The First-Ever Backhoe Challenge

As Aqua America celebrates 130 years of providing high-quality water service, it’s a good time to acknowledge what keeps us going strong: the Aqua employees

From engineers to customer service representatives to support coordinators and beyond, there’s a great group of people behind the water delivered to millions of people every day. That’s why every summer, we spend time at our annual company picnic. 

This year marked something new; something Aqua employees had never seen before. It was the first ever Backhoe Challenge.

 

What do you think looks the most difficult about this picture? Picking up a two-ounce egg with a spoon, OR picking up that same egg with a spoon that is attached to a 17,000 pound, 24-inch backhoe bucket? If you thought it's the latter, you're probably right. Which is what made the Backhoe Challenge such a fun challenge for the Aqua team! 

This inaugural event occurred during our annual company picnic that took place this year on July 21 at the Springton Reservoir, about 40 minutes north of Philadelphia.

It was designed by construction equipment vendor John Deere, and coordinated by our very own director of fleet and supply chain management, Charlie Stevenson, manager of fleet maintenance and compliance, Silvio DeAngelo and manager of Great Valley operations, Mike Filli. 

The idea was to represent all three Southeastern Pennsylvania operating divisions by dividing teams into two. This was determined by each division’s individual competitions that were held a few weeks prior to the finals. The winners were chosen by whichever operators successfully completed the events in the least amount of time. It was definitely a competition worth watching!

There were three events in the competition. Each involved the backhoe in some way or another. 

 

Round 1: The Egg Challenge 

The first event was the egg challenge, as seen above. The objective was to use a tablespoon that was attached to one of the backhoe bucket teeth, on the right side of the operator’s perspective. The operator had to pick up the egg from a sand mound and transport it to a hay bale on the left side of backhoe without breaking the egg. If the egg was broken, they had to start all over again. 

Just wait because it gets even more challenging.

 

Round 2: Balancing Balls  

For the second event, operators were required to move at least three of six, 10-inch diameter balls from atop equally-spaced safety cones with stabilizing cups.

To make matters even more difficult, the cones were lined up on the right side of the operator and the balls had to be placed in a tub located on the left side of the operator. At the end, they were required to return the bucket to the starting board. If the challenge was not completed correctly, they were asked to start over and wait for the cones to be reset.

 

 

 

Round 3: Joining Cylinders 

For the third event of the challenge, operators were required to use a chain with an s-hook attached to the backhoe bucket. They had to hook a vertical cylinder, about the size of a soda can, and move it to a receiving cylinder, which was not much larger 

The vertical cylinder had to be placed at least two thirds of the way into the receiving cylinder. In order for the challenge to be complete, the operators had to disconnect the cylinder and take the empty backhoe bucket back to the starting board.

 

The event seemed to bring everyone together, creating an undeniable energy during the competition. Great Valley manager, Mike Fili, who assisted in constructing the courses, says “There was a great sense of competition and boasting from them in the weeks leading up to the competition. They were talking smack about how they were going to beat one another. They had a lot of fun.”

Silvio DeAngelo saysthat while those competing made it look easy, it was not, as some of the participants had not operated these machines (daily) in years

 

“Even with training, not everyone can operate a backhoe. It requires great hand-eye coordination as well as a great sense of touch. Operators have to watch closely what the bucket is doing, and be even more diligent when using pilot control,” says  DeAngelo.

 

 

And the Winner Is...

The overall winner was theEastern division maintenance crew leader, Joe Sciallis, who admitted the most difficult challenge was the chain and cylinder. He had the honor of taking the Backhoe Challenge trophy back to the division's Willow Grove office.

Vice president of network, Marc Lucca, jokes that the Willow Grove division manager, Rob McNamara, will “bring the trophy to the division managers’ meetings just so they are all reminded of the current Backhoe Challenge Champion.”

It is safe to say that the first-ever Backhoe Challenge was an incredible success! It will be back at next year’s picnic with new and exciting challenges so stay tuned.

 

Learn more about the people behind Aqua’s water service here.

 

 

 

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Aqua America Partners with Villanova University College of Engineering on International Water Infrastructure Projects

Aqua America, Inc. today announced a partnership with Villanova University’s College of Engineering to provide mentorship opportunities, hands-on water quality expertise and foundation support for the college’s international service work. As part of this partnership, Aqua leadership and engineers will travel with Villanova faculty and students to various projects internationally to provide engineering and water infrastructure expertise.

Aqua’s on-site engagement with Villanova begins with a trip to Nicaragua on August 4 and a visit to Panama on August 11. Members of Aqua’s leadership team will accompany the Aqua team that includes engineers and water quality experts. They will travel with Villanova Engineering Service Learning (VESL) representatives to inspect water project sites, meet with community members and connect with local nongovernmental organization (NGO) partners. The partnership reflects Aqua’s greater initiative of partnering with community-based nonprofit organizations that advocate for the environment.

An important part of the success of the Villanova program has been working with in-country partners who have the capacity to implement these projects. In the Alto Bayano region of Panama, VESL has been providing engineering support on water-related infrastructure projects for 25 years. In collaboration with local NGO’s, they have helped to develop one of the largest rural water supply systems in Central America. Similarly, over the past decade, the college has worked with local partners in Waslala, Nicaragua to design and implement water supply networks that provide safe drinking water for rural communities. Through the Aqua America partnership, VESL hopes to improve the sustainability of water delivery services in these areas, while creating unique learning opportunities for its local partners and student participants.

“We are excited about the opportunity to work with Aqua America in what is a true partnership,” said Villanova’s Dr. Gary A. Gabriele, Drosdick-Endowed Dean of Engineering. “Aqua is VESL’s first corporate partner to put boots on the ground, and we look forward to the continued growth of this partnership.”

Aqua’s President and Chief Executive Officer Christopher Franklin highlighted that the company has a long history of demonstrating commitment to the communities it serves.

“Because this commitment has become part of our culture, it will continue long into the future,” Franklin said. “When we consider how fortunate we are to live in the United States where clean drinking water is almost taken for granted, we must consider what other human beings in other countries endure each day to find clean water for their children to drink.”

Franklin noted that with this in mind, Aqua made the decision to take a small portion of the Aqua foundation budget and combine it with the talents its employees possess to make a meaningful difference for those who live in these countries.

He added, “As one of the nation’s leading water companies, our mission is to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource. In our own small way, we will demonstrate our commitment in a few communities outside the U.S. where clean, safe drinking water is so desperately needed. We look forward to leveraging our expertise and partnering with Villanova’s distinguished College of Engineering faculty and students on this program.” 

Aqua supports environmental projects through the Aqua Charitable Trust and forming important partnerships with community-based nonprofit organizations within the company’s territory. This partnership with Villanova marks the first time Aqua will be taking its commitment internationally.

Villanova is highly regarded in the area of water resource management and sustainability. In addition to offering graduate degrees in sustainable engineering and water resources and environmental engineering, the university is home to the Villanova Center for the Advancement of Sustainability in Engineering and the Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership. Given this area of expertise, in addition to Panama and Nicaragua, VESL water projects are underway in Ghana, Honduras, India and Madagascar. The college’s other service projects include robotics for unexploded ordnance removal in Cambodia, and mobile health programs in Nicaragua. More than half of Villanova’s engineering undergraduates participate in service-learning projects or experiences.

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