NATIONAL ENGINEERS WEEK: CASEY JONES IS WEARING A NEW HAT!

I am not an engineer.  My training is in microbiology – I’m a scientist.  However, I work with a number of engineers, and don’t tell them I said this, but I have great respect for them!  To be an engineer you should be good at math – which was not my strong suit.  I remember in one math class I worked so hard I got a calculus on my finger!  Of course, there was always the option to be the other type of engineer – and drive trains, but although that may be the dream of lots of other children, I just never really looked good in a pinstripe cap.  Still, there was the allure of adventure, meeting new people, and, of course machines.

Today, countless boys and girls also say, “I want to be an engineer!” But now they have traded in that train cap for a hard hat! The term “engineer” now has a broader understanding including civil, chemical, mechanical and more. But the reasons driving the answer of today’s youth is quite similar with those of the Casey Jones dreamer of decades ago: engineering is still an opportunity for adventure, to meet new people, to help build America, and to work in the exciting field of machines, technology, and innovation.

I share these thoughts at the start of DiscoverE’s Engineers Week (February 19-25), because nurturing this excitement for engineering careers is what the week, and the DiscoverE mission, is all about. The week aims to heighten the awareness of the vital importance of engineers and to celebrate the impact they make in our world. Engineering has helped make possible everything from the Hoover Dam, Panama Canal and Empire State Building to snowboards, amusement parks and water slides… not to mention the clean water, power and transportation options we rely on every day… there is little question of their impact.

Engineers Week also aims to demonstrate the growing demand for engineers across the 40+ engineering specialties and support those who work—from educators and governments, to parents and other influencers of young people—to foster paths in engineering. This year’s theme, Dream Big, taps into the origins of the word “engineering” itself, rooted in the Latin for cleverness, to devise, as a means of capturing the imagination of youth and adults alike. DiscoverE has also released the film Dream Big for Imax and giant-screen theaters. This amazing film illuminates how important engineering is to our lives. It was created to start a conversation about how one person’s “cleverness” and desire to push the boundaries can help change the world and to nurture excitement for engineering careers.

Since the first Engineers Week in 1951, this initiative has given great momentum to the interest and growth in engineering. Today, more than 280,000 women and men in the U.S. are employed in civil engineer jobs alone. Still, as the world demands for better, healthier and more connected lives, let’s tip our hats (pin stripped, hard, or other) to the engineers that will help make it happen! 

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ENJOY WHAT SIFTS FROM LEADEN SIEVES. AVOID WHAT SPURTS FROM WATER MAINS!

While many of us on the east coast have yet to experience a noteworthy snowfall in 2017, we can instantly be transported to that tranquil and utterly soundless paradise through these words of Emily Dickinson. The poetess captures perfectly all that we love about a winter snow – the silence, the peace, the vanishing of stress and schedules.

Reading this poem, it’s not difficult to forget the realities that come with the magic of a winter snow. But for any of us focused on community and residential water issues, it’s also not difficult to imagine this serenity taking a quick and discouraging turn. How might Dickinson capture the chaos that would ensue should a bursting pipe spew all over her “alabaster wool” filled scenery?

Even though we’re into February, we’re not out of the woods yet in terms of harsh temperatures and snowfalls that can wreak havoc on pipes. In fact, 5 of the 12 worst blizzards in U.S. history occurred after February 5—including the 1993 Mid-March Storm of the Century and the more recent “Snowmageddon”.

Water companies are staying prepared with technologies that allow us to monitor potential problems that could be exacerbated by a “deep freeze”, as well as by having contingency plans for maintenance in the case of heavy snow falls. It is equally important for home owners to winterize pipes and exercise preparedness for unavoidable winter water woes! Here are some of our go-to tips for doing just that:

Lastly, if you’re still behind on chores, remember to also drain any hoses and air conditioner pipes, check for excess water pooled in equipment and clean out gutters and downspouts.

Taking a few steps now and staying on top of your winterizing efforts throughout the season can mean less time worrying and more time enjoying the “crystal veils” and “fleeces” of winter!

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Spring Cleaning Comes a Little Early at amwater.com!

Everyone’s gone through it at least once in their lives—you look around at a space, be it a closet, office, attic, garage, single room or entire house, and embrace a gung-ho spirit to “make this space better.” You set out to remove the clutter of things you didn’t even know you had or haven’t used for years. Next you design a plan so that the most important things are front-and-center, making them easily accessible.

This is how I look at American Water’s new website, amwater.com. While our previous site worked well and provided critical information and service to our customers and constituents, we found that, over the years, our site, like that pesky attic, accumulated some things that were outdated or no longer of use. Moreover, the new features we’ve added are in response to our evolving customer base. We removed what our customers told us was “getting in the way,” brought in new features and redesigned the space so it is now easier and faster than ever for customers to access information on their accounts, explore additional information on water topics, and stay updated in times of water emergencies or changes in service.

Our thought process in designing this site was, well, your thought process. That is when you go to amwater.com, you’ll find navigating the site to be intuitive. Thanks to a much cleaner, user-friendly design, you know where to look and find the type of information and resources you want. We’ve also structured the homepage to make it much clearer for customers to log into their accounts and go the American Water site for the state in which they have service.

In every way, the new site advances our commitment to our customers. I applaud our website designers and everyone who contributed to bringing it to life.  And I’m excited for all of our customers and other constituents to start interacting with it.

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New Year’s Resolutions: Achieving Your “Pipe Dream”

Read any article on how to succeed with New Year’s resolutions and they’ll all tell you: be realistic, don’t focus on that pipe dream. But those of us in the water industry encourage you to include a “pipe dream” in your resolutions because, when it comes to water conservation efforts, pipes are a critical place to start!

The caution of pipe dreams in the traditional sense means to be wary of setting resolutions that are so overwhelming a person sets himself or herself up to fail before the clock strikes twelve on January 1st. In fact, when you consider what U.S. communities need to accomplish in terms of fixing and maintaining water pipes, well, that can seem quite overwhelming. According to WaterSense®:

• Ten percent of U.S. homes have leaks that waste at least 90 gallons of water every day.
• The leaks in an average U.S. household can account for more than 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year.
• Nationwide, those household leaks can waste more than 1 trillion gallons of water.

Moreover, when you look at household and non-household leaks combined, it’s estimated that aging and leaky pipes and infrastructure, broken water mains and faulty water metering systems lead to the loss of more than 2.1 trillion gallons of drinkable water every year in the U.S.

One of the top reasons New Year’s resolutions fail is because people try to go it alone. The good news is, when you resolve to do more about leaky pipes and water conservation you, instantly eliminate this barrier to success. You can peruse our Dr. Water archives for any number of blogs on how public and private sectors are working to fortify infrastructure, water companies are using new technology to detect and fix leaks, and businesses, industries and communities are mandating water-conservation practices. The USEPA “WaterSense” website (https://www3.epa.gov/watersense/) is also a useful resource.  There you can find a wealth of information on water saving devices and water efficient practices.  What all this information means is in fact you aren’t “going it alone” when it comes to water conservation.

Finally, even in your own household, you can create a formula for success by applying the theory of not doing it alone—and by “it” I mean everything from winterizing pipes and regularly checking for leaks, to investing in water-conserving appliances and being conscientious of the “foreign matter” you’re feeding pipes via toilets, garbage disposals or storm drains. Here are just a few ideas:

• Delegate. Give every member of your household responsibilities that can range from a pipe-checking schedule to reducing shower times.
• Set realistic goals for everyone. Let the adults handle pipe winterizing and task children with being the dripping faucet “police”.
• Remember that accountability breeds success. Have a group check-in so members of the household can report on where they are or are not meeting their responsibilities.
• Brainstorm. Once everyone gets into the swing of conservation, see what new ideas everyone can come up with to drive more progress.
• Measure and share results. Compare water bills and usage reports every month.

So, set your sights on your household pipe dreams and be motivating in knowing that by enhancing your water conservation efforts at home, work, or school, you contribute not just to your personal success, but to the success of our entire planet!

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Saying Goodbye to 2016 – and a Quarter Million Water Main Breaks

As I think back on the state of infrastructure in 2016, and look forward to what awaits in the coming year, I’m bolstered by the many great strides that have been made. More discussions are happening around infrastructure needs but know that I shouldn’t be too quick to raise the champagne glasses. Just look at what a year can mean:

•             There are approximately 240,000 water main breaks in the U.S. every year, that’s over 700 per day! (per The American Society of Civil Engineers)

•             Corrosions of water and wastewater systems in the U.S. cost about $50.7 billion annually.

•             And every year, breaks and leaks in pipes waste approximately 1.7 trillion gallons of water.

These statistics are staggering to say the least. And if you really want to gain appreciation for the costs of infrastructure erosion, take a look at how quickly the numbers are climbing on this Water Main Break Clock.

In this blog and elsewhere, the water community continually discusses the pillars of providing solutions to our water infrastructure crisis – those including a collaborative effort between the private and public sectors, as well as among municipalities, states and the federal government. And we talk in depth about the need of public awareness.

But during this time of new year’s resolutions, I’d like to suggest everyone resolve to also look at our aging, eroding infrastructure from another perspective: repairing and replacing water systems is not a cost, it’s an investment.

First, consider that an investment in replacing pipes where it is feasible and affordable could mean more reliable systems and fewer repairs for a span of decades. One report states that the average lifespan of an iron pipe in the city of Boston is 83 years. Certainly, at an estimated cost of $1 trillion to replace all the water pipes in the U.S., we can’t just replace everything all at once. But, by replacing the ones in most need of repair, we could be avoiding significant costs down the road.

Secondly, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, for every dollar invested in public water and sewer infrastructure services, approximately $8.97 is added to the national economy. In other words, there is an economic return on investment in water infrastructure.

Lastly, we should think of fixing infrastructure as an investment in the current and future health of the people in our communities. We often speak of illness and disease caused by poor water systems in third-world countries, but we are not immune to similar issues in the U.S.

In conclusion, I reference a recent Nielsen poll reporting that “spending less, saving more” is one of the top four personal new year’s resolutions. I say, let’s apply a similar resolve to our thinking when it comes to our aging pipes! Although there will be costs up front to fix the problems, the savings that lie ahead can be substantial.

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“Uncle Sam” Wants You. And We Do, Too!

Many of us have seen the iconic poster of “Uncle Sam,” a stern look on his face, a firm finger pointing right at the reader, and him declaring “I want you for the U.S. Army. Enlist Now.” Starting with World War I, it was a promotional powerhouse inspiring tens of thousands of men and women to join the Army over the decades.

The poster stirs up a multitude of feelings: Who has the responsibility to protect their country?  What opportunities are available?  Do I look good in a uniform? 

What it doesn’t answer for recruits is the question of, “What do I do when I’m done working for ‘Uncle Sam’?” Today, that question finds a solution in the Partnership for Youth Success (PaYS) Program.

PaYS is unique program that is part of the Army’s effort to partner with America’s business community. With its key function being to guarantee soldiers an interview and possible employment after the Army, PaYS is in every sense of the term a win-win-win venture; for the Army, for veterans and reservists, and for partnering businesses.

Undoubtedly, the decision to join the Army is complex and filled with many different questions, the decisions to leave military life are no less daunting.  Sure, the Army prepares a person for life, offering career skills, building the foundations of emotional and physical strength building, and providing problem-solving and character-building experiences like no other. So knowing all this, what could he or she possible have to worry about the future?

The challenge comes in the reality that, while the Army can make a person “marketable” for a career, it cannot control the state of the economy and the job market. PaYS helps combat that challenge by providing a guaranteed open door for the enlisted, reservists and ROTC cadet populations. It provides a peace of mind for these individuals in terms of future livelihood so that they can focus on succeeding in their military careers. This is a “win” for the soldier and the Army alike.

As for PaYS partners, the “win” comes from having access to an incredibly talented, experienced, proven and eager pool of potential employees – many of whom have spent years becoming engineers, technicians and leaders.  These are the skills needed by many industries, but in particular by the water industry.

Working at a water or wastewater plant is not your typical 8 to 5, “punch the clock”, type job.  The need for water services is a 24 hours a day, 365 days a year commitment.  Whether it is fixing a water main break at 2 am on Thanksgiving day, or keeping the pumps running during major weather events, the commitment to public service by water operators is much like the commitment that service members make to their country.  With an aging work force where 50% of currently employees could be eligible to retire in the next 5 to 10 years, there is a natural fit to recruit veterans to a second career in the water industry.

American Water is proud to participate in PaYS, and we look forward to other companies and industries doing the same. You can see a recent video through our Facebook page from an event announcing our involvement in the program.  The proud faces are inspirational.

The reasons to be involved in this program, however, extend far beyond having a resource for hiring. Being able to offer employment opportunities to the qualified men and women who have served our country, and to give back to them for all they have done for us is a partnership that makes sense.  To whom could we entrust the safety and security of our water systems than to those who have already served the safety and security of our country!

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Fill in the blank: __________ Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month

I once met a writer who was asked not to use the word “critical” in her writing. The request was made because the word was too negative and gloom-and-doom. It was, they said, “scary… and we don’t want to scare people.” They suggested instead that the writer use the word vital explaining that, “vital means the same thing, but it also means life; its connotation is easier to take and is more uplifting!”

I share this story to introduce our blog honoring the nation’s Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience Month, held each November to, “recognize the vital role that critical infrastructure plays in our nation’s way of life and why it is important to expand and reinforce critical infrastructure security and resilience.” Look at that, in using the definition provided by the US EPA, who established and leads the nation in the observance of CISR Month, I’ve used that “scary” word three times. I have no reservations in doing so!

As I see it, the word critical is, well, critical in understanding this month, as well as in achieving its goals. Why? Because “critical” gets right to the heart of the matter, and it hits hard. If it causes individuals, communities, businesses and ecological activists to feel afraid about what is or could become of our infrastructure, that is a good thing in terms of fear being a very powerful motivator for action.

Society has come a long way in understanding and respecting the critical role of our nation’s infrastructure as being the foundation of our economy, security, healthy prosperity and well-being. But, because of the growing influence of everything from climate variability and extreme weather to terrorism, no longer do we talk about merely the infrastructure itself being critical to the American way of life. Now we also include, as equally critical, the security and resiliency of that infrastructure. A look at EPA’s definition of the 16 critical infrastructure sectors helps greatly in explaining why:

“Those sectors that compose the assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual, so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.”

When talking about water and wastewater systems as one of those sectors, I think it’s easy for people to see how a breakdown of water infrastructure could have an impact on the economy and public health. We can even see how a disruption of water and wastewater service could alter our daily lives beyond being inconvenient.

In just 60 seconds, this powerful video created by EPA for CISR month demonstrates how far-reach water security and resiliency are.

This is why we continue to see and hear about movements to unite individual efforts made by communities, governments and utilities under an umbrella-type system focused on national infrastructure security and resiliency. It is why American Water will continue to address the critical nature of our water systems and advocate for partnerships between private and public sectors. And it is why today I encourage all of you to remember the word critical, be alert and take action to help keep our water infrastructure safe and secure.

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Dr. Water’s Holiday List: Decorations, Food, Gifts, and Plumbing

Unless you have a family member with a job in infrastructure or read my inaugural blog commemorating “Brown Friday,” it’s unlikely that the blessings being counted around your Thanksgiving table include the local wastewater disposal plant workers. But, for everyone, these workers – as well as those dedicating their careers to the health and wellbeing of our water infrastructure – should absolutely be at the top of the list when it comes to giving thanks.

For many, “Brown Friday” is something to have a little fun with. It’s a term coined and brought to prominence by workers at wastewater treatment plants who will tell you that hands-down the Friday after Thanksgiving is their busiest day of the year. Plumbers also tell us it is their busiest day for household plumbing emergencies. The contributing factors are many, ranging from the grease and scraps of holiday foods getting washed down the sink and clogging pipes, to the elevation of the “flush total” per household.

But for those of us in the water industry and supportive of water conservation initiatives, “Brown Friday” is no laughing matter. Instead, it presents a powerful opportunity to bring attention to the value of water industry workers, who are far too often taken for granted.

Being taken for granted is more than a personal affront. It can mean out of sight, out of mind, out of funds… and out of luck, especially for communities with aging infrastructure. There’s are two main reasons why, during this past presidential election, both candidates have proposed plans for infrastructure investments totaling anywhere from $500 billion to $1 trillion. They are:

1. Infrastructure repair and replacement is that important to the operation and growth of our country.

2. It will cost that much to do the work that is needed.

In an ideal world, someone would write that mega-check, and all new infrastructure as well as the ultimate in water treatment, reuse and conservation technology would be at work in less a few months’ time. We can, and are, working toward a better world in terms of water delivery and conservation. But during this work in progress, someone has to keep that water flowing given the current capabilities.

That “someone” is made up of the water industry workers who maintain the infrastructure, repair your pipes, keep the treatment plants operating at capacity, and engineer technology for better conservation.

They are the workers who, while you sleep in and recover from your holiday parties and Thanksgiving feasts on “Brown Friday,” rise at dawn and work until nightfall to tackle the overload and ensure clean, safe water keeps on flowing to every household, business and facility. They are the workers for whom we can all lift a glass (of great tasting water!) and give thanks at this year’s holiday celebrations.

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Vlog: Resiliency on Anniversary of Hurricane Sandy

Dr. Water talks about what Rocky and water systems have in common: Resiliency! 

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Pharmaceutical Take-Back Days Are Easy Ways to Dispose Safely

This Saturday, October 22nd marks National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. These successful programs, coordinated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), give the public a safe way to rid their medicine cabinets of potentially dangerous expired, unused, and unwanted prescription drugs.

More information is available here, including drop-off locations searchable by zip code: http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/

I have previously written about the safety hazards associated with misguided drug disposal. Many do not think twice about the consequences of tossing pills in the trash or down the toilet. But the fact is medications that end up in landfills or waterways are dangerous and can contaminate our water. These free events are aimed at providing a safe, responsible method of disposal, which helps keep drugs out of landfills and watersheds. And by eliminating unwanted medications in this manner, prescription drug abuse and theft for this purpose can also be minimized.

To find a nearby collection site, visit www.dea.gov and click on the “Got Drugs: National Prescription Take-Back Day” banner. Medications should be kept in their original containers with labels intact.

Please do not wait until you have a headache to check for unwanted medications. I urge you to clean out your medicine cabinet and participate in National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day to help your community, the environment, and our most precious resource – water!

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