AND WE’RE OFF! SMART WATER TIPS TO HELP MAKE SURE YOU DON’T LAG BEHIND

The Farmers’ Almanac expects summer temperatures in the eastern U.S. to “arrive right out of the gate with unseasonably hot and dry weather.” The Almanac is also predicting the northeast’s first official week of summer to “bring a spell of hot weather with many 90-degree temperatures and even one or two spots breaking 100 degrees.” Even as I write this—one week before the unofficial start of summer—temperatures in the northeast have topped 90 degrees for three consecutive days and rain has been sparse.  

I think it’s safe to say that in the race of summer heat against water conservation, summer is doing everything possible to get a huge head start and maintain a steady lead!  

Fortunately, as this info graphic demonstrates, even if summer comes on with an initial big burst of energy, homeowners can easily take the lead by implementing a strategy based on smart, steady water usage from May through September. Let’s take a look at what this winning approach should entail. 

Step one: Before stepping onto the track make sure you’re in top physical condition. 

Step two: Learn everything you can about the competition. 

Hot weather isn’t the only competitor to water conservation during the summer. Everything from thirsty plants to evaporation compete for our valuable resource too!

Step three: Conserve energy and finish strong!

Remember, the ultimate key to winning the water race again summer is consistency! Making use of these tips regularly will prevent you from falling behind.

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National Infrastructure Week: Reaching A Crossroads, It’s Time to Build

Every household has that drawer, closet or corner of the attic you’d rather not talk about. I know I do. It starts out innocent enough—you don’t know what to do the vase aunt Addie gave you so you just put it away “for now.” Slowly other gifts and broken household items accumulate in that space. At some point, you think, “I really should do something about this.” You have the best intentions, but that’s as far as it goes—it’s easy enough to close the drawer or closet door and forget about it.

Eventually, that door won’t close, that drawer gets jammed, or you can’t walk safely in that attic. And as the structure of the space itself begins to weaken (how many of us have had the “junk drawer” bottom out?), you can no longer look the other way. So, you begin to attack the piles, the whole time chastising yourself, “If I’d only kept this under control, the cleanup and repair would have been so much easier!”

This experience paints a vivid picture of what Infrastructure Week 2017 is all about. Running from May 15-19, it is a call for everyone—from politicians to individuals, utility leaders to community influencers—to not only recognize the critical crossroads American infrastructure has reached, but to be more vocal and active in helping to do something about it.

Going back to our analogy, America’s infrastructure is at the point where the shelves can longer sustain the weight. Populations are growing and ways of life are changing, putting increasingly greater demands on everything from aging water pipes, to wastewater disposal, to the power grid, to dams, bridges and roadways. Moreover, for decades, the country has let deferred bills for infrastructure replacement and repair pile up while some have looked the other way—allowing infrastructure to continue to erode. A look at the most recent ASCE Report Cards for American Infrastructure proves this point with American infrastructure once again receiving a cumulative D+ grade in 2017. America’s drinking water infrastructure held steady at a D from 2013 to 2017, while wastewater progressed slightly from a D to a D+.

If you think, “well, still, America must be outpacing other countries in infrastructure investments,” think again. You might be surprised to learn that other countries have invested significantly more in all kinds of infrastructure. This dynamic is putting Americans behind as the cost and time invested in “dealing with” aging infrastructure brings progress everywhere else down with it.

The hopeful news is that:

1. Americans do care about and understand the urgency of the infrastructure situation. Right now, more Americans support investing in our infrastructure than nearly any other issue.

2. American engineers and scientists have the innovative ideas and technology for solutions ready to go to work as soon as funding is available.

3. Politicians and other influencers are beginning to recognize that the $3 trillion infrastructure investment gap cannot be solved by incremental or stop-gap solutions. Leaders are looking seriously to advancing innovative partnership and funding needed for truly transformative projects that lead to sustainable solutions.

As the theme of Infrastructure Week 2017 says, it’s time to build America. The theme is not, make things better, or even re-build—because American Infrastructure is in crisis. During the week, more than 60 events are happening across the country, with the support of over 220 affiliate organizations, creating opportunities for everyone to join the mission. You can also follow the conversation online at #TimetoBuild and get involved!

And remember, it’s not enough to clean out that space, repair the damage and then start the cycle all over again. The crisis will only recur. We all need to make a commitment to change by putting the stronger voices, knowledge, and activities of Infrastructure Week to work 52 weeks a year.

 

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Drinking Water Week: Isn’t it Romantic?!

It’s clear. It’s good for cooking, showering and quenching your thirst. It shows up every day, without fail right from your tap. But how well do you know the basics about your drinking water? As I sat in front of my laptop to compose a blog for American Water Works Association’s Drinking Water Week (May 7-13), the 2017 theme “Your Water – To Know It Is To Love It,” jumped out at me and gave me a thought. What would drinking water’s profile be on an online dating site? I asked myself, what would water say to make that perfect splash?  More importantly, I then considered, what would the savvy, eligible “water bachelor or bachelorette” look for in a tall drink of water?

In the spirit of Drinking Water Week, I offer you my take on the criteria people who want to have a long-term relationship with their water might look for.

1. Must be clean, neat and into healthy living. Water quality reports can help you assess this by comparing the quality of water supplied by your utility against standards established by the EPA. 

2. Must come from a strong family background. Water quality reports can also help with this through their descriptions of local drinking water sources. 

3. Must be reliable and punctual. Look at what it takes to keep water flowing reliably every day to understand what makes water consistently clean and available. Remember, American Water invests more than $1 billion annually in our water systems to ensure continued reliability for our customers, who count on us every day.

4. Science and technology geek preferred; I like someone who stays ahead of the curve to make themselves and me happy! With its rigorous testing protocols, water epitomizes using modern technology to deliver better results.  For example, American Water’s lab in Belleville, Illinois, supports research through sophisticated testing and analysis, and sets the standard for water utilities. The lab has a history of being on the forefront of monitoring, testing, identifying and controlling contaminants before specific federal regulations are put in place. In fact, the United States Environmental Protection Agency regularly taps into our lab and our research team to help develop federal drinking water standards and regulations.

5. Must have a vulnerable side too; I like to support and help better the lives of the people I love! Protecting our most valuable resource offers powerful ways for anyone to make an impact on current communities as well as the future of water. Numerous local groups and organizations exist that work on community-based environmental projects to improve, restore and/or protect watersheds and community water supplies. Through American Water’s environmental grant program, we help support those of you who are in many cases “on the ground” and getting your hands dirty to protect our nation’s rivers and watersheds, as well as to advance sustainability initiatives. Every individual and community can make an impact by getting involved. 

6. Must be young at heart. Here, water may need to do a little work before landing its soulmate! As we’ve addressed many times in this blog, much of the water infrastructure across the country is aging and in need of repair or replacement. But, our engineering and operations teams work closely with our communities every day to “restore youth” to water infrastructure by identifying problem areas and putting upgrade plans into action.

When you think about, an individuals, we have a longer and more intimate relationship with water than with anyone else. Moreover, it’s a relationship that starts before we are born and lasts our entire lives! So isn’t it worth getting to know your water better? The more you understand it, the more you can truly appreciate—and LOVE—it!

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Warm Weather Tips for Staying Healthy and Looking Good

When the seasons change to spring and summer, the warm weather can often put “looking good” at the top of our priorities, and there’s a lot of pressure to feel like it’s a competition, especially with all the images we’re inundated with on social media and glossy magazines. Keep in mind that being healthy is more important than adhering to a certain look. Oh, and just to be clear, I’m not talking about your tan or swimsuit body…I’m talking about your lawn and garden.

We want to keep our lawns and gardens looking healthy and fresh, but we want to do it without wasting water, and apply it to environmentally friendly landscapes. It’s estimated that up to 50% of the water we use for outdoor needs is not necessary to maintain a healthy landscape. Don’t know where to start? Here are some tips that will help you conserve water and still manage to feel good about the look of your lawn this year.

  1. Don’t over-water.  One of the biggest mistakes we can make with plants is watering them more than they need. A good rule of thumb is; 1 inch of water per week, and when in doubt, make sure the plant’s soil is lightly moist. Keep in mind that over-watering is just as bad as under-watering! 
  2. Keep plants local. For gardens and landscaping, native plants require less water and care than those found unnaturally in your local habitat because they are adept at utilizing whatever rainfall is typical of your region.
  3. Water in the morning or late in the day. The cooler it is outside in the daylight, the more time the plant has to absorb the water throughout the day and receive nourishment before the water evaporates. 
  4. Watch what you’re watering. Check sprinkler heads to make sure water isn’t being wasted on your sidewalks or pavement. You can reduce the runtime for plants in shady areas, too.
  5. Keep an eye on the weather. Rain in the forecast? This saves you not only a few minutes in the morning by not having to water your plants, but also a lot of water! Be sure to turn off sprinkler systems.  Invest in a low-cost rain sensor that turns off the sprinklers when it’s raining.
  6. 50 shades of (brown) grass. This is an *extra* pro-tip because though brown grass may not look the nicest, brown grass isn’t necessarily dead grass. Grass can go dormant (brown) in the scorching summer months but will likely turn green again once it begins to cool off.
  7. The right amount of mulch. Now that you’ve got your local super-plants, you don’t want to over-mulch. Mulching beds do help retain moisture and prevent weeds but over-mulching can stress plants. Two to three inches should be plenty.
  8. Do some research. Knowing of some drought-friendly plants could benefit your yard. In the event of a drought, many of your foreign plants may die- but those accustomed to a drier climate will look healthy and maintained all summer, regardless of the weather. You can start by browsing this helpful guide.

Maintaining a beautiful lawn or garden is something to be proud of, but conserving water while doing so is even better. I hope you have a great summer and strive to follow at least some of these tips. For other water-saving (and money-saving) tips this summer, check here. Your lawns, gardens, and wallets will thank you.

 

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SURVEY SAYS: HOW GOOD IS YOUR DRINKING WATER?

Family Feud, first launched in 1976, has been a top game show in syndication, new iterations, as well as a pop-culture icon. Of course the trademark” line from the show is “survey says…” Sometimes the responses to the surveys are predicable, but other times you wonder “who in the world was answering those questions?” Gallup just released their annual environmental poll, conducted in March, and maybe it’s not surprising, but 63 percent of respondents said they “worry a great deal about pollution of their drinking water.”  

Gallup reports that these results reflect an all-time high concern since they started the poll 16 years ago. Moreover, poll numbers indicate that American’s are more concerned about water pollution than the other four key environmental issues assessed in the poll (air pollution, climate change, loss of tropical rain forests and the extinction of plant and animal species). That makes sense, as pollution of drinking water has an immediate personal impact! 

Poll analysts connected news about high-profile water crises with the rise in Americans’ concern about the quality of their drinking water. This is completely understandable given the headlines about lead in the water of Flint, Michigan and some other cities. At the same time, newspapers are shouting headlines about risks from industrial chemicals, pesticides, and “emerging contaminants.” Environmental groups may advocate for certain policies or viewpoints; and of course you can find almost any opinion on the internet! Having people pay more attention to their water is a good thing. Being a vigilant consumer is a positive step – but how does one sift through all the noise to get the right information? 

Fortunately, this is the time of year when all water utilities are required to inform their customers on the quality of their drinking water. The process must be completed by July 1 and customers can receive this information either in print form or electronically. The “consumer confidence report” is intended to provide the public with information on the quality of their drinking water and how to get additional information if there are any questions. 

American Water’s annual Water Quality Report provides details how we meet or surpass all federal, state or local standards for delivering safe, quality drinking water. American Water customers can access their Water Quality Report by using this link: https://amwater.com/corp/water-quality-wastewater-service/water-quality-reports and then just enter their zip code to get their specific report. Other information is available that addresses frequently asked questions. There is also a phone number that will link you to our national call center where an agent can help you get additional information, if needed. 

Individuals can also make an effort to be aware of what is happening at local, state and federal levels in terms of water policies, and get involved. Engaging your local, state, or federal representatives can show your commitment to water quality and make your voice is heard.  

It takes a concerted daily effort by many teams of dedicated employees within the water industry to ensure that quality standards are consistently met and continue to improve. Keeping people informed and aware can drive actions and keep us vigilant and vocal on key water issues. This information and understanding can go a long way to address the concerns of the “63 percent” and help provide assurance and peace of mind about the quality of your drinking water. No feuding needed…this is something all families can agree is important.

 

 

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GOALS FOR GAINING KNOWLEDGE AND TAKING ACTION ON EARTH DAY 2017

Each year, Earth Day presents an opportunity to make good on goals that possess the ambition and dedication to change the world. At an industry and organizational level, we are always striving to take the lead when it comes to environmental stewardship. In addition, for our customers, we likewise work hard behind the scenes to make it easy for them on an individual level to take action as well.

The vision of the Earth Day Network is to increase the public’s “Environmental and Climate Literacy,” which is also the theme of Earth Day 2017 (April 22). A closer look reveals that “Environmental and Climate Literacy” isn’t just about everyone having the right vocabulary and knowledge about the issues. Here, knowing is just the beginning. The essential part of the Earth Day campaign—as well as the larger Earth Day Network goal for 2020—is the movement towards internalization of environmental values.

Not only getting everyone to the point where we can talk intelligently about the issues, but also inspiring them to talk passionately about them. It means not just knowing, but taking action. It means not just being grateful for what other people and groups are doing, but owning one’s personal responsibility to make an impact right alongside them.

Imagine 7.8 billion people—the anticipated global population by 2020—exhibiting this type of environmental and climate literacy. As I said, awesome! Even more so when you consider environmental and climate literacy is the engine driving:

In the spirit of “Environmental and Climate Literacy” here are a few actions you can take on April 22:

1.    Measure your environmental footprint. Shocking but true, today the world’s population consumes 1.5 planet’s worth of resources annually! Take this quiz to see how many planets you need to support your lifestyle.

2.    Make an act of green: this can include everything from planting or donating a tree, to joining the March for Science, to writing down your new plan for utilizing more locally sourced food.

3.    Participate in an Earth Day Teach-In in your community.

4.    Go paperless with American Water: log into “My Account” and sign up for paperless billing.

In closing, I draw on these words of Gandhi, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” This last part is what environmental and climate literacy work toward—creating a planet that lives on forever, sustained to support an endless number of generations.

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Working Together to Make a Positive Impact on Freshwater

We’ve all heard the phrase, “there’s strength in numbers.” This is true under many circumstances, but particularly when people and organizations join forces to change how we use, value, and manage one of the Earth’s most valuable resources – water. It’s one of the reasons we collaborate with an array of suppliers to enable innovation, reduce costs and promote sustainability to accomplish extraordinary things.

Businesses that help create and sustain cleaner water can attract talent that shares these principles and help communities thrive. That’s why we embrace innovations to help us achieve our goals, and using our unique model for collaboration it is easier for us to work with companies developing their own innovative technologies.

I’ve recently been reading and hearing about numbers of well-known corporations making concerted efforts to support and fundamentally change how water is used by their companies. Though water makes up 71% of the world’s surface, less 1% of that water is both fresh and accessible for drinking, irrigation, power generation, and environmental benefits.

Being part of the involvement and commitment within the water industry is rewarding; American Water is a member of numerous organizations at the local, state, and national level, and we often partner with other organizations on innovative, community-based environmental projects that improve, restore or protect the watersheds, surface water and groundwater supplies. We also have developed formal plans for engagement and communication with customers, regulators, NGOs, state environmental commissions, and other external groups about issues affecting water. However, seeing the efforts of other corporations and the public is truly a testament to the broader recognition of collective water needs.

Reducing the human footprint on water is not a “one-size-fits-all” project. Companies can diversify methods to suit their own goals, while still advancing the community at large. Success will take new strategies, new projects, and new partnerships- but, when everyone takes an interest in building long-term water security, we all benefit.

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FLUSH IT OR FORGET IT? THE TIME HAS COME TO WIPE OUT THE WIPES.

If you think the picture at the right looks monster-like, I’d have to agree. Beyond this photo lies an even more monstrous challenge: putting the brakes on a personal obsession that is expected to drive approximately $9.3 billion in sales by 2018.

I’m talking about disposable wipes—like the ones in this picture being removed from a wastewater treatment plant in Sydney, Australia. Baby wipes. Wet wipes. Disinfecting wipes. They are harming our environment, killing marine life, and compromising water systems with tons of them floating around in sewers and pipelines. These wipes are costing ratepayers millions of dollars for removal, repair and cleanup. Still, people love them for their convenience, comfort and function. Their popularity has skyrocketed over the past decade, with no slowdown in sight. In addition, this is a huge concern for the water industry.

One of the major issues with these wipes is the label “flushable.” If you think about it, many things can be flushed that shouldn’t be. A plastic bottle cap. Cotton balls. A popsicle stick. In fact, many wipes contain the very same ingredients as those items; plastic, cotton and wood pulp! I hope that will make you think twice before flushing a “flushable” wipe again. If that doesn’t do it, check out this astounding video in which a Consumer Reports testing team gave up trying to get a wipe to breakdown in ordinary “flush conditions” as well as in extraordinary conditions. The video should make clear the answer to the question: can I flush my wipes? Absolutely not!

So how can we cut down on the overall usage of wipes? It wasn’t that long ago that human beings made due without them—reports estimate that the origin of today’s wipe only dates back to the mid-1950s. This means our parents and grandparents did just fine raising their children and living their own healthy lifestyles without wipes! The same things they used are still available to us—such as flannel and cotton cloths that can be washed and reused—along with some other discoveries that are more eco-friendly.

Here are a few fun tips I’ve discovered to help wean us off the wipes:

One consumer at a time we can combat the monster that is the disposable wipe—and help mitigate the flood of financial and environmental costs they cause.

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The Return on Investment in Water Infrastructure is a Better Economy and Job Opportunities

I’ve written before about the various connections between water, infrastructure, investment, and job creation, but I’m just one Dr. Water. The Value of Water Campaign on the other hand, is a whole collective organization of experts from across the water industry, including American Water, and they recently commissioned an economic impact analysis to better understand how increasing investments in our nation’s water infrastructure can affect economic growth and employment.

The benefits that would be realized if the nation chose to make needed investments include the economic opportunities created by water infrastructure projects, as well as the provision of clean, safe, reliable water service to households and businesses.  Water sustains our families and our communities, and it also supports economic productivity. From semiconductor manufacturing to hotels and restaurants, virtually all sectors of the economy rely on water.

Many water and wastewater systems have been in operation for a century or more. As pipes, pumps and plants reach the end of their useful life, the capital needs of water and wastewater utilities are growing rapidly, yet federal investment in water infrastructure is less than half of what it was thirty years ago. Based on a 2016 assessment by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the U.S. needs to invest an additional $95 billion per year in water infrastructure at all levels of government over the next 10 years to meet projected capital needs.

With water infrastructure capital needs growing rapidly, in 2016 American Water invested about $1.5 billion, the highest in the company’s history. $1.3 billion of that investment was dedicated towards regulated systems to improve service reliability and water quality for customers, and the plan is to invest more than $6B in the next five years. According to the Water Research Foundation, $1 billion invested in water infrastructure creates approximately 16,000 jobs, so $6B invested would mean 96,000 new jobs in the communities we serve.

With a life span of 75 to 100 years, much of the nation’s underground pipe systems and water mains are now coming due for replacement. Based on analysis by the American Water Works Association, approximately one-third of water mains nationwide will require replacement by 2040.

Water infrastructure is fundamental to our nation’s economic health, and by keeping it in a state of good repair, we maintain the strength of our economy. As this study shows, investments in water infrastructure generate high-quality jobs, increase the competitiveness of American businesses and lead to a significant injection in economic activity throughout the nation.

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WORLD WATER DAY PUTS FOCUS ON REDUCING AND REUSING WASTEWATER

This year’s United Nations World Water Day theme emphasizes the importance of recycling. We all know the value in recycling; the process of converting waste into reusable material. Growing up I learned to separate plastics, glass, and paper and even at an early age, I associated those actions with the act of turning the water off when brushing my teeth. Why? I did not know exactly- but I did know it had something to do with not “wasting water.” Though I felt like I was doing my part to help the environment, I did not fully understand the differences or the interconnectedness between recycling, reuse, and reclamation.

The United Nations theme focuses on the reduction in potable water use and the reuse of wastewater from homes, industries, and cities, and returning it to back to the environment in a safe way. For example, in our homes we can reuse greywater on our gardens and landscaping. In cities, we can treat and reuse wastewater for green spaces, water features, golf courses, car washes, and more. For industry and agriculture, we can treat and recycle water for cooling systems, industrial water processes, and irrigation.

Of course, the water industry is focused on managing and improving wastewater treatment and usage. At American Water, our teams are practicing water reuse at about 40 of the 200 wastewater treatment facilities that we own or operate.  Over the past 10 years, our research group has conducted 15 research projects funded by the WasteReuse Research Foundation – totaling nearly $6 million.  Our Innovation Development Process (IDP) we seek out innovations and leverage them for our customers and the water industry as a whole. Using the IDP, we have examined more than 600 technologies to date and are actively pursuing a dozen partnerships with domestic and international partners.

On a global level, most cities in developing nations do not have the adequate resources and infrastructure to address wastewater management in an efficient and sustainable way. However, with 70% of world populations predicted to be living in cities by 2050, the opportunities for exploiting resource recovery from wastewater are enormous.  In addition to the recovered water, nitrogen and phosphorus can be recovered for fertilizer; energy can be created from biogas as electricity.  Solids can be used in agriculture to improve soils.  Even trace levels of gold, silver and other precious metals can be recovered!  Makes you think twice about even flushing the toilet in the first place!

The benefits of effective wastewater treatment go far beyond the technical details of resource recovery.  Proper sanitation and wastewater treatment have been hailed as one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century!  Not only have diseases like typhoid, cholera, and polio been virtually eliminated by effective wastewater treatment, but communities have also experienced economic development, and environmental sustainability; and new business opportunities and greener jobs have resulted from the implementation of stronger and more efficient wastewater programs.

The effective use of drinking water and the efficient management of wastewater resources can create a more sustainable planet and a healthier world population. On this World Water Day, March 22, let’s continue to play our part in wise water management and recognizing the many purposes water serves in our daily lives.

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