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.  

 

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Environmental Engineering: What is it, Anyway?

This April, all of us at Aqua are focused on environmental sustainability, which means we’re celebrating members of our team who work closely with the environment.

 

There are a lot of different types of engineers out there: mechanical, aerospace, biomedical, civil… the list goes on. Aqua tends to work with one particular type the most: environmental engineers.

OK, so environmental engineers are probably super smart and super environmentally friendly. But what exactly do they do?

To find out, we talked to Pete Kusky, one of Aqua’s very own regional environmental engineers. He gave us the scoop on the art of environmental engineering and the best way to get started on a path toward a career in the field.

 

How would you explain your job as an environmental engineer?

Environmental engineering is typically defined as a field that protects and preserves people and natural resources. At Aqua, we do both.

 

How did you become an environmental engineer? What’s your educational background?

My background is in civil engineering. Environmental engineering is a subset of civil engineering. [I have a] BS and MS in civil engineering, but I learned just as much while in operations at Aqua.

 

On a day-to-day basis, what type of environmental engineering projects do you work on at Aqua?

Everything we do involves stewardship. Whether it is optimizing treatment processes for environmental compliance or upgrading infrastructure with the best available technology, everything drives toward protecting our most vital resources: water and people.

 

What aspect of environmental sustainability is nearest and dearest to you?

 Making decisions that are truly a benefit to our stakeholders.

 

What advice would you give to aspiring environmental engineers?

Start at the bottom and don’t be too anxious to get to the top – no job should be beneath you. Everyone you encounter, including those who you believe are experts in environmental engineering are simply guides along your path. Your aggregated experiences are as important as any individual’s absolutes.

 

What about students who may not have considered the field before?

Life is a journey you can’t predict. Consider environmental engineering if you have a desire to make sound decisions based on good data.

 

So there you have it. Environmental engineers use technology and data to optimize sustainability and environmental preservation, whether through the infrastructure of water or other vital resources.

How will you up your eco-friendliness throughout the rest of the month? Let us know in the comments! 

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