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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World Toilet Day highlights global need for sanitation

By Aqua Vice President and Chief Environmental Officer Chris Crockett 

Today, 4.5 billion people in the world live without a household toilet that safely disposes of their waste, according to the United Nations. In communities with weak sanitation infrastructure, pipework can break and raw sewage can be emptied into the environment. This puts waste into the open air where it is spread by flies, or contaminates farmland and water sources to make people seriously ill.

World Toilet Day, a day of observation designated by the United Nations General Assembly, provides an opportunity for global entities to work together to inspire action and tackle this sanitation crisis.

 

In the United States, it’s easy for consumers to take for granted the intense wastewater treatment process that occurs when water goes down a drain or toilet. Aqua, for instance, provides wastewater services to more than 250,000 people throughout the eight states we serve, and we operate 185 wastewater treatment plants and collection systems to safely treat this water.

Our company uses a stringent seven-step wastewater treatment process before returning the water to rivers and streams using the highest environmental standards. The wastewater is first transported from homes, schools and businesses to one of our treatment plants via underground pipes, where screens and other mechanisms remove materials like paper, rocks and sand. The third step, known as primary clarification, occurs when oil and grease float to the top of the water and are skimmed off, while heavier materials sink to the bottom of the tanks and are removed.

The water then moves to biological treatment and final clarification, during which microscopic organisms break down organic material in the wastewater. After this point, the primarily clear liquid flows through final clarification before it is sent through filtration, where the majority of remaining suspended particles are removed from the water. In the sixth step, disinfection, ultraviolet light and other treatment methods are used to kill all disease-causing organisms. The seventh step occurs when the treated water is discharged either for irrigation or put back into local rivers and streams.

Each day, Aqua returns 29 million gallons of wastewater into bodies of water cleaner than it came out. This clean water is critical to our water supplies, and is also critical to the fish and flora that need it to survive.

But in so many other areas of the world, countries are struggling to properly dispose of and treat the water to keep their human population healthy. The U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, launched in 2015, include a target to ensure that everyone across the globe has access to a safely managed household toilet by 2030.

Aqua works to help developing countries by providing water infrastructure expertise in Central America each year, and there are ways we all can help to promote the importance of wastewater treatment during World Toilet Day. By visiting the World Toilet Day website, you can learn more about the issue and share information with your networks to promote this important cause.

 

 

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