A Reminder on World Water Day

A flow test is completed for a proposed water supply for a school in Waslala, Nicaragua.

By Aqua President and Chief Executive Officer Christopher Franklin

Every year, the United Nations’ World Water Day serves as a reminder that access to clean, safe water is a struggle for many communities throughout the world. For 663 million people – double the number of people living in the United States – water sources may be scarce, contaminated or far away. In fact, many people trek to streams and rivers with buckets and horses to carry home enough water for just one day.

This World Water Day, I’m reflecting on Aqua America’s mission to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource - water, and the part our employees are playing to bring quality drinking water to homes in other areas of the world.

Our efforts to make a positive difference stem from a combination of our corporate giving and volunteerism programs. It’s part of my commitment, our senior team’s commitment, and our employees’ commitment to be caring corporate citizens for the neighborhoods we serve, and those internationally that can benefit from our expertise.

So in 2016, we took our mission global and partnered with Villanova University to provide better access to water in communities in Nicaragua and Panama.  

In Nicaragua, we are working with Villanova engineering professors and students, as well as the local community, to build a water distribution system for the people in Kasquita. Currently, the 140 people living in this very isolated town use surface water from one of three nearby streams for all their needs.

A flow test is completed on the two springs that combined make up one water source for Kasquita, Nicaragua.

Aqua employees were on site in Kasquita earlier this month to participate in the groundbreaking on this project. During the trip, we worked to provide the rock base for two spring sources, which will act as the main water supply for the town, and surveyed the town to see if higher elevation homes could potentially be served by the system.

The location where our group stayed, which is home to a couple and their seven children. 

While this project will take a while to complete, we are excited at the prospect of providing a fully-functioning water distribution system to people who need it. For the people of Kasquita, this project is life-changing. Not only will it eliminate the need to use surface water, it will create a household connection to each home in the town. It’s also transformative for the Aqua employees participating in the project. They have lived and worked with the families who will be served by the water system, learning from them and listening to the appreciation they have firsthand.

The backyard and water source of a home in Kasquita, Nicaragua.

While this project is just in the beginning stages, it certainty won’t be the last project we have in Nicaragua. Aqua team members are already participating in project evaluations to provide reliable, clean water to the children’s local school centers. 

In Panama, we are working with Villanova to enhance a water system currently providing water on an alternating basis to half the population in the town of Agua Fría every other day. Over the 2016 holiday season, we provided supervision as Villanova students and local community members fixed a water collection tank, removing concerns of structural integrity and the potential for leaks. Now that the tank repairs are in place, we plan to join Villanova in an upcoming trip to Panama to replace supply lines that will allow each household in the community to have access to water each and every day.

Not only will the people of these remote regions in Nicaragua and Panama have daily access to running water in their homes, but the water will also be filtered to ensure it is potable for cooking, drinking, cleaning, bathing and so on. This eliminates any potential health risks from surface water that can be contaminated with chemicals, particulates and bacteria.

It’s important to me that we share our time, treasure and talents to make the world a better place. It’s is humbling to work with Villanova University to provide mentorship to the next generation of engineers and to bring water to more people.  Last week, four students presented their project work at a lunch n’ learn event for our employees. Hearing these budding engineers talk about how our projects are leading them down new service-oriented paths they never imagined allows us to recognize that we’re making a difference in central America, and also, in the lives of these students.

The next generation of Villanova University engineers shared their experiences with Aqua in Bryn Mawr.

Access to clean, safe water is something many of us take for granted. On World Water Day, I challenge you to consider the ways you use water, and reflect on how you can join with us to protect Earth’s most essential resource.

 

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Tree Planting with Aqua at the Perkiomen Creek Watershed

Here at Aqua, we take pride in coming together with local conservationists and residents to improve water quality in an eco-friendly way.

 

 That’s why on Friday, Oct. 7, several Aqua employees, along with dozens of volunteers, showed up to plant native trees at the Perkiomen Creek Watershed, adjacent to our Green Lane reservoir. Aqua’s Watershed Specialist Robert Kahley, Chief Environmental Officer Chris Crockett, Manager - Water Resources Engineering Tony Fernandes, and Director of Environmental Compliance Deborah Watkins, were among the green-thumbed volunteers protecting our local water ecosystems through environmental stewardship.

 

 

In less than two hours, the volunteers planted 120 new trees, and by the end of the day, the number was up to an impressive 620. Think about it — that’s 620 new native trees, releasing fresh oxygen into the air that wasn’t there before. The trees may be short in height now, but their positive impact on the environment is nothing close to small.

Join us in thanking our stellar Aqua employees for their continued hard work, both for our customers and the world around us.  

 

 To learn more, visit: http://bit.ly/2e2Tw4d

 

 

 

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Aqua Cares About Bugs, and You Should Too

Why would a compliance guy at Aqua America care about bugs in the IllinoisKankakee River when most people try to avoid or kill bugs?

 

Kevin M. Culver of Aqua America

First off, I am not an entomologist (aka a bug expert) so why do I care about bugs? This is the first question I ask when conducting a source water presentation or manning our source water display booth at events.

Most of the responses I receive, depending on the age of the participant, are that:

·      Bugs are bad and need to be eliminated

·      Bugs are part of the food chain necessary to sustain life in the river

Both responses are somewhat correct but not exactly why I care. We do not want bugs in our drinking water but they are an important part of the food chain.

I care about the bugs because one can determine the health of a stream by the number and type of bugs living in the stream. Not only can the bugs be used to determine water quality, but fish and fresh water mussels can also be used as biological indicators of water quality.

 

Bugs And Your Water   

So what are macro-invertebrates (macros)? These include aquatic insect such as larvae, worms, leeches and snails that can be found under rocks, attached to plants and in the bottom sediments of rivers and streams.

Not all macros that are found indicate species of water quality. In fact, only 36 different groups of macros make up the specimens used to determine water quality.

 

The 36 Groups: What You Need to Know

As a citizen scientist through the River Watch program, I have been trained on techniques on how to properly collect and identify the water quality indicator of macro-invertebrates. 

I collect bugs at four assigned sites annually within the Kankakee watershed, located in the northeastern part of Illinois. The same sites are used each year to determine water quality at that instant and to trend this result against previous sampling events.

Each of the 36 indicator species is assigned a tolerance value (TV) to pollution between “0” being completely intolerant to pollution and “11” being highly tolerant to pollution.

The weighted average tolerance value of all the bugs collected at a site is the water quality indicator, officially known as the Macro-invertebrate Biological Index (MBI).

If a bug is intolerant to pollution, it means it hasn't acclimated to pollution, which mean the river is clean. If a bug is tolerant to pollution, it means the bug has indeed been exposed to pollution - so much so that its body has changed its reaction to pollution. 

So when Aqua tells everyone that the Kankakee River is one of the “cleanest” rivers in the Midwest, it's the bugs that prove it. The water quality in Rock Creek in the Kankakee State Park is one of the few sites in Illinois that are statistically getting cleaner, according to the bug results.

This year I also collected 849 bugs from my Kankakee River site that had the lowest ever average tolerance value (MBI) at 4.29.

 

Why Should You Care About the Bugs?  

Along with just being cool, they are an integral part of our source water protection plan. You can determine water quality by which bugs are present or absent and they are a great way to educate and demonstrate to young and old about the importance of source water protection.

 

 

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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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Aqua Appoints Deborah Watkins As New Director of Water Quality and Environmental Compliance

Aqua has hired Deborah Watkins as its new Director of Water Quality and Environmental Compliance. Watkins replaces Colleen Arnold, who became the company’s deputy chief operating officer in September of last year.

Watkins comes to the company with more than 30 years of experience, most recently as senior project manager at O’Brien & Gere, an engineering firm with advanced manufacturing, energy, environmental, and water services.  She was responsible for identifying, developing, and managing initiatives involving water and wastewater treatment facility consultation, design, construction, and regulatory permitting. Prior to working for O’Brien & Gere, Watkins spent several years at Weston Solutions, Inc. where she began her career as a technical director of engineering.  She was promoted to vice president after successful development of the pharmaceutical industry practice and subsequent development of the upstream oil and gas practice in the company’s Mid-Atlantic division.

“We are pleased to have someone with Deborah’s experience and education lead our environmental compliance team at Aqua,” said Vice President and Chief Environmental Officer Mike Pickel, to whom Deborah will report.

Watkins earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Bucknell University and a Master of Science degree in water resources and environmental engineering at Villanova University. She is a licensed professional engineer in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

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