Fontus Blue: How long have you been in the industry? How long at your utility company?
DiFranco: I’ve been with Aqua Ohio for almost 1 year and in the industry for close to 30 years.
Fontus Blue: What is the size of the community you serve? How many service connections vs. population?
DiFranco: We operate 37 water and five wastewater treatment facilities serving about 500K people in Ohio.
Fontus Blue: What is a challenge your utility company is facing this year? What do you expect to be an upcoming challenge in 2023? What about the next 5 years?
DiFranco: All utilities are struggling with the financing of infrastructure projects. Aqua is unique in that it is an investor-owned utility that has its rate structure regulated by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). All increases must be approved by PUCO prior to becoming effective. Rate lag, or the time between the time we make a system investment and the time the PUCO allows us to begin recouping the cost of that expense, can present a challenge to the company when it comes to addressing aging infrastructure across our systems. In five years, all systems will struggle with PFOS/PFOA regulation and the new LCRR and LCRI.
Fontus Blue: Has working with Fontus Blue changed/improved your utility and utility operations? How so?
DiFranco: Fontus Blue has been helpful to Aqua in developing tools and dashboards to monitor water quality. This is particularly helpful in identifying source changes that may impact water quality. Using your modeling features we are able to evaluate water quality and make real time changes in treatment.
Fontus Blue: If you could share one piece of advice with other utility personnel and leaders in the space, what would it be?
DiFranco: There is no straight path to success in this industry. Many times, you have to be creative in finding solutions that fit each situation. Take advantage of the funding available and the resources at the OEPA and USEPA levels. These organizations are in place to help water and wastewater systems.
Fontus Blue: What are some relevant newsletters, blogs, or industry leaders you follow for insights and inspiration?
DiFranco: I routinely read the Opflow and AWWA newsletters. Stay involved in AWWA, it is a national leader in our industry and continued participation is needed to keep policy makers focused on our infrastructure, water supply and water quality needs.