As a small water system operator, the journey of supplying safe, clean water to consumers begins at the source. Source water protection is best approached through collaboration and can be enhanced with the use of voluntary conservation practices by local agricultural professionals. That’s why the Source Water Collaborative (SWC) developed a simple 6-step toolkit designed to facilitate collaboration between source water stakeholders (like you) and landowners through USDA’s agricultural conservation programs.

Step 1: Understand How Key USDA Conservation Programs Can Help Protect and Improve Sources of Drinking Water
In order to foster beneficial relationships for source water protection, it is important to understand what national, state, and local organizations can be of service to you. Two USDA sponsored organizations are highlighted in the toolkit: the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA). The NRCS exists to provide technical and financial assistance to both landowners and operators for the enactment of voluntary conservation practices. The FSA works to provide farm commodity, credit, conservation, disaster, loan, and price support programs. Having a working knowledge of specific programs, key contacts, and common vocabulary are vital first steps to take in your source water project.

Step 2: Define What Your Source Water Program Can Offer
Next you’ll need to understand NRCS and FSA programs and how they relate to specific information and regulations in your state. This can be done quickly by browsing by location for NRCS State Offices at nrcs.usda.gov and at fsa.usda.gov. It’s important to note that the staff of these organizations often times are the most aware of regulatory structure of environmental programs, so be sure to make it known that you wish to work collaboratively. You should then focus on identifying what specific areas or projects that collaboration with conservation practices could help protect. This is your opportunity to share valuable information such as source water data and GIS maps in order to identify potential water quality improvements.

Step 3: Take Action
Step 3 of the collaborative toolkit focuses on making concrete moves to begin an action plan. It’s suggested you start by contacting your Assistant State Conservationist for Programs as a beginning reference point. Be clear about your intentions to foster a partnership regarding source water concerns and NRCS programs that can be of assistance. Linked in the toolkit are initial talking points, draft agenda for first meeting, and key USDA documents to help you begin your first steps to action.

Step 4: Find Resources
This is where you do your homework. Step 4 lists several links of very useful conservation and source water resources. Resources include a list of NRCS conservation programs, state drinking water programs, watershed projects, maps of nutrient loading, and much more. These resources will ensure you develop your project with the correct programs and people.

Step 5: Coordinate with Other Partners
This crucial step enables you to make sure that you are partnered with the people that will give your project the highest probability of being successful. The links listed in this step are for key partners who can bring data, technical capabilities, useful state and local perspectives, and other important stakeholders. These links include EPA regional source water protection contacts, state source water program contacts, state clean water programs, and other federal agencies that can make your efforts more productive.

Step 6: Communicate Your Success & Stay Up-to-Date
Finally, share your source water protection experiences with SWC to allow improvement in the toolkit as well as influencing source water colleagues by promoting the toolkit.

Finding the right partners for voluntary, collaborative conservation practices is a progressive step for improved source water protection. By utilizing the resources and tips provided in the collaboration toolkit, you can put yourself in the best position to maximize your source water protection potential. Visit Source Water Collaborative for more information on any of your protection questions.


Water conservation can be an attractive utility management strategy, particularly for utilities concerned about drought or those with water rights permits. However, once managers start digging into the details of water conservation options, things can get complicated in a hurry. Will customers adopt the necessary policies? What if they do? Won’t consumers who use less water hurt the utility’s bottom line? One resource we’ve found to help utilities navigate planning a water conservation program is the Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Council’s Water Conservation Toolbox.

The Water Conservation Toolbox provides resources approaching all aspects of water conservation. From a basic assessment standpoint, they offer downloadable Excel workbooks for cost benefit assessment, program prioritization, and rate structure evaluation. But this webpage goes much further than a few workbooks. The toolbox provides links to additional resources for five program categories: regulatory programs, incentive programs, education programs, water conservation rate structures, and stormwater reuse. These links include actual consumer information resources, regulations and ordinances, rebate programs, and rate structures used by utilities in Minnesota and around the country. The stormwater reuse section is particularly rich in helpful materials, with links to factsheets, presentations, and reports on stormwater reuse topics, as well as a stormwater manual, a calculator, and a downloadable zip file containing a 130-page stormwater reuse guide and accompanying Excel workbooks.

Some materials, such as certain state-wide regulations, might be specific to Minnesota, but most of the information in the tool is generally applicable to anyone interested in starting a water conservation program. If that describes your utility, this toolbox can be a great starting point.

If you know of other helpful water conservation resources, tell us in the comments!

Posted in: Asset Management

If you regularly check our calendar for free webcasts, or if you’ve seen our free webinar alerts on Facebook and Twitter, you’ve probably noticed that the Water Environment Federation offers a lot of free webinars. These events can be a great resource for learning about current issues and emerging technologies in the wastewater treatment field. But what if your schedule conflicts with the webinar time, or you just don’t have the patience to participate in webcasts? In that case, you might be interested in WEF’s Featured Videos.

At WEF’S Knowledge Center Featured Videos of the Month page, presentations, webcasts, and other videos are posted at a rate of 1-2 per month. On their YouTube channel, they also offer a playlist of Webcasts of the Month, which stay up longer. January’s Knowledge Center video is on nutrient and dissolved oxygen criteria, while recent YouTube video topics include Low Energy Process Control, Fundamentals of Disinfection, and User-Fee Funded Stormwater Utilities. Though you can’t get continuing education credit for the videos like you can for participating in the webcasts, they still offer valuable information and the convenience of watching at any time. And, just like WEF’s webinars, they’re free.

We think these videos are a great option for busy operators, who can pick and choose the topics they find interesting and the times they're free to concentrate and learn. 


Have you ever faced an operations challenge requiring a tool that just… doesn’t exist? Maybe you need to reach a difficult valve, or keep the sight tube on your pot-perm tank clear and legible. Maybe you’d just like to keep from being sprayed with water while repairing a water main, or keep your pressurized paint container steady. Operators all over the country face these challenges and more on a daily basis, and sometimes, they come up with some really clever contraptions to deal with them. One way the rest of us get to hear about their great ideas is through Gimmicks and Gadgets competitions.

We first heard about Gimmicks and Gadgets competitions through the Michigan section of the AWWA. They very kindly sent us a pamphlet of entries from 1988, which you can view here. (If you’re in Michigan and want to enter, you can download the submitting instructions from this page.) Though our copy of the awards pamphlet is well-aged, a lot of the gadgets and tricks described are timeless, including the pot-perm sight tube, water main repair shield, and paint holder mentioned above. (Along with a few others!)

Once we heard these competitions existed, we got on google. And there, we started finding more examples from other parts of the country. Here’s an undated pdf of contest winners from the Pacific Northwest section. And here’s national AWWA’s contest, which runs in their journal Opflow every year. The articles written by the winners are behind a the membership wall, but you can watch a video interview with the 2013 winner at the link. In the video, he shows off the gadget he used to turn off a buried valve without having to dig it up.

What about you? Have you come across a nifty solution to a common operations problem? Leave a comment sharing your gimmick or gadget.

Posted in: Helpful Tips
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