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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Spice up your summer with a DIY garden

Summer is officially upon us, which means it’s time for tons of fun in the sun and a lot more time on your hands. What better way to spend that time than starting a DIY garden in the backyard?

At Aqua, we’re committed not just to providing water, but also celebrating the (sometimes literal) fruits of its labor. Planting an at-home garden this summer is not only good for the environment, but it also might even get the kids interested in eating their veggies.

In order to start you off on the right foot, we’ve laid out all of the best tips for planning your summer garden, watering it with care, and supporting Mother Earth at the same time. Grab your shovel—let’s dig in.

Selecting your seeds


Before you can enjoy your home-grown produce, consider which plants are best suited for your local environment and, of course, for your tastebuds.

While greens like lettuce and arugula thrive with 3–4 hours of sun exposure per day, broccoli and carrots require 4–6 hours, and summertime favorites like watermelon and tomatoes are happier with 6–8 hours of sunshine.

Keen on getting the kids involved? Impress the little ones with the ease of planting strawberries or the various shapes and sizes of potatoes. (Purple french fries, anyone?) Harvesting beets, digging holes, or even weeding can give children a sense of responsibility and pride at having contributed to a memorable summer.

When and what to water

Once you’ve picked which plants will work best in your garden, it’s time to lay down some ground rules. What’s most important is consistency. In order to ensure healthy, developing plants, it’s best to establish a routine in the frequency with which you water them and the amount of water you use.

For warm-weather plants, plan to do your watering in the early morning so the plants can soak up the water ahead of the afternoon heat. Overwatering can lead to fungus and other plant-related diseases, so an ideal watering will penetrate the soil but not leave it soggy. Don’t forget that the root systems of newer plants are not fully developed and will therefore need to be watered more frequently.

Using your green thumb


If organic produce and family fun isn’t enough to convince you to start digging, consider your impact on the environment. While it may seem like a small contribution, community gardens compose more than 25 percent of the trees in non-forest environments. Plus, growing your food at home means less air pollution from grocery delivery trucks.

Think back to elementary school science: Every plant undergoes photosynthesis, which actively converts carbon dioxide to valuable oxygen molecules. That means that more plants result in more oxygen and less carbon dioxide. Sounds like a win-win to us!

Don’t forget about the small critters that keep our ecosystems alive. Without gardens—even small, DIY ones—we run the risk of endangering essential insects and wildlife. Gardening plays a small but vital role in preserving our planet and the species that we know and love.

Planning an at-home garden this summer? Let us know how it goes on Facebook or Twitter—we want to hear all about your gardening adventures.

 

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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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