EPA Posts New Asset Management Best Practices Doc and Hosts Webinar

The new asset management document, Successfully Protecting Your Investment in Drinking Water Infrastructure: Best Practices from Communities and Local Experts, is now on the website and EPA is co-hosting a roll-out webinar with USDA.

DATE:              Wednesday, August 30

TIME:               2:00-3:00PM (eastern)

REGISTER:      https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/3612921926027444225

Two case studies from the document will be highlighted.  Presenters Larry Paine (Hillsboro, KS) and Mario Leone (Monaca Borough, PA) will discuss some of the challenges faced by their water systems and how asset management provided them with solutions and benefits for their communities.

What’s Up with USDA Rural Development?

The USDA Rural Development program is hosting a “RD 101” webinar to:

  • Describe their Structure and Mission
  • Explain their Programs
  • Share Funding Opportunities
  • Answer your Questions

DATE:              August 25, 2016

TIME:               10:00AM-Noon (eastern)

REGISTER:      www.RD101Aug25.eventbrite.com

 

Don’t Forget the Rural Water Funding Option

As you work with small systems to help them upgrade or otherwise improve their infrastructure, don’t forget that NRWA has a separate Rural Water Loan Fund that may be just the solution you’re looking for.  The Fund was established under a grant from USDA to be used for predevelopment costs, short term equipment replacement costs, or other small capital projects not part of a system’s regular O&M.

Loan amounts may not exceed $100,000 (or 75% of the total project cost) whichever is less.  Repayment periods can be as long as 10 years – but no longer than that.  The program also offers 5-year interest only predevelopment loans and 90 day no interest disaster area emergency loans.

Interested in knowing more – or ready to apply?  Just send an email to loans@nrwa.org.

GAO Looks at Asset Management

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just published a report that looks at water utilities’ use of asset management with a special focus on smaller (<10,000) systems.  GAO reviewed efforts undertaken by both EPA and USDA and visited 25 small drinking water and/or wastewater utilities across ten states (AZ, AR, DE, ID, IA, MN, MS, NY, VT, and WY) that had been identified (one per EPA Region) as having the highest percentage of small water utility needs per recent EPA Needs Surveys.

EPA, USDA, and officials from the ten states identified both benefits and challenges for small systems with regard to implementing asset management programs.  The identified benefits were fairly straightforward and focused on cost savings and more efficient long term planning.  The challenges, however, were a bit lengthier and more complex.  They included the availability of funding to cover start-up and maintenance costs, availability of human resources, information on how to implement asset management practices, and political support from elected officials to begin an asset management program or increase user rates.

While both EPA and USDA continue to work to help water utilities implement asset management programs through a variety of mechanisms, GAO offered two specific recommendations for the agencies:

  1. “That the Administrator of EPA direct the Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water and Office of Wastewater Management to continue to include questions on water utilities’ use of asset management in the clean water needs assessment and consider including questions about water utilities’ use of asset management in future drinking water infrastructure needs assessment surveys.”
  1. “That the Administrator of EPA, and the Secretary of USDA, through the Rural Development Agency, consider compiling into one document the existing cases and examples of the benefits and costs of asset management and widely share this information with water utilities.”

In response, EPA generally agreed with the recommendations but noted that the needs surveys may not be the most efficient data collection vehicles.  EPA said, however, that it would be willing “…to explore other means of obtaining data that would provide an indication of how utilities are benefitting from the agency’s asset management training and technical assistance.”  On the issue of compiling case studies, EPA concurred that, as funding and resources allow, it would consider the development of a case study compilation.  USDA did not specifically comment on this recommendation other than to state that it will continue to emphasize asset management.

 

To view and/or download the full report, please click this link: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-16-237

National Capacity Development & Operator Certification Workshop a Success

Nearly 130 partners and colleagues from the small water system community in 36 states and Washington, DC came together this week in Dallas to discuss opportunities to enhance capacity development and operator certification programs across the states.  The Workshop theme, Roadmap to the Future:  Building Sustainability & Integrating Resiliency, sparked numerous brainstorming sessions, presentations from subject matter experts, and calls for development of forward thinking ‘next steps’ strategies.  Contributors included state capacity development, operator certification, and DWSRF program staff, EPA Headquarters and Regional staff, other Federal agency partners, and assistance providers from each of the major training organizations.  Discussions ranged across a broad spectrum of topics such as water system partnerships, financial capacity, resiliency, operator training and workforce, sustainability and collaboration, and communication and community relationships.

The Workshop was cohosted by ASDWA and EPA’s Sustainable Systems Team.  Efforts are already under way to develop a workshop summary, post presentations, and outline strategies to take appropriate next steps based on participant input related to challenges and opportunities.  ASDWA will keep you informed of the progress of these various follow up efforts and share materials and information as soon as they become available.

GAO Issues Rural Water Infrastructure Report

At the end of February, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a 15 page report titled Rural Water Infrastructure: Federal Agencies Provide Funding but Could Increase Coordination to Help Communities.  This ReportGAO-15-450T, is available at http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-15-450T.

The Report was included as part of the testimony provided by Alfredo Gomez, Director of the natural Resources and Environment Team at GAO.  The testimony synthesizes GAO Reports from 2007, 2009, and 2012 with updated information through 2015 on the ability of and access to rural water infrastructure funding by smaller communities.  In general, GAO found that:

  • In some cases, small communities do not have the number of users needed to share the cost of major infrastructure projects while maintaining affordable user rates.
  • Some rural communities do not have technical expertise and have to hire consultants and engineers to help design projects and complete technical documents necessary to apply for funding.
  • Rural communities face potentially duplicative application requirements when applying to multiple state or Federal programs.

In response to these challenges, the GAO Report notes that EPA and USDA have taken, or are in the process of taking, steps to improve interagency coordination on rural water infrastructure projects, including:

  • Adopting a uniform preliminary engineering report template and guidance
  • Reviewing a draft best practices memorandum that highlights key issues, including duplication of effort reduction during the environmental review process. This is to be shared with states for review and comment in the near future.
  • Taking steps to coordinate policies and procedures to prioritize funding in the US-Mexico Border Region.

In addition, this Report notes the funding opportunities offered for small and/or rural water infrastructure projects by seven Federal agencies:  EPA’s DWSRF and CWSRF programs; USDA’s RUS Water and Waste Disposal program; HUD’s Community Development Block Grant programs; Bureau of Reclamation’s Rural Water Supply program; the Indian Health Service’s Facilities and Environmental Health Support program; the Economic Development Administration’s Public Works and Economic Development program; and the Corps of Engineers assistance through loans and technical planning services or grants.

EPA & USDA Webinar on Sustainable Management for Small Systems

Many rural and small water systems throughout the country struggle with various issues, including aging or inadequate infrastructure, difficulties recruiting or retaining qualified staff, growing or establishing financial reserves, and setting rates that reflect their true operational costs.  EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management (OWM) and USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) have worked collaboratively on a number of tools appropriate for these systems and invite you to participate in a train-the-trainer webinar to learn more.

TITLE:  Sustainable Management of Rural and Small Systems – Training the Trainer Webinar

DATE:  January 15, 2015

TIME:   Noon-3:30PM (eastern)

REGISTERhttps://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/308051473

Focusing on two recently developed tools – the Rural and Small Systems Guidebook to Sustainable Utility Management (Guidebook) and Workshop in a Box materials, – participants will learn how to use them effectively in working with small systems. This webinar will be geared toward USDA Rural Development, EPA, and state program field staff as an introduction to the materials.

Participants are encouraged to familiarize themselves with both the Guidebook and the Workshop in a Box in advance.  Please go to http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/UWP-WorkshopSupplementalMaterials.html and download these materials.

USDA Listening Session on Private Financing for Rural Water/Waste Disposal Systems

USDA Rural Development is holding a listening session to hear comments on the 2014 Farm Bill provision that requires the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to encourage private financing of rural water and waste disposal facilities and how it impacts USDA’s Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant programs. Included in Section 6019 of the Farm Bill, the requirement would:

  • Maximize the use of loan guarantees to finance eligible projects in rural communities with populations in excess of 5,500;
  • Maximize the use of direct loans to finance projects in cases where there would be a significant impact on rate payers when compared to a loan guarantee;
  • Establish and apply a definition of “material impact” to determine when to maximize loans;
  • Require projects requiring over $500,000 in interim financing to seek private financing; and
  • Determine whether a borrower can refinance with a private lender before RUS funding occurs.

USDA hopes to hear your thoughts.  This Listening Session will provide an opportunity for stakeholders to address these additional funding options for rural water and waste water systems, which are designed to offer more immediate private investment in rural areas. The details are below.

Date:    December 10, 2014

Time:   1:00-3:00PM (eastern)

Dial:     Please RSVP to WEPFarmBill@wdc.usda.gov to receive the call-in number.

Please RSVP by 5pm  December 8, 2014 and indicate that you require a call-in number.

More information on the listening session is available at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/RDFarmBill.html.  If you have any questions, please email  WEPFarmBill@wdc.usda.gov

You may also submit written comments to USDA.  Information about that process is available here:

https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/11/10/2014-26612/project-financing-loans-grants-and-loan-guarantees.

EPA Publishes Latest Small System Accomplishments Report

At the direction of the Obama Administration, for the past several years, EPA has identified a number of Agency Priority Goals (APG) as a strategic way of enhancing performance.  For FY 2012-13, EPA identified small systems as one of five APGs and earlier this month, the Agency released the FY 2012-2013 Small Systems Agency Priority Goal Accomplishments Report.  As it says in the introduction, “APGs target areas where agency leaders want to achieve near-term performance acceleration through focused senior leadership attention.”

The Small System APG identifies progress in enhanced water system management under the capacity development umbrella through activities in these specific areas:  asset management, managerial capacity, drinking water program collaboration, energy efficiency, noncommunity water systems, water system partnerships, and water sector workforce.  Optimization was a separate but related area of focus for this APG.  For this two-year reporting period, EPA worked with 20 states to improve small system capabilities.

The Report is available through clicking this link FY2012-2013 Small Systems APG Accomplishments Report

Please note that EPA has determined to continue a small system focus for the next two-year APG period  (FY 2014-15) and will be working with 10 additional states “…to improve small drinking water system capability to provide safe drinking water, an invaluable resource.”  To learn more about this APG, please visit http://www.performance.gov/

USDA Marks Earth Day Celebrations with Record Funding for Water & Wastewater Projects

Last week, USDA Secretary Tom Visack announced that USDA will be providing financial support via loans or grants to 116 rural water and wastewater projects across the nation.  Under the provisions of the Farm Bill as well as other USDA sources, the Agency can offer nearly $387 million in funding – a combination of $164.6 million in grants and $222 million in loans.  The awards are generally divided equally between water and wastewater projects and will be made to projects in 40 states and Puerto Rico.

You can view the project list and award amounts on the USDA website at http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/SupportDocuments/rdEarthDay2014ProjectList.pdf