American Water is a public utility company offering water and wastewater services to 1,700 communities in 24 states. That equates to a population of 14 million people. It owns 80 surface water treatment plants, 480 groundwater treatment plants, and 160 wastewater treatment plants. It has 52,500 miles of pipes, 1,100 groundwater wells, 1,700 pumping stations, 1,300 water storage facilities, and 76 dams. The Camden, N.J.-based company employs 6,400 people.
It is committed to sustainability by reducing its CO2 releases and saving water.
What are American Water’s climate goals?
It has a 2025 goal to reduce its greenhouse gases by 40% from a 2007 baseline. It is 36% of the way there now. And it wants to cut those same Scope 1 and 2 releases by 50% by 2035 from a 2020 baseline. Scope 1 is tied to its operations, while Scope 2 is linked to the energy it buys. Scope 3 involves its supply chain.
“The vast majority of energy consumed by water utilities is used to pump water,” the company says; 80% of its greenhouse gases are tied to pumping water. “Our path to reduced energy consumption and emissions is driven by using water more efficiently and is dependent on our energy providers meeting their clean energy transition commitments. By continuing to improve energy and water efficiency, increasing procurement of renewable energy, enhancing pumping and operational efficiency, and increasing our electric vehicle fleet, we will reduce our scope 1 and scope 2 emissions.”
Moreover, it has a program to replace or refurbish pumps. As such, it invested more than $72 million in 2019 and 2020 in pumping station upgrades, which it projects to save 11 million kWh of electricity annually.
The company is also going full steam ahead into renewable energy. As of December 2020, we have solar installations throughout our service areas totaling approximately 3.9 megawatts of capacity. In 2019 and 2020, it generated 4,500 megawatt-hours yearly of solar output.
To that end, it says it builds new facilities and upgrades existing ones based on climate models — things that might cause rising sea levels or changing floodplains. Critical equipment is therefore placed above potential flood levels. At the same time, extreme weather impacts pipes and pumps, which can lead to spills and leaks. The company has identified ways to improve its asset management, reduce potential future outages, and minimize operational impacts.
What are the company’s water goals?
By 2035, it says it can meet its customers’ needs while saving 15% in the water it delivers compared to a 2015 baseline. It has already cut the water delivered to customers by 5% using efficiency programs and new technologies — things upon which it will expand. The technologies include automated readers and leak detection. It expects advances in appliances such as dishwaters and washers will create new efficiencies.
The company says that, on average, the conservation and efficiency measures have enabled residential customers to save 3.4 billion gallons annually since 2016.
American Water is committed to increasing its resilience in response to extreme weather events that can stress water supplies. That includes such things as flooding and droughts. American Water spends about 8% of its total capital on resiliency projects annually. It will invest $28 to $32 billion over the next 10 years to reinforce its essential water services’ quality and reliability and bring water and wastewater solutions to communities across the country.
“These actions will reduce water loss and non-revenue water, minimize customer rate impacts, and continue to benefit from the ongoing national trend of declining residential water use related to fixtures and appliances,” the company says.
For example, a 2014 chemical spill near the West Virginia state capitol in Charleston placed the surrounding residents in disarray. The chemical, used to help cleanse coal, leached its way into the local tributaries, preventing the use of tap water — whether to drink or bathe. The chemical, called 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, is potentially deadly if ingested at concentrated levels.
A holding tank had leaked, with a total capacity of about 35,000 gallons. While the facility had a secondary container system, authorities in West Virginia say that about 5,000 gallons escaped from the concrete encasements and spilled into a smaller river that feeds into the bigger Kanawha River. That blends with the Ohio River, which flows into the Mississippi River. The event affected 100,000 people in American Water’s service territory — including this reporter.
At its headquarters in Camden, N.J., the company is LEED Platinum certified for both its building design and interior design:
— Its roofing technologies are energy efficient and have cut its HVAC cost by 30%;
— It reduced potable water usage for biosolids conveyance by nearly 96% by using rainwater, low-flow water closets, and waterless urinals.
— It diverted 88% of the construction waste from landfills through its recycling efforts.
— It has LED lighting throughout the building.
— It has electric vehicle charging stations on site.
“Delivering a reliable supply of safe, clean, and affordable drinking water to our customers and treating their wastewater is fundamental to the business. American Water’s dedication to our environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles confirms our belief that ‘how’ a company operates is just as important as ‘what’ a company does,” said Lynda DiMenna, Chief Environmental and Safety Officer, American Water.