U.S. Water Week Highlights Technology and Water Protection

At Aqua, we know that water is the most essential resource to the world. Each day, the Aqua team works to provide clean, safe drinking water to the millions of people we serve, while at the same time being environmentally sustainable.

This year’s U.S. Water Week, which is recognized from April 15 to 21, focuses on how crucial it is to improve water and water infrastructure funding in the United States.

According to Aqua’s Chief Environmental Officer Chris Crockett, America’s current infrastructure is sorely neglected and failing: service outages are increasing, advance refunding has been taken away, and increasing regulations inhibit protection of our water resources.

Surprisingly, U.S. water usage has actually declined over the last decade or so. From 1996 to 2016, average annual indoor household water usage has decreased by 22 percent. However, staggering population growth, both in the U.S. and around the world, pose a serious challenge to declining natural water resources. 

Source: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision

According to the World Resources Institute, a majority of the United States is under high risk concerning water quantity, which will have a short or long term impact on water being available to those living in the region.

 

Source: World Resources Institute

Technology can help solve the water system challenges we are facing, but people have to advocate education efforts to policymakers about the importance of water infrastructure funding.

In order to think about water and all of its interconnections, Crockett asks us to think about how we would manage water and wastewater if we were to build a city from scratch. Think about the water cycle, the drinking water and fire suppression systems.

In the end, though, Crockett says that nothing beats nature.

“Nature must be more fully integrated into our communities to clean and protect drinking water as a first step,” he says. While technology will help us in solving some of the challenges our water infrastructure system faces, we need to focus on how we can help preserve the environment.

Aqua tries to make environmentally sustainable choices in everything we do, because we know the importance of water. By cleaning the wastewater produced by the communities we serve each day and returning this safe water back into local rivers, we work to prevent pollution, protect wildlife and champion the environment.

Plus, since 2005, we have partnered up with Treevitalize and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to plant 43,658 trees at 277 locations, and Aqua volunteers have been involved in cleaning up rivers and fundraising for fire departments.

It’s necessary to protect and preserve nature in order to maintain safe water for generations to come, and as a company, we’re proud to say our team continues to work year-round to do just that.

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Taking a Green Glimpse at Aqua’s Eco-Friendly Initiatives

Now that we’ve covered the different processes by which Aqua treats and distributes water, it’s time to take a step back and look at how we keep it green. With Earth Day right around the corner, we were curious about all the eco-friendly and sustainable ways in which Aqua does its part for our planet. But first, we wanted to know: why is it so important to be “green” in the first place?

To find out, we spoke with Aqua team members Krista Scheirer, environmental specialist, Mark Bubel, project engineer, and Chris Crockett, vice president and chief environmental officer. And we’re not exaggerating when we say they gave us a lot to think about.

What’s all this talk about a carbon footprint?

You’ve probably read about this concept at some point, but every person, place and object in this world has a carbon footprint.

A carbon footprint is the amount of carbon dioxide each entity releases into the air and serves as a way of measuring our impact on the environment. The larger the carbon footprint, the greater the damage is to our environment.

What does Aqua think about all of this?

Because the decisions we make today are crucial to ensuring that we have reliable sources of drinking water in the future, Aqua is always on the lookout for improvement projects and opportunities that will help us function as sustainably as possible. In fact, our processes are already quite eco-friendly!

Good to know, but how exactly?

Let’s start with the easiest process: groundwater treatment. Because groundwater is typically quite clean from being filtered in the infiltration process, it doesn’t require too much work. So even when it does require some extra TLC, we’re able to keep our treatment’s carbon footprint to a minimum.

That’s not so hard. Right?

Well, surface water treatment is a bit trickier. We protect our surface water sources as much as possible, because the cleaner the water is when it reaches the treatment plants, the less chemicals and power are required to treat it.

Additionally, we use renewable energy at many of our treatment facilities (think: LED lighting and solar panels) and frequently replace old pipes and meters, which significantly reduces water loss.

Finally, remember the various materials (hint: mainly dirt) that get filtered out of surface water during the treatment process? Well, at Aqua, we are exploring “upcycling” those waste materials to make things like bricks.

Hold up. How can you prevent waste from going to waste?

Back in the third installation in our Aquastructure series, we talked about how microorganisms are dumped into the wastewater to get rid of organic matter containing carbon and nitrogen.

In order for these microorganisms to work, they need oxygen. So much, in fact, that feeding the microorganisms oxygen usually accounts for more than half of the energy used at the plants. (Yep, you read that right: HALF!) To improve efficiency and cut back on oxygen, we installed sensors that adjust and recirculate oxygen levels, which ensures that all our precious energy and oxygen isn’t going to waste. 

Meanwhile, those microorganisms are alive, so they begin to grow and reproduce, forming a nutrient-rich “sludge.” In the past, this sludge was pumped out of the tanks and sent straight to a landfill. However, we figured there must be a better way to deal with this sludge, so we found a solution to get rid of it once and for all.

This is where anaerobic digester tanks come in. These digesters mix and heat the sludge, which significantly reduces the remaining amount. The leftover bits and pieces of sludge can then be reused for fertilizer. Yum!

Ok, so it’s not so simple after all.

No, not really! And this only covers our eco-friendly practices when it comes to our treatment plants. At Aqua, we also host staff volunteer days for tree plantings, stream cleanups and habitat restorations. Our foundation contributes funding to dozens of environmental groups, and we work with more than 50 community organizations and regulatory agencies on water quality improvement projects.

Oh, and did we mention that Aqua facilities are home to many local ecosystems and endangered species? It’s true: From bird sanctuaries to diverse landscapes to valuable forests, we do our very best to protect these resources for the magnificent wildlife and aquatic life, and, of course, future generations.

Here’s the thing: Aqua completely relies on the health of our natural resources. Whatever we do to the land, the air or the water ultimately finds its way back into our wells and reservoirs. Aqua doesn’t just want to make sustainable decisions for the environment—we need to. 

 

Be sure to tune in next month when we jump into the current state of water infrastructure in the U.S. and discover how it impacts each and every one of us.

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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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