we care deeply about providing safe, reliable water to our customers, but we’re also dedicated to protecting Earth’s most essential resource: water,” said Aqua’s Superintendent of Meter Operations, Sarah Eccles. “Fix a Leak Week is a perfect opportunity for you and the members of your household to get involved, too.”

Why do household leaks matter?

That’s a great question, and there are plenty of answers. On an environmental level, it’s crucial to catch leaks on a regular basis. Check out this statistic from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

 

That’s right: Simple household leaks waste about one trillion gallons of water every year.

Did you know that a leaking shower can waste more than 500 gallons of water per year if it goes unfixed? It’s true! The longer leaks linger, the worse they can get. As a water provider, Aqua knows the importance of preserving and protecting water as a vital natural resource—not only for the sake of the environment, but also for the sake of our customers.

How do leaks affect everyday life?

Let’s start with the obvious effects of a pesky household leak: water damage and flooding. A leaking pipe can get baseboards wet, and it can even start to leak through to another floor. Not only does this cause damage to your ceilings or walls, but it can also be a health hazard and cost you an extra chunk of change to get the water damage all fixed up.

The expenses don’t stop there—think about your water bill! Although droplets of water may seem miniscule, fixing simple leaks can save homeowners around 10 percent on their water bills. Luckily for you, it’s easier to fix these leaks than you’d think, whether they’re in your bathroom or your backyard.

Tackling leaks at the source

The first step in fixing a leak is to identify it. According to the EPA, if water usage for a family of four exceeds 12,000 gallons per month during the winter, there’s likely a leak in your home that needs fixing.

If you’re still uncertain, checking your water meter is the most direct way to identify a leak that you can’t see or hear around your house. Check your water meter before and after a two-hour period during which you use no water. If there’s a change, you have a leak.

By fixing leaks and monitoring your household’s water usage, you look out for the environment and your wallet. Who could say no to that deal?  

Why does Aqua care?

It’s as simple as this: Aqua is dedicated to preserving Earth’s most essential natural resource and providing reliable water service to our customers. We’ve been a proud water provider for more than 130 years, and we love what we do.

“The more that we educate our customers on the importance of taking small steps to help preserve water, the more we can help to improve our communities and the lives of our customers,” said Eccles. “This Fix a Leak Week, consider checking your home for leaks, then rest easy knowing that you’ve taken a step to eliminate wasted water.”

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Winter weather is no match for reliable water

 

As temperatures get colder and snow, hail and sleet storms strike, you’ll likely depend on access to hot water more than ever. After all, nothing beats a hot shower and a warm meal during the wintertime.

We get it. So much, in fact, that at Aqua, we have an entire process in place to keep your water flowing in even the harshest of conditions. No matter what kind of winter mix hits your town, our field workers have you covered.

We spoke with John Aulbach, president of Aqua Virginia, and Ed Kolodziej, president and COO of Aqua Ohio, to get the scoop on how Aqua braces for winter weather.

Nature throws plenty of curveballs.

Let’s face it: Weather can be weird. One day it’s warm and sunny, and the next day there are little pieces of ice falling out of the sky. Because we don’t have any weather psychics on staff, our team must be prepared for whatever weather the world decides to throw our way.

For example, down in Virginia, things are a bit, well, calmer than they are up north. However, that’s not to say Virginia doesn’t get its fair share of winter weather.

“Freezing rain is a threat to our mobility and slows our response times. Plus, icy branches and wires can interrupt the power for pumps we use to keep the water flowing,” says Aulbach. “That’s what makes our standby generators so important.”

Heavy snowfall tends to hit Virginia in the western, northern and central parts of the state. And when the sun pops out and snow melts, flooding can occur.

Ohio also has its fair share of freezing rain and intense snowstorms, but our friends in the Midwest are also susceptible to a phenomenon called frazil ice.

Frazil ice in the Great Lakes (via the Aqua Ohio team)

 

“Think of a sno-cone without the sugary goodness,” says Kolodziej. “That [consistency] can threaten the flow through our raw water intakes from Lake Erie. When the lake turns to frazil ice, it’s difficult for the heaters on our intakes to keep up.”

When frazil ice strikes, the Aqua team has to force a block of ice and straw (called a “straw pig”) through the intake pipes by reversing the water flow from the plant into the lake. The straw pigs then scrub the inside of the pipe, and when the water temperatures rise, everything melts without having a harsh impact on the ecosystem. Hooray for science!

Pipes will freeze—it’s inevitable.

Here’s the deal with frozen pipes: When stationary water inside pipes drops to about 30 degrees Fahrenheit, the pipes freeze. It’s that simple. According to Kolodziej, it happens each and every winter without fail.

When water freezes, it expands, which can then break pipes, flood interiors and cause major damage. It’s no good.

“As a preventive measure, we encourage customers to insulate or use heat tape to protect pipes in unheated areas such as outdoor faucets, crawlspaces and garages,” Kolodziej explains. “They can also leave cabinet doors under sinks open to allow warm air to reach pipes or even leave a trickle of water (about the size of pencil lead) running overnight.”

Wondering why you would ever knowingly leave your faucet on all night? Well, according to Kolodziej, it all comes down to the fact that moving water is less likely to freeze. The water entering your house is usually about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which can prevent ice from forming.

However, if things do freeze over and a pipe bursts, you’ll want to shut off the valve for your water supply as soon as possible. This action can be the difference between a small mess and a huge nightmare.

It’s cold out there, folks.

When the weather ramps up, our workers can’t exactly call it a day and go home. Our customers rely on having access to safe water each and every day, and that often means our workers have to lace up their boots and tackle the storm in all sorts of wild conditions.

Recently, for example, Aulbach’s team in Virginia experienced a winter weather line break on Thanksgiving morning that impacted about 150 homes. Before the damage could wreak havoc on everyone’s meal preparations, the team located the leak and restored service before the repair was even completed. The Virginia team also distributed bottled water door to door so that Thanksgiving cooking could go on while the team kept working on the repair.

Frozen pipe (via Pixabay)

 

We can’t always predict what Mother Nature has in store for us, but we can make sure our team is fully prepared and ready for any challenge. Whether it’s rain, shine, sleet, or snow, we always encourage our workers to be safe, stay warm, and ask for help if they need it.

Providing water and wastewater service to communities and being able to sanitize and deliver reliable, safe drinking water is a true privilege, says Kolodziej.

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