As smart phones and tablets become more and more common, many organizations and individuals have found that they can be useful, portable resources in an emergency. One resource available to utilities as they plan for and react to emergency situations is the EPA’s mobile Water Utility Response site.

Water Utility Response On-The-Go is a site specifically formatted to be comfortably viewed on smart phones and other mobile devices. The homepage displays a menu of links for tracking severe weather, contacting response partners, responding to incidents, taking notes and recording damage, informing incident command, and accessing additional planning info. The weather tracking and response partners links use location data to help you access forecasts and contacts specific to your area. The Respond to Incidents section includes action checklists for drought, earthquake, extreme cold and winter storms, extreme heat, flooding, hurricanes, tornado, tsunami, volcano, and wildfire. The option labeled Take Notes and Record Damage leads to a section that includes a generic damage assessment form, while Inform Incident Command includes ICS forms 213 and 214 (the General Message and Activity Log, respectively), as well as additional information on Incident Command. The section on additional planning info includes links to EPA webpages on emergencies/incidents, planning, response, and recovery, as well as to WARN and mutual aid info.

Some of the external links from the site are not formatted for mobile viewing, and the .pdf forms may require an Adobe Reader app if you wish to fill them out on your mobile device. However, the site overall is well organized and easy to navigate, and can be a great tool for utilities dealing with weather emergencies and natural disasters. For a visual overview of how the site works, see the EPA’s video, below.

Interested in attending training or finding more information on emergency planning? Search our calendar and document database using the category “Water Security/Emergency Response.”



In addition to the operations and management challenges we’ve previously outlined, many tribes face broader issues that can also have an impact on public works. Often, tribes find themselves at an early point in utility development and need to begin assessing the infrastructure they already have in order to plan large-scale expansions or improvements.

Geographic Information System mapping (or GIS mapping) is a common approach to some of these large-scale issues, including surveying tribal lands, mapping existing distribution systems, and planning future infrastructure improvement projects. In addition to these practical considerations, mapping tribal land can often have a spiritual component, since the land often plays an important role in the tribe’s culture and traditions.

Tribal GIS solutions are a common topic at various tribal environmental conferences, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs offers GIS resources for tribes. One additional resource we’ve found is TribalGIS.com.

GIS From a Tribal Perspective
TribalGIS.com is facilitated by the non-profit National Tribal Geographic Information Support Center (NTGISC) with support from Wind Environmental Services, a 100% Native American owned and operated GIS firm. It offers GIS support specifically aimed at tribes, including a collection of videos on a tribal approach to GIS, an annual conference in November, and a community forum. All resources seek to integrate the practical GIS needs of tribal communities with the cultural and spiritual tradition of mapping and describing land. The forum and conference also highlight technical questions and topics regarding use of GIS technology. Other GIS resources available through the site include links to GIS programs at tribal colleges and an interactive map server.

The above resources are freely available on the site (with the exception of the conference, which is conducted in person). With site membership, tribal GIS workers can also participate in an email listserv and receive discounts when registering for the conference.

For tribes facing challenges that can be solved by GIS, TribalGIS.com is a great place to find community and network with other tribal personnel in a similar position. For more on TribalGIS and a basic introduction to GIS in Indian Country, you can watch their eight-minute video
For more on tribal topics, see our calendar and document databases, and search for Category=Tribal.

Posted in: Tribal Systems

The Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina has developed a series of free Financial Sustainability and Rates Dashboards for water and wastewater systems. These interactive dashboards provide utility managers with a benchmarking tool that allows them to compare their rates with other similar utilities and see where they stand in regards to affordability for customers, cost recovery, and financial sustainability. Dashboards are currently available for ten states, each of which has its own unique features, but for the purpose of this blog post we will be focusing on Arizona.

The Arizona Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard contains rate structure information from 355 utilities from across the state. To begin comparing rates, you must first select a utility from the dropdown menu; Arizona is one of the states that allows users to manually input information from their own system, so if your utility was not surveyed for the dashboard you can still compare it. After selecting comparison criteria on the left side of the page, your results will be graphically displayed in four simple dials on the right side of the page. These dials, which represent bill comparison, conservation signal, cost recovery, and affordability, are color-coded with greens, yellows, and reds to provide users with a clear illustration of where their utility stands in comparison with others. Users can then adjust their comparison criteria to see what would happen if certain variables changed, for example if they raised rates or if water consumption increased.

If you are interested in learning more about the specifics of the rates dashboard, the EFC created a 9-part video tutorial series on YouTube to walk you through the features and benefits of the tool.

Posted in: EFCs, Videos

As more exaggerated weather variations accompany climate change, many utilities are being forced to adapt. Coastal utilities may be particularly aware of their vulnerability to storms after Superstorm Sandy, but other parts of the country are projected to experience more frequent flooding, drought, and other severe weather events as well. One resource designed to help utilities prepare for climate changes is the USEPA’s Climate Ready Water Utilities (CRWU) program.

Tools to Help You Prepare
If you click on the Tools tab of the CRWU page, you’ll find a number of resources intended to help you evaluate your utility’s climate readiness and plan for the future. These resources include links to maps of projected climate changes, storm surges, and hurricane strikes; the CRWU Toolbox; an adaptation strategies guide; reports on utility resilience exercises using the Climate Resilience and Awareness Tool (CREAT); and various reports and links to relevant materials from other programs. It also links to the CREAT homepage, which includes even more information on the tool and its use.

Climate Planning Guidance
In addition to the materials listed under the Tools page, the CRWU website also includes a Training tab, with slides and video recordings of training webinars on CRWU and CREAT topics. This page includes several presentations introducing the basic of CREAT, CRWU, climate change, and climate change planning. It also includes some more advanced topics, such as methods of future planning, case studies, and financial planning. For utilities who need some background before jumping into the resilience evaluation process, these presentations can be a good place to start.

What Climate Planning Might Look Like for You
All of these resources may sound well and good, but what does climate change planning actually mean for your utility? Stocking up on tinfoil hats? Getting your Chicken Little dance down? Thankfully, the answer is much more practical. In this video, CRWU profiles a small utility in Kentucky that was forced to adapt to increased flooding.

Climate planning can provide the extra ounce or two of prevention that is worth several pounds of cure. If you’re interested in investigating ways to protect your utility from weather variation, CRWU can be a great place to start. For more resources, type “climate change” into our document database keyword filter and click “Retrieve Documents.”

Posted in: Sustainability
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