This month marks six months since Hurricane Ida rolled through southeastern Pennsylvania, bringing record rainfall and damaging flooding to areas of southeastern PA – including the Pickering West Water Treatment Plant, Aqua Pennsylvania’s largest suburban Philadelphia treatment facility. At Aqua, we are committed to delivering safe and reliable drinking water for all, and this event highlighted just how critical that commitment truly is.
For perspective on just how powerful the storm was, 20 percent of the annual rainfall normally expected fell in a six-hour-period. This hurricane brought historic and catastrophic flooding – you may recall that astonishing image of Philadelphia’s Vine Street Expressway completely underwater. The flooding inundated and damaged most of the treatment plant’s infrastructure, which normally delivers 30 million gallons per day to approximately 1 million people in three counties. For nine days, our team managed the recovery of the plant by altering its operations so we could provide water to the service area, and deal with related storm aftermath at our other nearby water treatment facilities.
We were forced to implement a boil water advisory in two towns and issue a voluntary request for water conservation while we modified the distribution of water from other plants. Immediately after floodwaters receded, a team of employees and contractors worked around the clock to optimize production at our other plants and ensure service continued without interruption. Throughout this entire time, our number one priority was to provide service to our customers – safe, reliable access to a critical resource they need to live and work.
While we are not immune to floods that can happen annually, our team puts various plans in place to ensure our services remain dependable and accessible for all. We recognize the importance of having actionable natural disaster plans in place to help mitigate some of the potential effects of this hurricane and future storms.
One of the main reasons we avoided a large-scale boil water advisory and were able to keep the water flowing was due to the many sources of drinking water and robust distribution infrastructure throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, allowing us to reroute the water supply to compensate for the loss. In addition, the quick thinking, response, and guidance of our dedicated Aqua crew members prevented the problem from worsening and affecting our customers for a longer duration.
Additional tactics that helped us remain strong and continue water flow was a combination of media, social and digital outreach, customer specific email and text alerts, and focused, strategic communication that proved effective. Aqua was able to fully saturate all available media channels to reach a significant number of people in a short period of time – the storm came in fast, and we reacted swiftly and efficiently. Our conservation messaging resulted in a customer response driving a measurable reduction in water consumption, affording us time to redirect water flow and help us avoid a larger scale issue.
Through the heroic efforts of our people, and the benefit of years of infrastructure investment throughout our system, Aqua was able to restore the operation of the plant from total outage in 9 days while sustaining service. Our plan is to employ corrective actions from this experience as we invest in operational strategies and infrastructure to ensure fast recovery and resilience from future circumstances. As a large water company with the available resources to endure these seemingly more frequent events, our customers should rest easy knowing that they have a water company serving them that can “weather the storm.”
Marc A. Lucca is President of Aqua Pennsylvania, Inc.
Aqua Pennsylvania serves approximately 1.5 million people in 32 counties throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Visit AquaAmerica.com, or follow Aqua on Facebook at facebook.com/MyAquaAmerica and on Twitter at @MyAquaAmerica.