Breaking Down the 2019 Backhoe Challenge

 

Our team at Aqua has provided safe, reliable water service for our customers across the country for more than 130 years, and it wouldn’t be possible without each and every one of our employees. That’s why every year we celebrate everyone from our engineers to our customer service representatives at our annual company picnic.

In 2016, we kicked things up a notch with our now-famous Backhoe Challenge, and we continued the tradition this year on September 19 in Newtown Square.

So, what’s the backhoe challenge anyway? Let’s start from the beginning: It was designed by construction equipment vendor John Deere, and this year, it was coordinated by our very own Southern Maintenance Manager Paul Alberici and Field Supervisor Larry Weaver.

This challenge requires major skills and focus. While the competition is just for fun, the talent on display shows the finess and precision our team uses when they excavate streets to access and replace broken mains and other buried infrastructure.

Round 1: Balancing Balls

The first event in the Backhoe Challenge requires tons of precision and patience. In this challenge, operators remove 10-inch bouncy balls from the top of a traffic cone and place them in a small bucket.

The team then returns the bucket to the starting board, but if any mistakes are made, they have to start all over again. The pressure was high, but our Aqua team is made for this kind of thing. On to the next task!

Round 2: The egg challenge

 The second event requires operators to pick up an egg from a sand mound and place it on a tiny bale of hay. Though that doesn’t sound too complicated, try doing it using a tablespoon attached to a backhoe bucket! If the egg doesn’t stay intact, it’s back to the beginning. Needless to say, this challenge is always a bit of a nail-biter.

 

Round 3: The wine pour

That’s right—operators get to play bartender in the last challenge! This event asks teams to fill three wine glasses from a bottle hooked to the teeth of the backhoe in the fastest time, but naturally, pouring a glass of wine is a lot harder in this situation.

Now it's trophy time...

 

The first place winner of the 2019 Aqua Backhoe Challenge was Rob Delio, leader of our Springfield maintenance team, with an astounding collective time of 2:26 for all three events. Congratulations, Rob!

In second and third place, respectively, were Jesse Batyko, leader of our Great Valley maintenance team (3:06) and Dennis Wiley, foreman of our Willow Grove maintenance team (5:01). We’re proud of all of our operators and their ability to have fun and prove their skills with some friendly competition.

Our maintenance employees serve an integral role within our larger team—it’s safe to say they’re a vital part of our Aquastructure. All competition aside, each and every member of our team is a winner in our book!

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Inside the Witch’s Cauldron: The Science of Dry Ice

It’s the season for all things spooky and scary! From witches and warlocks to jack o'lanterns and sweet treats, there’s so much wonder to behold during the Halloween season.

Looking for a fun activity to get in the festive spirit? With a few simple ingredients, you can make your very own witch’s cauldron for decoration. All you’ll need is some dry ice—and water, of course!

How can ice be dry?

At Aqua, we’re always fascinated (but never surprised) by water’s versatility and the ways that it can teach us new lessons about the world around us. Though there’s nothing spooky about water, it’s a key ingredient in a DIY witch’s cauldron that’s sure to wow trick or treaters.

 The other key ingredient is dry ice, which is exactly what it sounds like: ice without water. That may be hard to imagine, but it’s possible because of carbon dioxide.

Believe it or not, dry ice is colder than ice made with frozen water. Essentially, dry ice is carbon dioxide (with no moisture or air) that’s frozen at -109.3°F, while regular ice freezes at 32°F. So what happens if water and dry ice meet? Let’s just say things can get spooky.

When the dry ice meets water, it immediately undergoes sublimation, which means it changes from a solid to a gas without ever becoming a liquid. The best part of it all? Water is a catalyst that helps to create this phenomenon!

How to make a DIY witch's cauldron

First and foremost, you’ll need the main ingredient: dry ice. If you aren’t sure where to buy it, call your local grocery store to see if they carry it. If not, search online for a supplier near you.

 Next, look for a cauldron at a Halloween store, or use a large cooking pot from your kitchen. Even if it doesn’t look exactly like a witch’s cauldron, your bubbling potions will still look festive.

Fill the cauldron about halfway with hot water and a dash of dish soap, which will help to give you bubbles. Then, using tongs, place small chunks of dry ice into your soapy water mixture and watch as the kettle starts to gurgle and bubble. Remember to handle the dry ice with care—due to its negative temperature, touching it with bare hands can give you frostbite.

To keep the potion going, add more hot water when needed. Your neighbors and friends will surely be wowed by your crafty decor.

Whether you’re trying this craft out in your kitchen with the kids, in the classroom with students, or at a party with friends, we hope you enjoy watching this fascinating scientific reaction unfold.

Happy Halloween!

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What really happens when you wash your hands?

It’s posted on bathroom walls, it’s the golden rule of basic hygiene, and it’s the command children are met with every time they exit the restroom: “Wash your hands!” 

While the frequency with which you hear this request decreases as you get older, the sentiment remains the same. Hand-washing is a key part of both personal and public health—but are you doing it right? At Aqua, we recognize the role water plays in keeping our customers healthy and happy. Here’s some insight about how to make the most of your hand-washing habits—and what goes on behind the suds. 

When to wash

As a general rule of thumb, you should always wash your hands after using the restroom. It’s equally important to lather up the hand soap after blowing your nose or coughing into your hands, touching animals, playing outside, or visiting a sick friend or loved one.

Washing your hands prevents the germs that accumulate in these settings from spreading to others. While the more obvious source of germs comes from feces-related processes like using the toilet or changing a diaper, germs like Salmonella, E. coli O157, and norovirus can also spread from handling raw meats with invisible amounts of animal waste on them. Yuck, right?

What does hand-washing really do?

Think about how often you’ve touched your face today. Now think about how many publically shared surfaces you’ve also touched today. Washing your hands with soap works by removing germs that cause infections, including infections of the skin and eyes.

Because germs are nearly invisible, it can be hard to see the tangible impact of washing your hands. However, proper hand-washing not only reduces the number of people who catch respiratory illnesses (think: common colds), but it also reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea and gastrointestinal illnesses. If that’s not enough to convince you to wash your hands, unwashed hands can spread bacteria to your face that ultimately results in an accumulation of acne. If not for your gut, do it for your skin!

The steps for soapy success

In order to reduce the risk of illness, stomach problems, and pesky pimples galore, follow these steps to become an expert hand-washer:

  1. Use warm water to wet your hands. 
  2. Lather with soap—the FDA says both antibacterial and regular soap are fine—for 20 to 30 seconds.
  3. Work the soap into both sides of your hands, your wrists, and between your fingers.
  4. Rinse with water, then dry your hands thoroughly with a clean towel. 

Whether you’re teaching the little ones or incorporating these practices into your own routine, taking an extra minute to wash your hands properly makes for a happier, healthier home, work, or school environment. Hand-washing might not be the most glamorous topic, but believe us—the consequences of not washing your hands are much worse. 

 

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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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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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