By: Allison Tunstall, NWI.LIFE
Last Updated: March 4, 2021
Wood-framed buildings dominated fast-growing cities in the 1800s. Homes, businesses, and even roads and sidewalks were constructed with wood, resulting in an explosion of infrastructure that became hubs for culture, economies, and an ever-growing post-civil war population. So, when the first water systems in the U.S. were introduced, it is not surprising that they were constructed with fire protection in mind.
In many cities, drinking water was taken from rivers and lakes—the same rivers and lakes where waste was dumped, leading to disease from pathogens in the water. Once scientists developed systems to purify and disinfect water, these systems were introduced and expanded, delivering fresh, clean water to homes and businesses. This is where American Water, founded by two brothers in 1886 as the American Water Works & Guarantee Company, traces its roots—providing an essential service with a special focus on quality, innovation, and environmental and social responsibility.
Indiana American Water, a subsidiary of American Water, embodies this history and drive to grow and learn as the world does. Recognized as an industry leader, the utility company provides a depth of knowledge and experience to the one in five people it serves in Indiana – including more than 250,000 residents in Northwest Indiana alone.
“Our people set us apart,” said Indiana American Water President Matt Prine. “We have many employees who have been here for decades, in some cases, more than 60 years. They’re considered the most experienced and knowledgeable employees in the industry.”
“Our highly sophisticated analytical and research capabilities are why the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) regularly taps into our lab and our research team to help develop federal drinking water standards and regulations,” Prine said. “Since 1981, our Central Laboratory and chemistry professionals have tested water samples there to monitor for over 100 state and federally regulated contaminants, performing over one million water quality tests per year.”
Across the state and in Northwest Indiana, Indiana American Water has taken up the challenge of replacing outdated lead water service lines through its lead service line (LSL) replacement program. Prior to World War II, it was not uncommon in some communities for lead to be used for the water service line connection between a house or building and the utility water main. In Northwest Indiana, it appears lead service lines may have continued to be installed in some areas as recently as the early 1970s. Lead was also a component of solder used in copper pipe connections and brass plumbing fixtures until later in the 20th century.
“While lead was durable, malleable, and was not as susceptible to corrosion as some other materials, the potential impact on public health far outweighs those characteristics,” said Prine. “We routinely sample for lead, and our systems continue to be in compliance with state and federal regulations. Where needed, we provide appropriate corrosion control treatment with many of our facilities using corrosion inhibitors to mitigate any potential threat.”
Indiana American Water is in the process of replacing all lead service lines in its service areas. The company has also continued its work with the US EPA, state legislators, and others in the industry providing input on the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions that were recently announced.
“American Water has successfully worked with public utility commissions in several other states to support a common-sense approach to replacing lead service lines,” Prine said.
Indiana American Water estimates that, between the company-owned service lines and the customer-owned service lines, there were as many as 55,000 lead service lines in use just a few years ago in its service areas across the state. Indiana American Water has already replaced or retired more than 30% of those lines through its LSL replacement program.
“Our plan addresses the issue of lead service lines in a way that replaces both company-owned and customer-owned lead service lines outside the home or business,” said Prine. “Our approach also recognizes the societal cost of replacing lead service lines, which tend to be in older, less affluent areas where the customer is less able to afford the cost of replacing these lines. The state has supported our approach of replacing these lines without placing undue burden on individual customers.”
Indiana American Water’s societal responsibility sets it apart from many other utility companies thanks to a continued focus on Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) principles.
“We do well by doing good,” Prine said. “ESG is core to who American Water and Indiana American Water are as businesses. We are, have always been, and will always be the local water and wastewater company. We understand that water is the most essential resource for life. If we don’t get water quality right, if we don’t have safe, clean, affordable water, nothing else we do matters. We’re not just a utility. We’re also in the health and safety business, and we always remember that.”
Protecting the environment, providing a diverse and inclusive culture, and governing in a transparent and trustworthy way are just a few reasons why the company has been recognized locally and nationally by assessments like the Disability Equality Index and organizations like U.S. Veterans Magazine, Military Times, Barron’s Magazine, and Corporate Knights in its Global 100. The company was also named to the newly launched NAACP Equity, Inclusion, and Empowerment Index.
“We have a team of people who reflect the communities we serve,” Prine continued, “and our employees are active in our communities. In Northwest Indiana, we have partnered with a number of groups, including Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels, Boys and Girls Club of Greater Northwest Indiana, several local fire departments, and the Salvation Army.”
The American Water Charitable Foundation also matches employee donations to nonprofits each year up to $1,000 per employee and has invested more than $5.5 million in programs and organizations important to the company’s employees and their communities.
This is where Indiana American Water priorities lie – with the communities we serve. The company’s commitment to customer service and satisfaction is ingrained into our work, like surveying customers and routinely seeking input from them in what we are doing well and what we can improve upon.
“As a regulated utility, we are typically the only provider available to customers, so we want to provide them the kind of experiences that they would choose if they could,” Prine said. “Our goal is to be the best utility in customer experience, and we consistently remain in the top 25% among water utilities for customer satisfaction. We are committed to making our customers’ lives and the communities we serve better by delivering clean, safe, reliable, and affordable services to customers.”
For more information about Indiana American Water, please visit their website at www.indianaamwater.com.