EPA/USDA Webinar on Sustainability of Rural Water/Wastewater Systems

EPA and USDA released a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) in August 2011 to promote the sustainability of rural water and wastewater systems.  On January 23rd, the agencies will host a webinar to allow participants to learn more about the MOA and hear from those who are leading the charge in implementing activities that support the sustainability of systems in rural America.  Here’s the pertinent information about the webinar (please also see the attached flyer):

Date: January 23, 2012
Time: 2:00-3:30 pm (ET) (1-2:30 CT; 12-1:30 MT; 11-12:30 PT; 10-11:30 AT; 9-10:30 HT)

Who should attend:

  • USDA State & field offices
  • SRF programs
  • Capacity Development programs
  • Operator Certification programs
  • 3rd party technical assistance providers
  • State staff interested in learning more

For more information, please contact Anita O’Brien (USDA) (202-690-3789; Anita.OBrien@wdc.usda.gov) or Allison Watanabe (EPA)(202-564-0128; watanabe.allison@epa.gov)

Please register at: https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/594234686

ATTACHMENTS: Webinar Flyer (1-23-12)

NEW MULTIMEDIA RESOURCES FROM RCAP: New Interactive Section on RCAP Website

In June, RCAP released two new publications to help lay audiences understand the technical aspects of treating drinking water and wastewaster. The guides are designed to explain in everyday language to a water utility’s board members or other decision makers some of what happens in the technical operations of their community’s facilities so that they can make more informed management and financial decisions about their system.

The guides are titled A Drop of Knowledge: The Non-operator’s Guide to Drinking Water Systems and A Drop of Knowledge: The Non-operator’s Guide to Wastewater Systems.

To complement the printed guides, RCAP has created special sections on its website that explain the treatment process of drinking water and wastewater through animated diagrams and short videos. To access these sections, go to www.rcap.org/DWWWtreatment

Each of the two sets of videos is hosted by a member of RCAP’s field staff who provides an overview of the treatment process as well as special considerations or concerns that a system’s operator has in each step. The videos are meant to make non-operators more comfortable with the vocabulary and terms that a plant’s operator uses and to help a utility’s decision makers understand what is required to operate a dependable and sustainable water utility in terms of natural, human, financial and other resources.

“Perhaps new board members will understand the range of oversight they have after visiting these sections of the website,” said Stewart, “and that overseeing a utility is not just about keeping rates down. It’s also about supporting your operators because they keep the water flowing all the time and hold the public’s health in their hands.”

Helpful Videos for Other Guides

In addition, RCAP has produced two other short videos that describe new guides related to the financial management of small-community water systems. Organizations associated with RCAP and those that support small, rural communities in similar ways are encouraged to take these videos from Vimeo and embed them on their own websites or share them in their social-media channels. Other possibilities are to play them as additional useful resources at an event or on a video conference call. They are approximately four minutes each. The video for Formulate Great Rates: The Guide to Conducting a Rate Study for a Water System is at www.vimeo.com/31811807 and the video for The Basics of Financial Management for Small-community Utilities is at www.vimeo.com/32533757.  All of the RCAP guides and supplements are available at www.rcap.org/commpubs.

These resources are being funded as part of a special grant of ARRA funds secured by RCAP and furnished by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development in 2010.

RCAP PRODUCES NEW GUIDE TO HELP SMALL, RURAL COMMUNITIES MANAGE THEIR UTILITIES’ FINANCES

The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) has released a new guidebook to help small, rural communities manage the finances of their drinking water and wastewater utilities.

RCAP’s The Basics of Financial Management for Small-community Utilities is a primer on the oversight of a water system’s financial aspects. It explains in simple language how to read common financial documents—balance sheets, income statements and cash-flow statements. The guide includes a discussion on the framework that is necessary for effective financial management, which should have various policies in place. The guide provides sample text for all of the basic financial policies a small utility should have. The text of each policy is also provided in the section for the guide on the RCAP website so a utility can download it, adapt and edit it for its own use.

The guide is ideal for members of a board or council overseeing a water utility who may not fully understand the reports provided by the utility’s accountant or bookkeeper and the terms these financial specialists use. Leaders of utilities need to understand their system’s finances as a central aspect of its operation and be informed regularly about them in order to make sound decisions. This guide explains in straightforward terms the information that financial reports provide and how to interpret the information.

“Financial resources are central to the operation of any enterprise, from small businesses to large corporations to the smallest utilities,” said Robert Stewart, RCAP Executive Director. “A utility’s board should be receiving regular financial reports and, most importantly, understand what they are saying. They are a regular check-up on the financial health of your operation.”  The guide was written by Community Resource Group, the Southern RCAP, which has many years of experience in training and helping small communities understand their utilities’ finances.  “This guide is an introduction to financial management for someone who isn’t a financial specialist,” explained Stewart.

RCAP has produced a short video to help promote use of the guide. The four-minute video can be shown at events such as conferences or meetings or viewed by individuals who want to learn about the guide before obtaining it. It is available at www.vimeo.com/32533757.

The Basics of Financial Management  s one of ten guides, as well as related multimedia resources, that RCAP has produced in 2011 for small, rural communities. Each guide has been written and reviewed by field staff who are experts in the subject of the guide they are producing. All guides are general enough to apply to most communities across the country, regardless of their location, size and their state’s rules and regulations. The RCAP national office in Washington, D.C., is responsible for the distribution of these resources, which will complement and support RCAP’s field work in providing in-person, customized assistance through its 145 Technical Assistance Providers.  A list of the other ten guides that will be produced and a description of each is at www.rcap.org/commpubs.

The guidebooks are being funded as part a $5 million grant of ARRA funds secured by RCAP and furnished by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Development.

 

What is the Cost of NOT Mailing the CCR?

Jennifer Wilson, a principal contributor and editor for the SmallWaterSuply.org blog, has written a very thoughtful article on the subject of customer communication and the Consumer Confidence Report.  We thought it worth repeating…

“You may have read about pending legislation [HR 1340] in Congress that would eliminate the requirement to mail the annual Consumer Confidence Report for public water systems who have no violations.  (Instead, in-compliance systems could post the CCR to their website.)  The National Rural Water Association is supportive of this potential change, citing unnecessary cost and time burden for small utilities.

“I certainly do agree that small communities face unprecedented challenges in maintaining their water and wastewater systems. State and federal funding is harder to come by and when it does, it has more strings attached. With so many operators retiring and so much infrastructure that needs upgrading, we’ve neared a financial crisis point.

“We talk a lot here at SmallWaterSupply.org about the value of water, the need to proactively communicate with customers, and how, these items together, can develop an engaged and informed public that can help us find a way out of today’s troubles.

“On the surface, it seems like a good idea, but I wonder…is eliminating an established line of communication, often the only connection the average citizen has to his water outside of billing, really the best way to look for financial efficiency?  Could it do more harm than good and set back the efforts of national public outreach campaigns, state capacity development programs and direct technical assistance?”

ASDWA invites you to check out more of Jennifer’s thoughts and ideas…just go to the RSS feed in the lower right section of this page and click on SmallWaterSupply.org.

System Partnerships in North Carolina

If you’re state or EPA staff with an interest in water system partnership strategies, check out the CapCertCommunity’s latest library posting.  Julia Cavalier, the Capacity Development Team Leader for the North Carolina DENR’s Drinking Water Program, has posted an excellent discussion paper prepared by the Environmental Finance Center at UNC Chapel Hill.  The paper looks at all of the elements that should be considered when systems begin to think about formal partnership arrangements.

You need to be a registered user (state and EPA staff only, please) to have access to the CapCertCommunity.  If you’re not already signed up, just contact Anthony DeRosa aderosa@asdwa.org for details.  If you are signed up, just go to the web page, click on the Document Library icon, and scroll down to the Water System Partnerships (Restructuring) topic header.

 

EPA Inspector General Stresses DWSRF Improvement Needs

EPA’s Office of Inspector General has just issued a new report, Enhanced Coordination Needed to Ensure Drinking Water State Revolving Funds Are Used to Help Communities Not Meeting Standards, available online at  http://www.epa.gov/oig/reports/2012/20111201-12-P-0102.pdf.

The report suggests that, “Although EPA and the states use DWSRF funds to assist communities in achieving or maintaining compliance with drinking water standards, some high-priority systems were not aware of the DWSRF program…The EPA DWSRF program should encourage enhanced coordination with enforcement programs and use available Agency enforcement data and tools to identify noncompliant systems that may benefit from DWSRF funding.”

The report includes three specific recommendations to be undertaken by the Assistant Administrator for Water:

1.  In the regional annual review checklist that supports the PER, include an assessment of the coordination between state DWSRF and enforcement programs.

2.  Create a national IUP review checklist that includes a requirement for regions to assess how the state DWSRF programs take into consideration the needs of systems with multiple violations when developing the IUP and selecting projects.

3.  To help achieve the Agency’s strategic “water safe to drink” subobjective, identify and implement actions to enhance coordination between regional and state DWSRF and PWSS programs.

EPA concurred with the OIG recommendations and agreed that the following actions would be in place by March 31, 2012:

  • EPA will amend the annual review checklist to include appropriate questions to assess the coordination between state DWSRF and enforcement programs.
  • EPA will develop a national IUP review checklist that includes questions to facilitate regional assessment of how state DWSRF programs take into consideration the needs of systems with multiple violations, including current compliance status and actions underway to address compliance, when developing the IUP and selecting projects.
  • EPA will amend the regional annual review checklist to include appropriate questions to assess the coordination between state DWSRF and PWSS programs.

Because of the recent publication of the report, EPA has not yet announced how it intends to move forward in meeting these deadlines.  Stay tuned for more information as it becomes available.

Financial Manager’s Christmas List for 2012

Editor’s Note:  David Eberle, Director of the Environmental Finance Center at Boise State included this editorial in his most recent newsletter.  To learn more about this EFC, go to http://efc.boisestate.edu

 What’s on your list for 2012?  We encourage our children to make Christmas lists of things that they want.  They will spend hours thinking about what should be on this list.  Sometimes they are heartfelt, healing for a friend for family member, sometimes they are unrealistic, but the point is they spend time thinking about what it is they really want. Whether you are Christian or of different faith taking time for wishful thinking is a valuable pursuit. As adults and managers this is some of the most difficult thinking to do with all the time pressures to get things done.  Yet it can also be some of the most productive time spent and the holiday season is a great time to do some our own wishful thinking with people preparing their homes, children out of school, and everyone looking forward to a couple of days of escaping the office demands.

Making a list is the first step towards making 2012 more productive than 2011. What should be on that list? The easiest place to start is with what was achieved in 2011. Did you start or update your asset management plan? The corollary to this is whether you worked on your disaster management plan. Did you achieve your capital improvement plans with system upgrades?  Did you successfully place long-term debt? Did you meet your fiscal budget? Did you implement a rate plan that will allow your utility to maintain its major R&M? Did you improve your communication with your board or commission? Did you conduct performance evaluations of your staff?  The list quickly becomes exhaustive and you have not started on what you would like for next year.

What would you like to achieve next year?  The list is similar to your review of the prior year, 1) asset management, 2) disaster preparedness, 3) fiscal budgeting, 4) capital improvements, 5)  long-term debt placement, 6) major repairs and maintenance, 7) rate design and revenue plan, 8) better communication with your board, 9) employee development and 10) meeting new federal regulations. Trying to keep all this in your head, some elements will drop between the cracks. Trying to do all of it at once will conflict with day to day management. Ignoring it will lead to compliance violations, steep rate increases and will upset the governing board. Wouldn’t it be nice if Santa could just bring you a bag full of money to solve all the issues?

By taking the time to write down how you did the previous year and where you need to be at the end of next year is the first step to finding that metaphorical bag of money. Once the list is made, then take the time to break it down into small increments and allocate tasks throughout the year. If you follow a regular pattern throughout the year, many tasks that have been deferred in the past will get done because they have been scheduled into the work flow.

OK so that list looks like it could have been written by Scrooge. If you have a couple of dollars in your budget left over, picking up an iPhone or iPad (or something similar) to photo your assets, record the longitude and latitude, and email this information to your office to get a jump on an asset management or disaster preparedness plan would be one of the best purchases you could make.  Happy Holidays.

States Find Creative Solutions for Common Problems

A couple of weeks ago, ASDWA invited state drinking water programs to share interesting or innovative efforts that you have undertaken that would be of interest to others – particularly in the arenas of capacity development, operator certification, or other small system focused initiatives.  Within 24 hours, ASDWA heard back from two states – Rhode Island and Nebraska.  They offered two completely different efforts but each is remarkable for its creativity in meeting the needs of small drinking water systems.

 Fast Track to Compliance is a 5”x7” booklet shared by Steven Boudreau, Capacity Development Coordinator in the Rhode Island Office of Drinking Water Quality.  The Office of DWQ Capacity Development program has developed this Fast-track to Compliance Program in an effort to highlight the collaboration efforts of our Capacity Development, Operator Certification, and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs and our Compliance and Enforcement efforts.  Once a failing system is recognized, Capacity Development staff and DWQ management undertake an evaluation of the system’s ability to provide safe drinking water to its consumers.  Our assessment of the capacities required to effectively meet this obligation provides an analysis of their current and future sustainability. The evaluation involves a 5-step return to compliance process that applies the Principles of Effective Utility Management (EUM); is managed by Capacity Development staff and is carried out over a 4 – 6 month timeframe.

Here is a PDF copy of the booklet: Fast-Track to Compliance

Small PWS Cross-Connection and Backflow Models:  Mike Wentink, the Nebraska Operator Certification Coordinator in the state’s Environmental Health Services Section, shared a very creative way to use some of Nebraska’s Expense Reimbursement Grant funds:

We have just completed a contract with University of Nebraska – Lincoln for the design, and construction of small PWS cross-connection and backflow models.  These 3 models are used to educate water operators of small systems and others about the hazards associated with backflow from cross-connections on the distribution system.  It was about a two-year project; I drafted the contract in November, 2009 and concluded the contract September 30, 2011. Two students from the senior design class in the Civil Engineering Department were the “lucky” project people for this one.

What is unique about these models is their convenience of use and visual perspective.  Each model has four different cross-connection scenarios that are representative of what can be found connected to the distribution system – a private domestic well, pressure vessel (boiler), broken water main in close proximity to a sewer line, stock tank being fed by a water line, etc.  [Editor’s Note:  See photos below for a great visual!]

Other models currently in use for this purpose were explored but we decided that we wanted something easily put together, transportable in a typical “state issued” vehicle, and representative of situations found in small water systems.  These models consist of distribution system from clear rigid and flexible plastic tubing, an elevated water storage facility, small pumps, valves, and other appurtenances found in a small water system.  Food dye in the water source for the model provides the visual aspect of actual backflow occurrence in these scenarios.  The small scale representation of distribution system hydraulic conditions to make these scenarios realistically work was a challenge.  It was a unique means for utilization of ERG funds.  The couple of small demonstrations performed with a model thus far seemed to hold people’s attention.

A website location for the project materials (design, parts list, etc) has not been decided yet but it will be posted and available to share.  I’m still working with the University on that.

Here are some photos that showcase the models: