Meet the water quality hotshots known as Aqua’s Hot Spot team

 

L-R: Treatment Manager Dave Rustay; Plant Supervisor Kyle McCullough; Technical Services Specialist Ryan Evans; Project Engineer I Tom Klein; Environmental Compliance Specialist III Carolyn Hathaway Manager, Control Center Operations Jim McGinley; Director, Water Quality Chuck Hertz; and Vice President, Planning and Engineering Joe Thurwanger.

With a water system as large and complex as our Southeastern Pennsylvania (SEPA) operation, teamwork is a necessity in order to ensure that all processes run smoothly. One way that we exercise this collaborative spirit at Aqua is through our Hot Spot Program, launched in 2014 as a cross-divisional effort to identify potential “hot spots,” or issues in water quality, before they occur. 

While every task we perform is a team effort, this project captures the essence of our service-centered mission particularly well. In honor of National Water Quality Month, we asked Environmental Compliance Specialist III Carolyn Hathaway to discuss the benefits and collaborative nature of the Hot Spot Program with us.

Environmental Compliance Specialist III Carolyn Hathaway leads Pennsylvania's Hot Spot team,
which is made up of nearly 20 employees from a cross-section of specialties throughout the organization. 

What is the Hot Spot Program?

As you’ve learned by now, the Hot Spot Program’s goal is to proactively address water quality issues in our SEPA service area. According to Hathaway, the Hot Spot team is “made up of representatives from different areas of expertise, from distribution and treatment to design and analysis” who “seek and identify potential water quality problems and develop solutions before real issues develop." 

In their monthly meetings, the team discusses items like data, water quality in the distribution system and tanks, and flushing. Since Aqua’s SEPA service area contains one of the largest integrated water systems in the country, the team is always seeking ways to improve processes. 

What makes it so collaborative?

At Aqua, we’ve found that the most effective improvements come from encouraging team members to cross departmental lines to brainstorm together, leveraging the strength of their combined experience and expertise. This close collaboration results in innovative solutions that are tailor-made to resolve complex issues more quickly and efficiently. 

For Hot Spot team members, working alongside colleagues from different areas of the company is gratifying. “This team is willing to challenge each other in a respectful way to better understand the data and opportunities for system improvement,” Hathaway says. In turn, this collaboration allows us to better serve our customers and protect water quality in the SEPA service area.

The Hot Spot team meets monthly to proactively search for and identify conditions that could
potentially impact water quality and address them before they become problematic.

What’s in it for customers?

As a result of the Hot Spot Program, SEPA has had significantly fewer water quality issues, particularly low-chlorine events, than before the program started. One notable challenge came during the summer of 2018 when several months of unusual weather created an issue that needed the Hot Spot team's attention. Thanks to the team’s diverse perspectives, they were able to analyze the data and make proactive adjustments to maintain service during disruptive conditions. 

Following the success of the program in SEPA, the Hot Spot team is examining ways to share their findings with colleagues across Aqua, including the possibility of developing similar programs in other areas of the company. We’re confident that fostering this collaboration will yield more accessible solutions to water quality issues for customers nationwide. 

Whether we’re working in Pennsylvania or in any of the eight states we serve, we’re dedicated to providing safe, reliable water to all of our customers. We’re grateful to our Hot Spot team for helping us uphold our core values of integrity, respect, and the pursuit of excellence in everything we do. 

 

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In Indiana, upgraded mains make the water flow round—literally!

If you’ve been keeping up with our Aquastructure blog series, you know that water mains play an integral role in providing reliable water service to surrounding communities. That’s why we’re excited to share that Aqua recently took on a water main improvement project in Indiana, installing over 3,000 feet of new water mains and five new fire hydrants in the town of Darlington.

In order to fully grasp the value and extent of these upgrades, we connected with Kieran Tansy, area manager at Aqua Indiana. Let’s explore what exactly makes this project so beneficial for our customers in Darlington. 

What’s the big deal with a water main replacement?

"When a water main is replaced, the new line is installed near the old line. Those new customer service lines are run from the new main to each existing meter pit or curb stop,” Tansy explains. Lines are installed either through direct excavation or underground drilling when appropriate. 

Tansy reports that the new lines have been professionally engineered by Aqua to be sized and located appropriately to provide the best long-term service to our customers and provide safe access to Aqua employees for maintenance activities.

A behind-the-scenes look at infrastructure upgrades in Darlington.

Why replace it now?

Over the course of this project, our team uncovered 3,215 feet of unreliable plastic, transite, and steel lines, which resulted in some main breaks since the lines were rarely located where the plans indicated. Despite these obstacles, Tansy says, “the customers, town employees, and town officials were very patient and wonderful to work with during these interruptions in service.”

Replacing these worn lines was necessary to improve not only water flow, but also water pressure. With these newer and more durable lines, the water mains will be able to carry a higher volume of water to our customers in their homes, businesses, and offices. 

Don’t forget the additional perks!

Aqua Indiana officials and Darlington town council members also celebrated the installation of five new fire hydrants and all of the new water main with a ceremonial “Fire Hydrant Opening” in June. “Although the Darlington water system is not required to provide fire protection, we are glad to provide more hydrants that are available for the fire department’s use,” Tansy adds. 

Ta-da: Part of the finished product on Madison Street looking South.

Additionally, these new lines will bring higher and more consistent water pressure to our customers, especially during peak usage times. Our crews are pleased with the final result of this project, and our entire Aqua Indiana team looks forward to providing even more reliable service to the Darlington community. 

Whether we’re working in Indiana or any of the eight states we serve, we’re dedicated to providing safe, reliable water to all of our customers. Stay tuned to learn more about our infrastructure improvement projects in our next Aquastructure blog! 

 

 

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Breaking ground and beating droughts in Texas

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It’s summertime, and staying hydrated is a top priority. But what about hydrating the ground we walk on?

At Aqua, we work carefully to address drought conditions that affect our service areas. That’s why we are so excited about the upcoming completion of our first surface water treatment plant in Barton Creek, Texas, a state that last year experienced its most severe drought since 2015.

To learn more about the importance of this project, we reached out to Scot Foltz, environmental compliance manager at Aqua Texas.

What’s the big deal?

“There’s significant concern over the long-term viability of the groundwater supply for the growing Barton Creek Lakeside community,” says Foltz. With the help of this project, he says, Aqua will be able to “manage the available resources more effectively and ensure an adequate supply of water for the service area.”

Macintosh HD:Users:valeriehoke:Desktop:images:AQUA:Aquastructure:2019:June:961CBB08.jpgBehind-the-scenes as crews prepare to begin laying block for the walls

These efforts should alleviate a great deal of stress for families, farmers, and all other customers in Texas. Since the area has proven to be “highly susceptible to drought,” Foltz explains that the construction of this plant is “intended to reduce the impacts of drought and increase source reliability.”

What’s in it for the customers?

The completion of this project will produce several notable benefits for our customers. Aqua recognizes the necessary community restrictions on water intended to aid conservation efforts. However, Foltz says “the surface water plant will help alleviate some restrictions as we work with LCRA [Lower Colorado River Authority] to ensure conservation measures are followed.”

Customers may also notice improvements in the general aesthetic quality of the water. “The water hardness and dissolved mineral content of the lake water is naturally lower than groundwater in the area,” says Foltz. “While looks aren’t everything, we’re happy to be a part of efforts to improve overall experiences for our customers.”

Another glimpse at the work site

So when can you expect to start seeing all of these benefits? We’ve got great news for you. After conducting preliminary studies on the groundwater and determining that surface water supply was the best alternative for long-term source reliability, the team received approval from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and began construction in late 2018. He expects construction to be completed by the end of 2019.

But wait—there’s more!

Barton Creek, Texas event

Front row: Terry Franks, Aqua Texas Business Development Director; Scot Foltz, Aqua Texas Environmental Compliance Manger; State Representative Vikki Goodwin; Bob Laughman, Aqua Texas President; Michael Fruge, Barton Creek Lakeside POA Board President; Carol Birsa, Barton Creek Lakeside POA Board Secretary.  
Back row: Shawn Hammons, Aqua Texas Safety Specialist; Brent Reeh, Aqua Texas Regional Manager; Matt Morgan, Peyton Construction Project Manager; Mark Wetzel, Barton Creek POA Board Member; Marty Kurtz, Barton Creek POA Board Member; David Lee, Barton Creek POA Board Member.  

As part of our commitment to the effective management of water resources, Aqua Texas acknowledges the state’s increasing demand for water services. “Aqua is committed to effectively managing our water resources by encouraging conservation, making capital investments to improve efficiency within our systems, and working with our community partners to develop solutions to the increasing demand for water,” Foltz adds.

Whether we’re working in Texas or any of the eight states we serve, we are dedicated to providing safe, reliable water to all of our customers. Stay tuned to learn about another recent infrastructure project in our next Aquastructure blog! 

 

 

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Bringing a fresh filtration system to North Carolina

At Aqua, we’re always proud of our projects that help to improve water quality for our customers, but this week, we have a special reason to highlight these positive changes: It’s Infrastructure Week!

As we all know by now, water infrastructure greatly impacts both the quality of your water and the quality of your life. By investing in new infrastructure in our service areas, we’re making strides to change our communities for the better. That’s why our team has been hard at work implementing a new filtration system in Upchurch Place, a community in Raleigh, North Carolina.

What’s the deal with filtration?

Filtration systems, when necessary, are a crucial part of water infrastructure—after all, they help to remove unwanted naturally occurring minerals. Aqua has provided water to Upchurch Place since 2002, and we’ve built quite a relationship with our North Carolina community.

We spoke to Aqua North Carolina’s Michael Melton, engineering manager, and Amanda Berger, environmental compliance director, to learn more about the recently completed project. Melton noted that the goal of the new filtration system is the removal of iron and manganese. While both elements are naturally present in tap water, keeping their levels below the secondary standard is important.

Changes in Upchurch Place

After hearing reports of discolored water from customers in the Upchurch area, we identified the problem and got to work on implementing a solution.

“Since installing the new filters, the treated water has iron and manganese levels well below the secondary drinking water standard,” Melton said. “In addition, we’re proud to announce that Aqua is the first privately owned water provider in North Carolina to utilize a non-discharge backwash system.” (Aqua developed the first recycle water system in 2010.)

What’s a non-discharge backwash system? Long story short: It allows us to eliminate water loss in the filtration process, therefore upholding our mission to provide and protect Earth’s most essential resource. The best part is that our customers will only see a .70 cent increase in their annual water bill for this major improvement—and it’s well worth it.

Aqua’s commitment to excellence

Providing our Upchurch customers with a new and improved filtration system was no small feat.

“On average, a filter project like the one in Upchurch can take up to nine months to engineer and construct,” Melton said. “At Aqua, we also make it a priority to work with local financial and environmental regulators to improve every aspect of our service and reliability.”

“This project is a good example of how Aqua is working with its stakeholders to achieve the goal of improving our customer’s water quality,” Berger added.

Although these projects take a good amount of time, money, and resources, they’re necessary in order to improve the state of our country's infrastructure. As water providers, it’s our goal to supply our customers with safe and reliable water—and it doesn’t hurt that we’re helping to restore our nation’s infrastructure in the process.

Stay tuned for our next Aquastructure blog to see what we’re up to next, and in the meantime, we’re wishing our customers and professional peers a very happy (and productive) Infrastructure Week!

 

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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 infrastructure and 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 and regularly 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. 

What does this look like in your neighborhood?

Once an acquisition is complete and upgrades are underway, how does this affect the new communities Aqua serves?

View two town success stories in Manteno, IL, and Media, PA, to see how Aqua works with community leaders to ensure water quality and service to customers. 

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