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.