Aqua employees participate in stream clean up efforts throughout our eight states.
By Aqua Vice President and Chief Environmental Officer Chris Crockett
It’s always a good time to consider how we can be better stewards of our environment. At Aqua, we think about this question every day as we strive to carry out our mission of protecting and providing Earth’s most essential resource. With Earth Day tomorrow, Saturday, April 22, we hope this question is on everyone’s minds, at Aqua and beyond.
As the vice president and chief environmental officer, I am routinely asked how Aqua is helping the planet and what we could be doing better. Let me take a moment to explain some specific things we’re doing and how they’ve made a difference in the environment. I’ll also explain our efforts to develop a sustainability plan for Aqua to help guide and improve our environmental impacts moving forward.
Believe it or not, there are more than 100 activities Aqua does company-wide to help protect the planet, and we do some of them every day.
Reducing Lost Water
Since only 2.5 percent of the world’s water is fresh water, and only about a third of that, or less than one percent, is accessible, it’s our most significant responsibility as a water utility to manage our water resources carefully. One key daily activity that’s fundamental to our company’s sustainability is our ability to reduce water loss. We’re experts at replacing pipes, changing meters and re-using water in various ways.
Keeping our Streams and Rivers Clean
Another aspect of our daily work is treating wastewater. Our nearly 175 wastewater plants return 26 million gallons of wastewater per day back into our streams and rivers cleaner than it came out. This water is not only critical to water supplies, but it’s also critical to the multitude of fish and flora that need it to survive.
Aqua employees at the Media Wastewater Plant in PA.
Protecting our Water Supplies for Future Generations
Protecting the aquifers, streams and rivers that supply our water is also a critical daily function. In Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois, teams work to manage lakes and reservoirs and protect the streams that feed them to keep their quantity and quality sustainable. This involves preserving lands, monitoring our streams, planting trees, educating communities and local leaders, partnering with environmental or watershed groups, conducting stream cleanups, or providing input on local development and local ordinances. Aqua Illinois recently won the American Water Works Association (AWWA) source water protection award for their efforts.
Reducing Waste From Our Business
Treating water also creates waste from the things we take out of the water and wastewater to clean it. At our water plants, we use belt filter presses to drain water from the sludge from treatment to reduce the amount we need to send to landfills. We have also explored and use efforts to beneficially reuse the waste from wastewater treatment to put nutrients on farm fields. In some areas, we use spray irrigation to apply treated wastewater to fields to recharge the groundwater and avoid impacts on local streams.
Using Energy Wisely
Aqua uses many innovative approaches to reduce our energy use. These activities include LED lighting, pump-curve calibrations, variable-flow (VFD) pumps, peak-demand response, air blower and diffuser improvements and solar panels. We also manage energy through our fleet. We measure idling times to reduce gas waste and air emissions and look for efficiency improvements when we buy new cars and trucks.
Aqua solar fields benefit the environment across some of our eight states. One of which is at our Pickering Water Treatment Plant in PA, which is 6.5 acres and reduces our usage by 2.2 million kWh annually. This is the equivalent of avoiding 51,450 gallons of gasoline per year or the equivalent emissions as 380 passenger cars.
Aqua is embarking on a multi-year effort to develop a sustainability plan. This effort involves a couple of steps, starting with benchmarking Aqua’s sustainability metrics against other utilities and developing a sustainability activity inventory. This will take most of 2017 to complete as we look at more than 34 different standard metrics from the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).
In 2018, we’ll begin to understand which sustainability metrics are important to our employees and our customers to help determine which areas will become our core focus. Next, we’ll develop a governance structure to help drive the achievement and measurement of our sustainability effort. Finally, in 2019, we’ll develop a plan that sets the goals, objectives, and short- and long-term actions we need to take to improve our sustainability as a company. We know Aqua does many things that are sustainable, but we can and need to do better if we want to catch up to our peers in the industry.
We’ll be soliciting ideas and feedback in the future, so please keep an eye out for ways you can share your thoughts.
Last, I want to thank everyone at Aqua for protecting and providing Earth’s most essential resource every day! There is no greater responsibility to our communities, our families and our planet!
Did you know? Other ways Aqua is making a difference:
- Some of Aqua’s reservoirs have preserved land around them. This land is home to threatened and endangered species. By preserving land to protect our water supplies, we are also helping to protect and re-establish threatened and endangered species
- Aqua has been participating in TreeVitalize in Pennsylvania since 2005. In total, Aqua has planted more than 43,658 trees for 277 projects, equal to 302 acres of trees. What does this mean for the environment? Well, each tree sequesters 26 to 48 pounds of carbon per year depending on size. Each acre of trees counters about 26,000 miles of driving roughly, so in total, these trees counter about 7.8 million miles of driving per year. Aqua’s fleet drives about 17.4 million miles per year, so these trees counter roughly 45 percent of Aqua’s carbon footprint from driving.