Breaking Down the (Dirty) Details on Wastewater Treatment

Between showering, cooking, doing a load of laundry and washing the dishes, we go through a lot of water. In fact, a typical family produces approximately 200 gallons of wastewater each and every day. 

In addition to the municipal wastewater that comes from our homes, restaurants, and commercial businesses, there’s also industrial wastewater from factories. Long story short: there’s a ton of used, dirty water in the world, and it all has to go somewhere.

Because most of that wastewater ultimately ends up back in local rivers or streams, there are a few steps Aqua takes to make sure it is impeccably clean before it gets there.

We spoke with Tom Bruns, president of Aqua Indiana, to learn exactly what those steps are.

Okay, I just flushed the toilet. Now what?

The second you flush (or drain, or pour, or rinse), the used wastewater shoots down a pipe, merges with other people’s sewage and flows off to a treatment plant for some intensive cleaning. 

First up is the screening process. Because solid objects, such as money, jewelry, toys, personal hygiene products and wipes might accidentally make their way into our wastewater, it’s important to first filter out these items so they don’t clog up the treatment system. Note: While some wipes call themselves “flushable,” they cause all sorts of problems in wastewater collection systems, so throw them in the trash instead of flushing.

After the initial screening, it’s time for gravity to do some of the heavy lifting. Cue primary clarification. During clarification, heavier materials (think: toilet paper) sink to the bottom of the tanks, while lighter ones (like the leftover oil and grease from last night’s dinner) float to the top. All of that gunk is then skimmed out. 

Is that it for the gunk?

We’re glad you asked. Because most of that gunk, like feces, bodily fluids and foods, will not settle on its own, microscopic organisms are introduced into the mix to help break down organic material. 

During this process, which we refer to as biological treatment, the microscopic organisms consume the waste (yum!) and transform it into solid particles that are captured through a round of final clarification and removed from the tank once and for all. 

Just because the sludge and gunk is gone, though, does not mean that the water is squeaky clean. In fact, if the water were to re-enter our world at this point, a lot of people would end up very sick. The water must first be disinfected with the help of ultraviolet light, which is beamed onto the water to sterilize and eliminate any remaining disease-causing organisms.

After all that, it’s time to discharge the final product. Most of the treated water is fed back into local rivers or streams. In areas of the country where water supplies are limited, this treated effluent water is often used to irrigate parks or golf courses. How’s that for a little something to think about next time you find yourself admiring the greens on hole nine?

Why do we do all of this, anyway?

Sure, it may seem like a lot of effort to put into something as undesirable as wastewater, but it’s something we have to do, especially if we don’t want to be living in our own filth. More importantly, though, we treat wastewater in order to prevent pollution, protect our health, protect wildlife and, of course, protect our environment.

Now that we’ve covered the ins and outs of the ways in which Aqua treats different types of water, we’re ready to go green and figure out exactly how Aqua stays sustainable and eco-friendly throughout the year. See you back here next month where we’ll celebrate Earth Day and all the ways in which Aqua does its part for the environment.

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Aqua Pennsylvania steps in to rehabilitate troubled Sun Valley water system


By Marc Lucca, Aqua Pennsylvania President

As a leader in the water and wastewater industry, Aqua is committed to improving our nation’s infrastructure through thoughtful capital investment, which improves customer service and satisfaction. Over the past five years, Aqua Pennsylvania has invested $1.16 billion in infrastructure improvements, including hundreds of miles of pipe replacement and plant upgrades to enhance water quality and ensure reliable water and wastewater services. In 2018, Pennsylvania plans to invest more than $238.8 million to strengthen infrastructure in the communities we have the privilege of serving. 

One of Aqua’s investment focuses is partnering with municipalities that are struggling to maintain their own water or wastewater systems – whether because of water quality issues, critical infrastructure investment needs, or budgetary constraints. By leveraging our compliance expertise, purchasing power and operational efficiencies, our company is able to infuse needed capital into systems and develop the infrastructure required for clean drinking water and environmentally sound wastewater services.

Aqua Operator outside the existing Sun Valley well station.

Given our reputation for bringing troubled systems into compliance with environmental regulations to ensure public health, State Rep. Jack Rader and Sen. Mario Scavello recently asked Aqua Pennsylvania to consider taking over the small but troubled Sun Valley water system. The system, which serves approximately 200 residents in Chestnut Hill Township, Monroe County, did not have any consistent oversight or maintenance, and as a result, was in an extremely dilapidated state. In fact, since 2015, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection had been advising customers to boil their water before consumption.

Although Aqua Pennsylvania specializes in larger water systems serving towns and municipalities, we were pleased to be able to jump into action to help a community that had nowhere else to turn. Within eight days of being granted official approval by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to take over the system, we were able to make enough short-term improvements to have the boil water advisory lifted. My team did a great job and I’m extremely proud of their efforts to make this really important improvement.

Sun Valley's existing storage tank.

The ongoing absence of rehabilitation and maintenance to the Sun Valley water system has made it necessary to rebuild the entire system to ensure reliable service and safe water going forward. Aqua Pennsylvania will construct a new well and water tank, replace all of the pipes and install water meters. The cost will likely exceed $2 million, which will be funded in part by state loans and grants.

The work Aqua Pennsylvania is doing in Sun Valley is an extreme example of what’s occurring with water infrastructure across the country, and it highlights the important role that publicly regulated companies can play in addressing our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. With over a century of experience in water and wastewater operations, Aqua has the ability to help troubled water and wastewater systems, and we will continue to lend our expertise to ensure communities across the country have access to safe and clean water and reliable service.

Sun Valley's existing well station chemical feed.

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Aqua and Villanova University teams return to Central America for water improvement projects


Volunteers from Aqua and Villanova University’s Engineering Service Learning Program students and faculty returned to Nicaragua and Panama last week, continuing their work to provide engineering resources and water infrastructure expertise for key water improvement projects in the two countries.

The group returned to Waslala, Nicaragua and Panama’s Wacuco region to provide hands-on water quality expertise and foundational support to improve water infrastructure. This partnership is part of Aqua’s “Ripple Effect,” the company’s continued commitment to making a positive impact on water, the environment and in communities. The last time the group traveled together was in August 2016.

Several  areas comprise the Ripple Effect including volunteering, Aqua’s Charitable Trust,  and knowledge sharing, according to Kimberly Joyce, vice president of regulatory, government and external affairs.

“Our partnership with Villanova University allows our employees to volunteer their time and expertise to help shape future engineers, while making a real difference for communities that need clean running water,” Joyce said.

Aqua Pennsylvania’s Jeff Bickel and Aqua Illinois’ Colton Janes went to assist VESL in Nicaragua to celebrate the culmination of last year’s capital project and assist in troubleshooting a non-functioning water well located near a Waslala school.


Janes was excited to work with Villanova students and provide his expertise.

“I am looking forward to sharing my knowledge with Villanova students and taking on a mentor role,” said Janes prior to departure. “I think it’s going to be great to bounce ideas off of the students and find a solution together. Anytime we are able to give the essential resource of water to someone who has to work for it, or go through a hardship to maintain it, is a great opportunity for us – especially when we can help lead students looking to make a difference, as well.”

The goal of the Panama project is to provide guidance to students on  designing a water treatment solution for the existing system, which services 800 people and is expanding to add a school with 125 students. The team evaluated the system demand, water quality and yield of a newly installed shallow well. The end-state will be a solution that integrates the well into the existing system and provides safe water to the systems existing residents and to the new school.

“These projects help Aqua employees lend their knowledge, immerse themselves in a new culture and make a positive impact in the world,” Joyce said. “

You can click here to read the story about Aqua’s 2016 trip.

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Aqua President and CEO Chris Franklin talks water infrastructure with national media, congress


By Aqua President and CEO Chris Franklin

Over the past few weeks, I had the pleasure of talking with some national news outlets as well as congressional subcommittee members about the state of water infrastructure in America and Aqua’s commitment to investing in our aging water systems.

As you can see in my CNBC’s Squawk Box segment, the American Society of Civil Engineers recently released its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, giving U.S. water infrastructure a “D” grade and wastewater infrastructure a “D+.” The reality is that our country has more than 1 million miles of water pipe, much of which was laid in the early 20th century and in critical need of replacement.

While this is a major challenge facing our country, Aqua is working to be a part of the solution. We are committed to renewing and improving water and wastewater infrastructure through thoughtful and continuous capital investment. It’s why Aqua will invest more than $450 million in water and wastewater infrastructure in 2017 alone, after having invested $1.5 billion in capital improvements over the past five years. 

I also spoke with national infrastructure reporters about the importance of letting private capital go to work to assist municipalities struggling with aging water systems, instead of providing federal financing for infrastructure projects. Aqua has a proven record of purchasing both municipal and private water systems, injecting needed capital into the systems and developing the infrastructure required for clean drinking water and wastewater. You can read more about that in my interview with Hilary Russ of Reuters.

As then president-elect of the National Association of Water Companies, I also had the opportunity last month to provide testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives' Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Water Resources and the Environment. I underscored with our elected officials that companies like Aqua and our fellow NAWC member organizations are well-positioned to help cities and towns address long-neglected water and wastewater infrastructure maintenance. It’s my firm belief that we will continue to be part of the solution.

I’m proud that Aqua is playing a leading role in providing solutions for struggling water and wastewater systems. In speaking out on these issues, I hope to continue to raise awareness on the importance of water and wastewater infrastructure in our country and of Aqua’s role as a leader in protecting and providing Earth’s most valuable resource.



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Asset Management Program Helps us Invest in Water Infrastructure


By Aqua President and Chief Executive Officer Christopher Franklin

Chris Franklin spoke to industry experts who visited Philadelphia from around the world at the recent American Water Works Association annual conference. Here’s a synopsis of what he shared during his panel.

Aqua works every day across our eight states to deliver safe drinking water to customers, and to return wastewater responsibly to the environment. But as the nation’s water infrastructure ages, there is a greater need for significant investment in rebuilding or replacing the systems that deliver and store water and wastewater. As a best practice, Aqua constantly repairs and replaces old, outdated facilities, water main, water and wastewater plants, and well stations across service territories.

To help face the challenges of repairing and replacing infrastructure on a large scale, Aqua began developing a formal, enterprise-wide asset management program. Aqua’s asset management program tracks assets based on risk  and ensures that the appropriate proactive maintenance, repairs and upgrades occur based on those risk scores.  Aqua is developing plans across a variety of assets including wells, water distribution systems, wastewater facilities, wastewater collection systems and surface water treatment plants. Having a robust asset management program in place ensures that all systems remain in good working order, can improve response to emergencies and helps meet customer expectations for good service. 


Aqua based the company-wide program on the U.S. EPA Asset Management Framework, which is widely used by water and wastewater utilities. This framework asks:

·   What is the current state of the assets?

·   What is the required sustainable level of service?

·   Which assets are critical to sustained performance?

·   What are the minimum life-cycle costs?

·   What is the best long-term funding strategy?

By developing the program with the EPA’s guidance, Aqua is able to extend the life of assets and make more informed decisions about maintenance, repair or replacement. Aqua Pennsylvania has successfully used this framework for more than 20 years and continues to see improvements in its infrastructure improvement efforts, thanks to the employees who contribute every day to our asset management program. Over the last 10 years, Aqua Pennsylvania has averaged 128 miles of water main replacements per year, and over that time, we’ve seen customer complaints about water quality significantly decrease. There’s a clear connection there. And we’ve got plans to invest $292 million in replacements, improvements, and a significant water meter exchange program by the end of 2017. 

At Aqua, we see it as a great responsibility to replace aging infrastructure and deliver reliable drinking water and wastewater services to our customers. We will continue to build valuable internal processes like asset management that allow us to continue our mission to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource.

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