04

A few weeks ago, we talked about the results of our Tribal Utility News subscriber survey. Between this post and the challenges our subscribers told us faced tribal utilities, the tribal utility landscape can sound overwhelming. But while there’s no denying that tribal utilities can face obstacles, the overall picture doesn’t have to be bleak. The good news is that there are a growing number of resources addressing these topics, both for small systems in general and for the specific challenges facing tribes.


Tribal Utility Management Resources
For utility management advice and support from a tribal perspective, check out the Tribal Utility Governance Program manual, developed by RCAC as part of the Tribal Utility Governance trainings offered last year. Though the trainings have been completed, you can check out recordings of the sessions here. From a more general small systems perspective, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) also has a number of downloadable handbooks and guides for board members. We also try to include trainings and resources relevant to tribal managers in our calendar and document database. Tribal utility managers who are already familiar with management topics might want to check out the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona’s Tribal Utility Management Certification.


Training for Tribal Operators
For tribal operators, Native American Water Masters Association (NAWMA) meetings offer training and support on a variety of utility topics, as well as a chance to connect with other tribal operators. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (ITCA) also has a federally-recognized tribal operator certification program that offers regular trainings as well as certification exams. The United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) also offer federally-recognized tribal operator certification and an increasing number of trainings through NAWMA and their annual conference. And Navajo operators are often offered free training through the Navajo Nation EPA’s Public Water Systems Supervision Program (their operator certification program is currently still in development).

And of course, searching our calendar for the Tribal category tag or under State for the National Tribal Operator Program will bring up even more trainings for both tribal operators and tribal utility managers, covering topics from grant-writing and GIS to general O&M and drinking water treatment standards.


Help is Out There
But what if you need that extra personal touch to untangle a problem at your utility? Books and trainings are great, but sometimes you need to get your hands dirty right now. Help is available. Our tribal contact manager is designed to help you determine which tribal assistance providers are available in your area.* In addition to federal resources like the Indian Health Service and EPA regional offices, most RCAP regional partners and state based technical assistance providers may be able to assist you. (Some RCAP partners have staff specifically for tribes as well.) Regional tribal associations with utility management and operations resources like those mentioned above generally offer technical assistance as well. To see our full list of Tribal Assistance Providers, go here. Even if you don’t need a hands-on technical assistance provider right now, these can be good phone numbers to track down and have at the ready for life’s little surprises.


More Resources?
Is there a resource that didn’t get mentioned here? Have you found a training resource or an assistance provider particularly useful? Comment and let us know. You can also call or email our staff for help in locating someone locally to provide you with support.


*Please note that due to updates being made in the contact manager right now, USET’s contact information is inaccurate. Lisa Berrios is no longer with USET’s tribal utility team.
 

Posted in: Tribal Systems
16

TEDx events are independently-organized TED-like conferences to help communities spark conversation and connection. Heather Himmelberger, director of the Southwest Environmental Finance Center, recently delivered an effective talk on the value of drinking water at TEDxABQ.

We love seeing these ideas brought to the public sphere and hope this recording gets wide circulation. Thanks to ASDWA for sharing this cool news!

23

Back when our Tribal Utility News newsletter was just getting started, we surveyed our subscribers on tribal utilities’ biggest challenges and education needs. We’ve discussed the challenges they told us about here; today we’re going to talk about the education needs.

A lot of the topics suggested for emphasis in tribal utilities went hand-in-hand with the challenges we discussed in our previous post. Management support and general operations training topics came up more times than any other category, with water and wastewater treatment topics coming in a distant second.


Need for Management Training in Utility Topics
The management support topics covered the full range from record-keeping, ordinances and enforcement, and asset management; to rate-setting, budgeting, and funding sources. In our previous post on this survey, we mentioned that many respondents felt tribal councils didn’t always fully support the tribe’s utilities. So some of these educational needs could be related to that challenge. However, there has also been increasing awareness that managerial support is a need for many small systems. Operating in a small community can present special challenges. Finding funding can be more difficult, particularly for tribes. And things like enforcing ordinances or collecting past-due fees can be awkward when you know all of your customers personally. However, when the utility managers feel able to tackle these challenges, the whole utility is able to provide better service to the community and a better work environment to its operators.

An Introduction to General Operations
For operators, survey respondents focused on general O&M topics like SCADA, safety, and general mechanical training. Water and wastewater treatment and distribution topics were mentioned, but much less frequently. Many small rural utilities have difficulty keeping trained operators on staff. The isolation and other challenges mentioned in our previous post make this just as true for tribal utilities. This means many utilities have to periodically start from scratch, introducing apprentice operators to the basics of operation and maintenance. On a related note, a few survey respondents mentioned a need for awareness about certification programs for operators. Because clean drinking water and the sanitary disposal of waste are so essential to public health, it benefits communities to have operators who have received the proper training to achieve these goals. Operator certification programs are a way of ensuring that training takes place.

Other Topics?
The good news is that there are a growing number of resources addressing these topics, both for small systems in general and for the specific challenges facing tribes. But first, we want your opinion on these survey results. Are these the training topics you would want at your tribal utility? Are there any topics you would add to the list? Comment and let us know.

Posted in: Tribal Systems
09

RCAC, the western affiliate of the RCAP network, has partered with The California Endowment and the Pueblo Unido Community Development Corporation to launch an Indiegogo campaign. Indiegogo is a crowdfunding platform, similar to Kickstarter, that allows the public to contribute towards an initiative. Unlike Kickstarter, the funding model is not "all or nothing".

The Health Happens Here #Agua4All campaign would enhance access to safe drinking water in the Eastern Coachella Valley of California by connecting an existing arsenic treatment system to a community building. The campaign's promotional video explains how the initiative would help this community's 14,000 residents.

With this funding, RCAC will provide the infrastructure "from pipes to permits". Pueblo Unido has been active in helping communities across this economically-disadvantaged rural area address levels of arsenic that excess USEPA's standard. The California Endowment is using this effort as a pilot project and hopes to expand it statewide.

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