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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Every day, people looking to raise awareness and gain support for important causes head to our nation’s Capital – Washington, D.C. Next week, the water industry takes its turn in a very big way during Water Week 2017. Together, hundreds of advocates from the water community will have our voice heard and “elevate water as a national priority.”

Support for water conservation, reuse and quality improvements has come a long way across the country over the past 20 years. Water Week is an opportunity for water leaders to get in front of key decision makers and lawmakers to ensure that they understand issues critical to the water industry and are motivated to take action with us to protect our world’s most precious natural resource.

During the week, key leaders in the water industry will be bring concerns and facts directly to Congress. These topics will include the dire state of our water infrastructure; challenges for water utilities and our customers; roadblocks to sustainability and access to clean water for all Americans; and the positive economic impact that comes from investments in infrastructure and subsequent job creation.

Water industry leaders will have a Rally for Water on the Capitol grounds on World Water Day, March 22! This rally is always a Water Week highlight as it unites all types of professionals, organizations, investors and citizens in a demonstration of the grassroots dynamic of the modern water movement.

Lastly, Water Week allows the water industry to learn from each other and delve into the dynamics of the new White House administration to gain a better understanding of how changes could impact water utilities and the people we serve in the long- and short-term. The title of one forum summarizes this component of the week’s activities perfectly: Understanding the New Reality—Making Sense Out of Change. Through these types of opportunities water and wastewater utilities will become better prepared for change as well as gain insights that will help us start planning strategies so that we can continue to serve our communities in the best possible way. For a list of Water Week events, click here.

A change as significant as having a new political party and president in the White House can also mean big changes for water policy and our water missions. Many questions are swirling about how changes at EPA might affect safe drinking water standards and protection of clean waterways.  Be assured that water industry leaders have always advocated for sensible regulations that above all protect the public and provide value to our customers.  That will not change.  However, it is important that all of us continue to have our voice heard and continue to make positive changes in our water use so that together we can drive our own message to value and protect one of our most precious national treasures – clean water!

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Pieces of the Global Water Change Puzzle

Asia’s disappearing ______ Sea, four letters.

If you’re a fan of crossword puzzles, this clue probably looks familiar to you. But there’s more to the answer than meets the eye – and thanks to a collaboration between the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre scientists and Google engineers, we are getting that deeper look at what’s going on with bodies of water such as Asia’s disappearing Aral Sea.

You absolutely must see the mapping – in motion – to truly appreciate how exciting this project is! The name Global Surface Water Explorer also says a great deal about this online resource. I suggest doing the following:

  1. Get started here. This short article includes several captivating animations showing surface water changes in the U.S. and other parts of the world.
  2. Then, start exploring here.

The project utilizes millions of satellite images to map three decades of water global water change, allowing scientists and researchers to more closely see the impact of climate variability and other influences on surface water (inland saltwater and freshwater lakes, rivers and wetlands). By mapping these changes, scientists and researchers can better plan strategies for water use, resource management and conservation.

What is offered to the public is incredibly interactive and captivating – visual and cerebral. It is one of those opportunities where anyone can dive in and get lost exploring bodies of water from country to country. Moreover, not only you will you see what has happened to surface water between 1984 and 2015 in a type of time-lapse animation, you will learn why it’s happening.

The Global Surface Water Explorer is also full of what could be surprises to many people. For instance, did you know that not all lakes and rivers are drying up? On the contrary, while some water sources such as those in the western U.S. are declining due to overuse, lakes in other areas of the world are expanding due to melting glaciers.

I encourage all of you to get out there (on the web, that is) and play! See where the Global Surface Water Explorer takes you – and don’t forget to find out exactly why the Aral Sea is disappearing!

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It’s Report Card Time for our Nation’s Water Infrastructure and the Lesson is Clear

In school, I never minded taking tests – it was getting them back that was the hard part!  Of course, I can see the value – you are supposed to learn from your mistakes!  So periodically putting yourself to the test is not a bad thing – a time to “show what you got”!  To check in and see if you’ve mastered the subject!  I already admitted in last week’s blog that I wasn’t strong in math – so I benefited greatly from my mistakes!

Still, even getting the test back wasn’t as strenuous as report card time, because then everyone, especially my parents – would know how I was going.  I wasn’t that bad of a student, mostly A’s and B’s, so report card time wasn’t too stressful.  Sometimes the anticipation was more strenuous than the result!

That’s the case with the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) Report Card for American Infrastructure, which has an impact on the health, and future of our country – and comes out next week on March 9th. Thankfully the strain of getting this report card comes only once every four years, but we haven’t been doing very well and it’s hard to imagine that this report card is going to be any better!

The Report Card is on the condition and performance of drinking water/wastewater infrastructure and over the last three Report Cards, which started in 2001, America’s drinking/wastewater infrastructure has received two D- grades and in the most recent, 2013, a D.  These are among the worst conditions of all infrastructure categories studied!  In the last report we went from a D- to a D so maybe there’s reason for a bit of hope!

According to estimates by the American Water Works Association, the price tag for the critical upkeep and replacement of the nation’s outdated water systems is at least $1 trillion over the next 25 years. So, while we know there have been strong steps taken on infrastructure improvements over the past three years on local levels, seeing the impact on the more than one million miles of water mains that exist nationwide in such a short time period would be a tall order.

Regardless of the grade (see the 2017 ASCE Report Card on March 9 here), the messages related to the Report Card remain the same: growing and continued attention to and investment in water infrastructure is imperative. Consider a few of the results of a water systems breakdown and water delivery disruptions:

We’ve discussed many times in this blog that there is no quick fix. With the useful life of some components in water infrastructure being as low as 15 years, there is a near constant need for repair and upgrades. Moreover, we must consider the infrastructure that dates from the 1990’s back to the Civil War era and everything in between—structures on which greater and greater demand is placed as populations expand and water needs skyrocket.

American Water invests more than $1 billion annually to ensure continued safe, reliable drinking water for our customers. We work with other utilities and advocates to help move the needle on water infrastructure from critical to improved. And our customers are already playing an important role simply by paying their water bills and supporting needed improvements. While much work needs to be done to raise the grade of the nation’s deteriorating water infrastructure, together we can address the challenges in local communities and across the country.

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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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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!

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, 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, 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 ( 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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