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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Diary of an Aqua Water Drop: Chloe (Wastewater From Homes)

Hey there! It’s Chloe again. Last time we talked I told you about my epic journey from being a groundwater water drop to a clean, ready-to-be-used water drop. Well, do I have a story for you about where I’ve been since then! 

Wastewater From Homes

 

Today was a wakeup call for me. I was sitting in my tank minding my own business when woosh! I’m being shot through pipes and used to clean little Tommy who obviously had way too much fun at the beach today. Now I’m covered in sand, greasy sunscreen, a runaway beach tag, and soap — an uncomfortable situation — and am now considered wastewater. Goodbye my old friends who are wanted water drops. I’m now unsuitable to go home where I had just settled down. So alone and disgusting, it’s time to make my journey through these pipes into a world unknown.

 

Screening

 

As you know,  I feel completely and utterly yucky covered in grease, sand, and this darn beach tag.. If you’ve ever met plastics before, you know they can clog things up. Luckily our first stop is the screening process, so this freeloader jerk gets held back by a screen as I rush on through. It’s like a weight off my shoulder. 

 

Primary Clarification

Although I’m glad  my buddy the beach tag is gone, I’m still quite greasy, sandy, and soapy. Now soap is a fun thing to hang out with It’s bubbly and clean, but not the type of clean I want to be. Also all those bubbles have me feeling a bit gassy (not to mention the grease and the sand aren’t making things easier). After the screening, we were rushed along to primary clarification where the sand and grease finally sunk to the bottom – good riddance. They were clogging up my style. Meanwhile, my sweet soapy friend was whisked off by a skimmer. It was tough saying goodbye to such a fun thing as soap, but I have a feeling I’ll see it again.

 

Biological Treatment and Final Clarification

In the next tank I’m suddenly swarmed by microscopic organisms. Their job is to break down the organic material inside me. It tickles as they nibble away at the leftovers. Suddenly, I look around and realize everything is clear again. I hadn’t realized how dirty I’d become since the beginning of this journey, but it felt great to be more like myself again. 

 

 Filtration

Although I felt better, after all this time some particles were still clinging to me during this journey. Couldn’t they tell that this club was for water only? Thank goodness we got to the filtration tank because as I carelessly swam through, these clingy guys got held back. 

 

Disinfection

 

At this point things got weird. My fellow water droplets and I thought we were in the clear, but we were swiftly informed that harmful organisms that could cause people to get sick were possibly hiding in our ranks. It was scary. I wanted them to be gone so I could be pure again. Suddenly there was a blinding ultraviolet light shining on us – makes me wish I had Tommy’s sun glasses. We could hear as the harmful organisms left this world forever – the saying that only the good die young doesn’t apply here.

 

 Discharge

We’re finally home free! Who knew life could be this good? Now that we’re perfectly purified, we were gently poured into a river. Here I ran into some old friends from way back in the Jurassic years. It’s amazing how time does little to us aqua drops. We’re hoping this river leads us to Mexico or Hawaii. I’d love to come back to humanity as crushed ice in a mixed drink – I’ve done my time cleaning other people up and deserve some “me” time! Peace out!

 

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