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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In Indiana, upgraded mains make the water flow round—literally!

If you’ve been keeping up with our Aquastructure blog series, you know that water mains play an integral role in providing reliable water service to surrounding communities. That’s why we’re excited to share that Aqua recently took on a water main improvement project in Indiana, installing over 3,000 feet of new water mains and five new fire hydrants in the town of Darlington.

In order to fully grasp the value and extent of these upgrades, we connected with Kieran Tansy, area manager at Aqua Indiana. Let’s explore what exactly makes this project so beneficial for our customers in Darlington. 

What’s the big deal with a water main replacement?

"When a water main is replaced, the new line is installed near the old line. Those new customer service lines are run from the new main to each existing meter pit or curb stop,” Tansy explains. Lines are installed either through direct excavation or underground drilling when appropriate. 

Tansy reports that the new lines have been professionally engineered by Aqua to be sized and located appropriately to provide the best long-term service to our customers and provide safe access to Aqua employees for maintenance activities.

A behind-the-scenes look at infrastructure upgrades in Darlington.

Why replace it now?

Over the course of this project, our team uncovered 3,215 feet of unreliable plastic, transite, and steel lines, which resulted in some main breaks since the lines were rarely located where the plans indicated. Despite these obstacles, Tansy says, “the customers, town employees, and town officials were very patient and wonderful to work with during these interruptions in service.”

Replacing these worn lines was necessary to improve not only water flow, but also water pressure. With these newer and more durable lines, the water mains will be able to carry a higher volume of water to our customers in their homes, businesses, and offices. 

Don’t forget the additional perks!

Aqua Indiana officials and Darlington town council members also celebrated the installation of five new fire hydrants and all of the new water main with a ceremonial “Fire Hydrant Opening” in June. “Although the Darlington water system is not required to provide fire protection, we are glad to provide more hydrants that are available for the fire department’s use,” Tansy adds. 

Ta-da: Part of the finished product on Madison Street looking South.

Additionally, these new lines will bring higher and more consistent water pressure to our customers, especially during peak usage times. Our crews are pleased with the final result of this project, and our entire Aqua Indiana team looks forward to providing even more reliable service to the Darlington community. 

Whether we’re working in Indiana or any of the eight states we serve, we’re dedicated to providing safe, reliable water to all of our customers. Stay tuned to learn more about our infrastructure improvement projects in our next Aquastructure blog! 

 

 

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At Aqua, municipal fair market value legislation helps us help you

 

You may think that here at Aqua, our day-to-day operations revolve almost entirely around the intersection of science and engineering. We’re a water company, after all! 

What may surprise you, though, is that even though those fields are paramount to our mission to provide and protect Earth’s most essential resource, plenty of our work is intertwined with the worlds of finance and public policy.

Think about it: When Aqua acquires a water system from a municipality, we go through extensive legal processes in order to ensure the handoff goes smoothly. And one of the many factors that can improve those processes for all involved parties is the presence of municipal fair market value (MFMV) legislation. 

We spoke to Aqua Ohio President Ed Kolodziej to learn more about MFMV legislation and how it benefits both communities and customers. 

Ed Kolodziej (second from left) and colleagues at the opening of a new facility in Ohio

What’s the benefit to my town? 

In January 2019, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed legislation allowing companies like Aqua to pay fair market value for the purchase of water and wastewater systems. Before these changes, system values were determined by their depreciated original cost, which generally did not reflect a reasonable market value for those assets.

Think of it this way: If the value of a home was established under the old Ohio formula, you would only consider the original purchase price of the home and the cost of improvements you did, minus their depreciation over time. Under the new fair market value system, the value of a home also considers things like the recent selling prices of similar homes nearby, curb appeal, replacement cost, and desirablility of the neighborhood. All of these items can have a significant impact on the true value of the home.

When we apply this logic to the sale of water systems, it’s clear why local municipalities benefit from fair market value legislation. When Aqua purchases the system, themunicipality receives a reasonable market value in return, which can then go toward numerous other local projects, from schools to parks to fire departments. 

“By partnering with a regulated utility through a purchase agreement, an Ohio community can shed the burdens of utility operation and maintenance, immediately improve their financial position, and potentially create a new source of revenue for their general fund,” Kolodziej explained. “The regulated utility brings operational efficiencies and economies of scale along with sorely needed investment dollars to the table and therefore earns a return on their investments.”

What’s the benefit to customers like me? 

If you’ve been following our Aquastructure series since its inception, you know one thing for sure: better water infrastructure leads to better water quality. 

“Around our state, water and wastewater infrastructure is in disrepair, reliability is suffering, compliance with health and environmental regulations is at risk and government-owned utilities across the state are behind the eight ball,” said Kolodziej. 

“The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) says Ohio communities need to spend $26.78 billion on water and wastewater systems in the next 20 years. There are no easy answers, and most have no idea where the resources will come from.”

Kolodziej is right: The answers aren’t always easy. But that’s where Aqua can help. By working with municipal officials to acquire the municipal water and wastewater systems, we’re able to ease the burden of these necessary improvements for communities like yours. 

The acquisition process allows us to carefully assess the state of aging water and wastewater systems and then implement crucial upgrades, many of which are long overdue. Replacing water mains, service lines, main line valves, and fire hydrants are often among the first order of business. 

Because water infrastructure, water quality, and public health are inherently linked, these upgrades lead to delivering better drinking water, therefore leading to healthier communities as a whole. That’s something everyone can get behind. 

Anything else? 

Ohio is our sixth Aqua state to enact this type of fair market value legislation, joining states like Illinois and Pennsylvania in giving municipalities even more reason to ease the burden of water and wastewater operations. 

“I encourage elected leaders across the state, especially those with budget or environmental compliance challenges, to explore the new opportunities created by the new Municipal Fair Market Value rules,” Kolodziej added. “More and more communities are benefiting by unleashing the power of regulated utility investment.” 

 

To learn even more about how Aqua can help improve local finances in a community like yours, visit WaterByAqua.com.

 

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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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Water Infrastructure Leads America to a Crossroads In Protecting Our Most Essential Resource

By Marc Lucca, Aqua Pennsylvania President

America is at a crossroads for protecting our most essential resource: water.

The state of the U.S. water infrastructure system was a conversation long overdue, but it took the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, to bring the issue to the forefront. Now, municipalities around the country are grappling with the question of how best to pay for water infrastructure upgrades necessary to replace aging infrastructure and to meet ever-changing regulations. More regulations are likely to come after the Flint crisis. A recent New York Times article noted that the more than 1 million miles of pipes that make up our country’s water and sewer systems will reach an average age of 45 years by 2020. Our cities and towns already are financially strapped. Can we expect them to resolve water infrastructure and regulatory compliance problems before it’s too late and another crisis hits?

Aqua doesn’t think so, and we certainly don’t want to wait around to see what will happen. We need to move to protect our customers.

U.S. water infrastructure is a looming crisis

A Brookings Institution study from 2016 found that 88 percent of Americans believe action needs to be taken to solve the U.S. water infrastructure problem. Yet only 17 percent of utilities are confident they can cover the cost of current services through rates and fees — let alone considering the cost of upgrades.

And upgrades are desperately needed. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) reported that leaking pipes cause us to lose more than 6 billion gallons of treated drinking water each day. The ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card noted that 240,000 water main breaks occur each year and that a $1 trillion investment is needed to maintain and expand service for increasing demands over the next 25 years. These facts caused the ASCE to give America’s drinking water infrastructure a D grade.

We don’t have much time to solve our water infrastructure issues, and each day that we waste is more money that will have to be invested to solve the problem.

Can cities, towns and authorities afford the $1 trillion investment needed to fix drinking water infrastructure issues? It doesn’t seem feasible without forcing these entities to make tough choices, such as tax increases, rate increases and cuts in other services.

Utilities follow rigorous treatment standards

Infrastructure is only one issue facing cities, towns and authorities. Many struggle to meet the standards required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA) due to the resources required.

The SWDA sets national health-based standards for drinking water to protect against all naturally occurring and manmade contaminants, and these treatment standards required by the SWDA are increasingly stringent. To comply with standards and regulations, utilities must conduct assessments of water sources to see where they could be vulnerable to contamination, comply with the EPA’s National Primary Drinking Water Regulations and monitor the presence of contaminants, among other requirements.

To ensure compliance with the SWDA and EPA standards and regulations, utilities need dedicated, highly technical resources for treatment design and day-to-day operations. These resources require significant, continual levels of investment, which many cities, towns and authorities cannot afford.

A 2012 analysis of EPA records by American Water Intelligence showed that the largest water companies have “near perfect” records in delivering water compliant with the SWDA. By comparison, the analysis noted that most of the violations from 2007 to 2012 were issued to public enterprises.

How Aqua can help

There’s a simple reason that regulated utility companies, like Aqua, are better at handling your drinking water. At Aqua, it’s all we do.

Aqua has the capabilities and resources to upgrade U.S. water infrastructure systems for current and future needs. Most of the communities served by municipalities or authorities have clean water today, but can they guarantee the same in the future without substantial investment they can’t afford or the technical resources to execute the required capital projects?

Everyone deserves dependable, safe drinking water, and the only way to provide it is with a solid water infrastructure.

We’re interested in your thoughts and reactions. Chat with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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