130 Years of Aqua America

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Fat, Oil and Grease - Oh My!

Don’t let fat, oil and grease get the best of your household pipes this Thanksgiving season.  Let Aqua and Gus the Grease Monster show you how to avoid costly clogs. Food scraps, grease and disposable wipes can block pipes and cause wastewater backups in homes and businesses. Check out our tips to dodge the whole mess! 

 

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Water Infrastructure: A Brief History

Think for a second: How did water infrastructure get so advanced?

Access to water has become almost second nature to us. We turn the faucet on and out comes clear, clean water. We don’t even think about it. Isn’t that amazing? A feat of human ingenuity, the way water is delivered to us today is by no means a simple feat. Take a look below for a brief timeline of the evolution of water infrastructure:

Sure, there were plenty of innovations and breakthroughs along the way, but think of the above as a major highlights reel. Let’s walk through them.

 


Ancient Rome

The Roman Empire made its mark on the Western world in a number of ways, most notably through groundbreaking advancements in engineering. The invention of the aqueduct, the world’s first formal plumbing and water transportation system, truly helped early Rome become as vast and forward-thinking as it became. Many European societies soon followed suit by adopting the aqueduct system.

 

The Enlightenment

As European civilization rapidly expanded and populations increased, new advancements in water were made, primarily in water sanitation. Private water companies were established to account for the vast intake of water, and developments in water filtration found sand filters to be useful (if rudimentary) in removing water of contaminants.

 

The 1900s

The use of filters in water sanitation was abandoned in the 19th century for chlorination. This process is the fundamental way we sanitize water today, and prevents the possible spread of diseases that filtration would oftentimes result in.

 

Today

Today, clean water is an absolute priority. New water sanitation techniques, like desalination and fluoridation offer innovative and forward-thinking means to ensuring our water is the best it can be. The Safe Drinking Water Act, passed in 1974, placed an emphasis on the quality of the water that is consumed. The act is still enforced today.

The future of water infrastructure is still unwritten. Between engineering and scientific breakthroughs throughout the course of history, we are always working toward making sure we all have access to safe, quality water. Water is one of our most precious and valuable natural resources, so we must all do our part to make sure that it remains in good hands.

 

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Hurricane Season: Stay Prepared & Stay Safe

During hurricane season (June 1 — November 30), Aqua offers customers tips to prepare for the possible loss of water service during a storm.

 

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Why Water Mains Break

One of the biggest concerns for water utilities during extremely hot or cold weather is water main breaks. Water mains are expected to last a long time – as long as 100 years in many cases. But with many miles of pipe buried underground, it’s reasonable to expect a particular section of pipe will fail or break at some point. The challenge for water utilities is to work proactively to minimize the number of breaks and to respond effectively when a main does break.

While the oldest water mains were made of wood, by the late 1800s, a variety of iron pipe was being used to construct water distribution systems. Common iron varieties included cast and galvanized in the early part of the 20th Century, with galvanized used primarily for smaller diameter pipe. Cast iron pipe was used until the late 1950s when stronger, more flexible ductile iron pipe became common. Plastic pipe, including Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) became common in the 1970s. The primary difference between these two plastic pipes is that PVC is stiffer than HDPE, which is more flexible. Even though pipe is expected to last for decades, that doesn’t mean it won’t break at some point. While it is impossible to predict specific pipe breaks, we know that environmental conditions are a major factor in water main breaks.

In the northern and northeast areas of the country where winters are more extreme, cold soils and cold water combine to add stress to pipes, which can—and often do—result in breaks. Iron, like all metals, contracts as temperatures drop. This problem is more common when the source water is surface water (rivers and lakes). These waters are significantly affected by air temperature and can drop to near freezing in the winter. A temperature difference of just 10 degrees in water or air temperatures can cause pipes to contract or expand. Additional stress inside and outside the pipe occurs as temperatures near the freezing point, making the pipe vulnerable to breakage. Water temperature changes more slowly than air temperature changes so the impact of cold water on pipes can cause breakage to take place as many as a couple days after temperatures freeze. Water systems with groundwater sources (wells) have more stable water temperatures because the water is not affected by air temperatures, and therefore, not as significantly impacted. 

Just as pipes are adversely affected by cold weather conditions, they are also affected by severe heat. In some groundwater systems in the southern and southwestern states, the soils are like sponges and hold lots of water. However, during extended periods of hot temperature when high demands for water increases water withdrawal from the aquifers, the soil becomes very dry. In these conditions, the soil contracts and subsides, pulling away from the pipe and diminishing support for the water main. The absence of support for the main can cause it to break. This particular problem led the City of Houston, Texas to begin to convert its groundwater supply to surface water.

Although older mains are generally more susceptible to breaks, breaks can occur on newer mains. This is most likely the result of improper installation or a manufacturing issue with that particular section of pipe. By examining trends in water main breaks over time, a utility is better able to identify categories of pipe that are more prone to breaks, and thus proactively target that pipe for replacement. Aqua employs such tactics in determining which mains to replace. By the end of 2013, Aqua expects to have spent $170 million of its $325 million capital improvement program on water main replacement and associated work.

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