What does it take to acquire and upgrade a water system?

 

Let’s be frank: Operating and maintaining water systems is not an easy task, especially when they need tons of infrastructural improvements.  

Earlier in our Aquastructure blog series, we shed a bit of light on the state of our nation’s water infrastructureand pointed out that most of the pipelines we depend on each and every day were built at the start of the 20thcentury. In the present day, all of that infrastructure is near the end of its life, which means that upkeep and updates are a pressing need. 

Considering those challenges, how does a company like Aqua continue to provide efficient and affordable service? It all comes down to the water systems Aqua acquires, along with regular updates to existing infrastructure.

Craig Blanchette, president of Aqua Illinois, checked in to give us some insight into Aqua’s acquisition and upgrade processes. 


Blanchette (third from right in sunglasses) with fellow Aqua Illinois employees during a local volunteer project.

More water, less problems

Since 1995, Aqua has acquired more than 300 water systems, most of which are from municipalities (which own 85 percent of the nation’s water systems). However, sometimes those systems come from other sources, such as smaller regulated utilities, homeowners associations, water and sewer districts, and developer-owned systems. 

As the number of water systems in Aqua’s network grows, the efficiency and affordability of its services grow, too. The theory at play here is “economies of scale,” which is the economic principle that the more goods or services can be produced at a larger scale, the higher the savings in costs.

“By adding customers, Aqua is able to spread these fixed costs over a larger customer base, alleviating much of the burden from our new and existing customers,” Blanchette explains. 

What happens if Aqua wants to acquire a new system?

When Aqua is preparing to acquire a new system, typically Aqua and the other party—whether it’s a municipality or some other organization—begin by sitting down and talking shop (think inspections and negotiations). This can take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years. The goal is to create a partnership which benefits the community.

After that, an asset purchase agreement is created, which outlines all the details of the transaction, such as pricing and inclusion of assets. The APA must then be approved by the state public utility commission, which takes about six months to a year. During the PUC approval process, an administrative law judge takes on the case, and expert witnesses, like engineers, accountants and financial advisors, must evaluate and vouch for the legitimacy and benefits of the proposed acquisition. 

Once the agreement is reviewed, modified and approved by the administrative law judge it is then forwarded to the PUC for its final approval. Once this is complete, Aqua can sit down with the seller and officially take ownership.  

And then it’s smooth sailing?

With the right due diligence, yes! A lot of these existing water systems must be assessed to ensure everything is up to speed. In most cases, many of the system’s assets are underground and cannot be easily inspected.

“In these cases, we rely heavily on the maintenance records of the municipality in determining where future replacements are needed,” Blanchette notes. 

The most common upgrade is water main replacements, which are predominantly located underground and are often left out of a municipality’s investment plan. Blanchette adds that water service lines, main line valves and fire hydrants are also among the areas of a water system that may need more attention. 

“These assets are incredibly important because they are the backbone of any community,” Blanchette says. “Reliability of a water system is important in providing Earth’s most essential resource.” 

Whenever Aqua acquires a new system, they prepare a new capital investment plan to help determine where and when adjustments and updates are needed in each system’s infrastructure. Aqua then reevaluates that plan to determine future improvement needs. From that point forward, investment in the existing infrastructure is constant. 

It seems to be a team effort.

Very much so! Aqua works closely with the communities it serves andregularly meets with community members to coordinate all these infrastructure improvement projects. 

For example, if Aqua wants to do a water main or sewer replacement, they’ll first run it by the local road authority to plan resources accordingly. 

 

“If a road authority is planning to resurface a roadway where Aqua is also looking to replace a water or sewer main, it saves our customers the cost of restoring the roadway,” Blanchette explains.  

Now that is what we call synergy. 

Thanks for tuning in, water and sewer connoisseurs! We’ll see you next month! 

 

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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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Save Water (and Cash) with the Ultimate Leak-Fixing Guide

 

 Drip drip drip.

Leaky faucets can be annoying, expensive and bad for the environment. It is the EPA’s 10th annual Fix a Leak Week, and we’re taking the opportunity to encourage everyone to ensure that the pesky drip-drip-dripping is out of our lives for good.

What’s the big deal with leaks?

Here are just a few facts from the EPA to get you thinking about the implications of a leaky faucet or toilet:

  1. The average household can leak more than 10,000 gallons of water every year.
  2. A single leaky faucet can waste 3,000 gallons of water per year.
  3. Nationwide, we waste one trillion gallons of water per year. (Psst: that’s the amount of water used by 11 million homes in one year.)
  4. Fixing leaks can save up to 10 percent on water bills. 

How do I know if I have a leak?

There are a few simple ways to identify whether or not you have a leak in your home:

  1. Check your water bill. Is it noticeably higher than other months? If so, has your usage changed drastically? If not, you may have a leak.
  2. Turn off your water and note the gallons used on the water meter. Wait 20 to 30 minutes and compare. If there has been an increase in the water used, it’s safe to assume that there is a leak.

(via giphy)

When is it my job to fix a leak?

Knowing when a leak is your responsibility versus our responsibility is a common question, so don’t feel alone.

Field Supervisor James Watson of Aqua Ohio is here to help clarify. “Aqua is responsible for maintaining and repairing all water-mains, valves and hydrants in the water distribution system, as well as the company-owned portion of residential service connections,” he said.

If you have identified a major leak that you think is our responsibility to fix, make sure to get in contact with us. If the leak doesn’t fall into the categories mentioned by Watson, though, then it is most likely the responsibility of the homeowner. One thing to keep in mind is that homeowners are responsible for maintaining the residential service line and the easement lines that enter their homes.

Otherwise, a general rule of thumb is that if the leak is within your home, it’s your responsibility. Things like boilers, hot water tanks, internal pressure pumps, faucets and toilets are all the responsibility of the property owner. One exception is your water meter—but only if it is housed within the residence. Luckily, fixing most of these leak areas is a fairly simple process.  

How do I find the leak?

Toilets and faucets are the most common places for there to be leaks, so it could be helpful to check them first.

Faucet issues are easy to identify; if you see or hear them dripping, you’ve got a leak. Toilets, on the other hand, are a little bit more difficult. An easy way to check for a leaky toilet is with food dye:

  1. Drop the food dye into the toilet tank.
  2. Wait 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. If the dye has made its way from the tank to the toilet itself, there is a leak.

If you’re really having trouble identifying a leak, check out our step-by-step guide to detecting these issues.

I found the leak, but I don’t know how to fix it.

If your faucet is the problem, it most likely requires you to replace a washer. This process is very simple, and if you’re comfortable with using some fairly basic tools, it won’t be an issue at all. Check out this helpful walkthrough from HowCast:

Toilets are a bit more complicated, so watch this video from Home Repair Tutor for tips on fixing one of the most common toilet leakage issues:

 

Of course, if you are feeling uncomfortable completing any of these tasks, or if you have a leak that you are unsure how to fix on your own, make sure to call your local plumber.

We want everyone to be aware of their water usage and how they can fix leaks. Join us in identifying and fixing a leak this week to cut down on the trillions of gallons of water that we waste every year. 

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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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