Imagine a Day Without Water falls on October 21 this year. The day of awareness challenges people around the country to consider what their lives would be like without reliable access to an essential resource for life, like water. Think about it: you obviously would have no water to drink, but you also couldn’t brush your teeth, do laundry, cook, wash dishes or shower. It’s hard to fathom, which is exactly why it’s a good exercise to consider what goes into ensuring clean water reliability here in our community and what we can do to help maintain the world-class water system that Anne Arundel County water customers enjoy.
To gain more insight, we caught up with Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works Director Chris Phipps.
Q: Most residents are familiar with Anne Arundel County Department of Public Works, but explain more about why the organization’s services are so important to this community.
A: Our Department of Public Works is proud to provide the residents of Anne Arundel County with high-quality services that aim to make our community a better place to live, work and play. Our team is passionate about what we do, partly because over 70 percent of us live right here in the county.
Sometimes it’s easy to notice the projects we work on, like capital improvements, construction of new infrastructure and innovative environmental restoration projects. But, often, our daily work that impacts lives tremendously can fly under the radar. That includes maintaining, managing and operating the county’s road and bridge network, providing an efficient recycling and trash collection system and — particularly vital — ensuring reliable access to clean water.
Q: Can you tell us more about your DPW&YOU campaign?
A: We launched our DPW&YOU campaign to raise awareness of the critical services DPW provides, to make it easier for our residents to engage with us and to encourage residents to join us in keeping our community a great place to live, work and play. By providing a better understanding of what we do and how it enhances our quality of life, we hope to bring more of the community in and around our mission to maintain a safe, forward-thinking and sustainable community.
Q: Why are you encouraging Anne Arundel County residents to imagine a day without water?
A: It’s easy to take the water that flows from the tap for granted, isn’t it? It’s clean and we don’t have to put any effort into accessing as much as we need. At DPW, we’re quite proud of that, actually. We deliver more than 13 billion gallons of award-winning, public water to 110,000 households and businesses across Anne Arundel County. We also collect over 12 billion gallons of wastewater for over 118,000 customers.
Q: How much water does Anne Arundel County use each day?
A: DPW produces, treats and delivers approximately 12 billion gallons of water each year to residents and businesses in the county. To give you a sense of just how much H2O that is, an Olympic-sized swimming pool holds only 660,000 gallons of water.
Q: And how much does that break down to in terms of each household’s daily use?
A: Well, the amount per day varies for each household but the average person uses between 80 and 100 gallons daily. A single shower typically uses about 20 gallons of water. So, shortening showers by just a little bit is one way to have a big impact as an individual.
Q: When most people think about access to water, drinking water is usually the first thing that comes to mind. But, water impacts so much more in our daily lives, right?
A: Absolutely. Of course, we encourage people to think about what it would be like if you couldn’t just turn on the faucet when you’re thirsty. Imagine that for a moment. Then consider everything else you need water for. Without accessible water, sanitation becomes a big issue as well: you also couldn’t brush your teeth, do laundry, wash dishes or shower. Think about water during the first hour of each day; you wake up, go to the bathroom, shower, brush your teeth, make coffee, you may make some oatmeal, so on and so forth. Water is critical to our everyday lives, and this day draws awareness and urges people to join us in our conservation effort by adopting some best practices for helping to create a more sustainable water system.
Q: It’s no small feat to ensure residents can rely on access to clean water, right?
A: There’s certainly a lot that goes into it, but we have a well-tuned operation so that residents can rest assured knowing they can rely on getting as much high-quality water as they need, whenever they need it.
It all starts with the Department of Public Works producing water from aquifers 150 to 1,500 feet underground. We pump the water to one of our many treatment facilities where it undergoes a multi-step process to ensure the water is safe for delivery and consumption. The process includes aeration, where the water is removed from the ground and passed through large aerators to add oxygen and remove dissolved gasses. Then, the addition of chemicals such as chlorine and lime help to adjust the pH level and disinfect the water with the removal of solid particles, such as iron. From there, the water moves into filtration that further removes suspended matter by passing the water, and the addition of fluoride helps prevent tooth decay.
Finally, after undergoing the treatment process, finished water enters the distribution system. It is then delivered to over 118,000 homes and businesses throughout Anne Arundel County. The water distribution system is comprised of a network of over 1,300 miles of water mains. In addition to water mains, the distribution system consists of fire hydrants, valves, elevated storage tanks and various other components that make it possible for the finished water to get delivered.
Q: Anne Arundel County DPW recently received yet another award. Tell us more about what this award recognizes you for?
A: Yes, the Water Environment Federation recently recognized Anne Arundel County DPW as a “Utility of the Future, Today!” It’s a nod to our becoming a leader in sustainability and resilience of our water system and our operations. The award highlights our daily efforts to protect the environment and public safety. It is a testament to the high standards, work ethic, innovation and dedication of our talented operators and engineers.
Q: Can you tell us in your own words why water conservation is so important and how it takes the whole community?
A: Yes, water conservation and maintaining a sustainable water system certainly does take the whole community. There is an associated cost to produce, treat and safely deliver water to our 120,000 customers each day. While public water is one of the best values around, residents can save money each month or year by simply cutting down on certain water use-related activities.
As I touched on earlier, taking less time in the shower each day could save about five gallons per person in your household. Again, that’s huge. And you can also save by fixing a leaky faucet, which can waste the same amount of water used in 180 showers, or by fixing a leaky showerhead that could save as much water as used in 60 dishwasher loads.
Just like you balance your household budget with income, savings and expenditures, our water budget is a balance of precipitation, storage, evaporation and discharge. In Anne Arundel County, we currently have a water budget imbalance — meaning, our community withdraws water from the Earth at a faster rate than it can replenish it. Addressing this water budget imbalance is a priority for groundwater resiliency and protection of our future drinking water supplies naturally stored in underground aquifers.
Anne Arundel County is currently evaluating innovative approaches to replenish groundwater supplies, battle the intrusion of saltwater into groundwater as sea levels rise and battle potential ground sinking due to increased withdraws from our aquifers.
Q: What can residents do to support water conservation?
A: Again, everyone can and should try their best to support the work of our team by contributing to this effort. Everyone can make a difference by following a few simple tips, such as turning off the faucet when brushing teeth or washing dishes and shortening shower time by one minute. Those things go a long way. A broken faucet that leaks at a rate of one drip per second can waste more that 3,000 gallons per year, for example. Worse, an irrigation system that leaks and a toilet leak can both waste more than 6,000 gallons of water per month!
In addition, fixing easily corrected household water leaks could save you roughly 10 percent of your water bill cost. The good news is, the leaks are relatively easy to fix, usually involving a do-it-yourself solution that pays for itself in no time. When it comes to toilet leaks, we have five steps to test toilets for leaks on our website at www.dpwandyou.com.
Chris Phipps has served as the director of Public Works since August 2013 and is responsible for all highways, water and wastewater, solid waste management and watershed protection and restoration programs for Anne Arundel County, as well as execution of the county’s Capital Improvement Program.