09

This is a guest post from one of SmallWaterSupply.org's student staff members, Christina Cornelius.

Billing software plays an important role in successful operation of water systems. As part of an overall accounting approach, billing systems help to provide hidden and lost revenue. Access to robust billing systems may be limited for small water systems that do not have a surplus of funding. Most billing systems cost from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.

I have spent the past month researching available billing systems, but did not find a free or reasonable price for a billing system that serves up to 200 connections. We were able to find a free demo billing system, El Dorado (www.waterbill.com) that serves up to 20 connections. Even though the demo is developed very well and the full program would be a wonderful asset to water systems, the demo would only be useful to the very smallest systems.

We found numerous programs that offered a free demo. Below is a list of these companies and their contact information. If any of our dedicated readers know of any economical AND effective billing software, we would love to hear from you!

Diversified Technology Corporation

Visual Utility Billing

877-202-0197

Price: $4500 (All Inclusive) or $120 a month

Donald R. Frey & Company

CUBIC Utility Billing Software

800-659-3739

Price: About $2600

Intedata
SoftWater

800-422-0309
Price: $995

JustImagine
Asyst: Utility Billing

800-456-8784

Price:  $2500

RVS Software

RVS Mosaics Utility Billing Software

866-787-2455

Price: $1648

Water Works

WaterWorks Utility Billing Software

800-227-5128

Price: $1495

Redline Data Systems

Rural Billing

888-534-0216
Price: $800

TAK Technology
Quik Water

866-238-7771

Price $400

These companies also offer billing software, but we were unable to obtain a specific price. These companies perfer to get specific information about the water system, so they can match a software that fits the system's needs.

ASI
EasiBil

888-232-1239

Core Utilities

Core Utility Billing

807-766-5985
Free Trial: Yes

Logics

Utilities Management

919-232-2300

Free Trial: Yes

 
 

Posted in: Asset Management
07

The American Water Works Association is retiring Streamlines, its biweekly web/email newsletter, with the intent to communicate relevant news even faster to those who want and need it.

In place of the newsletter, AWWA will operate two different RSS feeds: one for breaking news and organization announcements and another for their DrinkTap blog, a source for more general industry news.

RSS is a format that allows news to be pushed to you via an RSS reader, without having to visit multiple websites to retrieve that information. We wrote a post about the value of RSS earlier this year. This is what makes blogs different from regular websites - the ability to keep up in an easier way.

We know that many people prefer to have their news come directly to them by email - our newsletter isn't going anywhere. We'll make sure to bring you the most relevant AWWA news articles, as we have been over the past year. If you do want the very latest though, adding AWWA's feeds to a RSS reader (with SmallWaterSupply.org's feed, of course) will help you do that!

What do you think of this change?

Posted in: AWWAs
05

Facebook is one of, if not the, easiest ways to develop a web presence for free and in a matter of minutes. No expertise is needed and it is easy to update. Most importantly, Facebook is where your customers already are.

We've written several posts now on using the web to improve your communication with customers, and Facebook in particular. Let's review:

In these posts we've tried to give you all the reasons why starting a Facebook Page is a good idea and even how to do it. We've even offering to build one for you. (That offer still stands, by the way.)

If you haven't started one yet, can you tell us why? Is it because of state regulations on posting board member minutes? Is it because you just don't have time? We're curious about what's stopping you. Any reason is a good one - because it's your reason - and we want to help.

How to Run your Small Water Supply like a Business is a weekly series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on most Mondays.

 

02

Earlier this year, we picked free & low cost webinars as one of the things we love here at SmallWaterSupply.org - and we still love 'em. Webinars are web-based training seminars and events that you watch and listen to from your computer.

In fact, so many other organizations love them too. In the face of budget cuts, many training providers are turning to these online training formats to still reach you. So many in fact, we have found the need to do a better job of keeping track of them all for you.

On the front page of SmallWaterSupply.org we've swapped out out around-the-nation style events calendar for a listing of free (and only free) webinars that you can attend wherever you have an internet connection. Just as we did before, we'll keep this listing updated with the events coming up soon. Some of these events offer CEUs!

Do you attend webinars? We've love to know what you think of this format. Please tell us in the comments.

 

 

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2012 Americorps Planning Grants
 Intent to Apply due: Dec. 15 (via email to: americorpsgrants@cnc.gov)
Applications due: Jan. 18, 2012
 
Americorps has three different grant opportunities available: Indian Tribes Planning Grants, and State and National Planning Grants. These planning grants are meant to assist and better prepare organizations who hope to compete for an Americorps grant in the next grant cycle. The six areas that grant competion will focus on are economic opportunity, disaster services, healthy futures, education, veterans & military families, and environmental stewardship. Applicants may apply for up to $50,000, but the applicant must not have previously received an AmeriCorps grant.

Technical Assistance and Training Grants for Rural Systems (USDA Rural Development)
Apply by: Dec. 31

Grants are available from USDA Rural Development to help non-profit organizations in rural areas with a wide range of issues relating to the delivery of water and waste disposal service. Please see http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/UWP-wwtat.htm for more information.
 
FY 2012 Indian Community Development Block Grant (ICDBG) - HUD
Apply by: Jan. 4, 2011
 
The ICDBG program from HUD is offering single-purpose grants which can be used for a wide range of infrastructure, housing, and economic development purposes, which includes (but is not limited to) water and sewer system development. Go to this page  for more information. Please note that Congress must still appropriate the funding for the FY 2012 program. HUD's SWONAP staff is conducting two ICDBG Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) workshops (one in Phoenix on Nov. 30-Dec.1, and one in Albuquerque on Nov. 30) designed principally for tribes, tribal organizations and individuals directly involved in the preparation of ICDBG Applications. To register for the Phoenix workshop go here. To register for the Albuquerque workshop go here  
28
This is the 3rd post covering the communication toolbox, a new tool available from CDC on how to prepare, deal with, and learn from situations where you need to (precautionary) or have to (mandatory) communicate with your customers to advise them of a drinking water situation in your community.  The 1st blog post provided an overview of the toolbox, the 2nd blog post discussed the introduction section of the toolbox, which explained some of the basics about when and why you should communicate with the public. Today, we'll provide you with some suggestions they provide for small systems.
 
For Small Systems Using the Toolbox
The toolbox was written for water systems, both large and small.  But, it was developed with both in mind.  We've already mentioned that we think the toolbox is one of the most complete tools available to help you with communicating with the public during an emergency, and on page 13, they offer some suggestions for small systems, recognizing that sometimes small systems may not have the capacity to implement all of the suggestions listed in the toolbox.  Basically, these are the things every small system should do to be prepared, regardless of the emergency.
 
1. Identify and prioritize specific tools or sections in the toolbox to use.  The toolbox is worth going through, cover to cover, to really understand what it means to communicate with your customers and to be prepared in an emergency.  In doing so, you will find many great ideas that will help you prepare, act, and recover from an emergency situation.  Pick and choose what you think will work for your specific situation and within the capacity of your system and community.
 
2. Incorporate water advisory protocol planning into regular activities, such as sanitary surveys and updating emergency response plans.  I'm sure some of you think this is "beyond" what you can do, and may not even have an emergency response plan in place for your system.  That is a great place to start and there are some great templates available from RCAP and Rural Water that walk you through development of a plan.  Do that first, and you will understand why its important to be prepared and think ahead, rather than react to an emergency. (call or email us, we can help, as can your local TA providers.  See the links to the templates below).
 
3. Build water advisory protocols into regular communication, such as customer updates.  Again, some of you may look at this and say, I never send stuff to my customers.  Why not?  When operators tell me their customers want "free" water, and don't value what they do, I tell them to start marketing to their customers, help them understand what a service you provide, how important safe water is to your community. Operators can't just do the technical stuff anymore, they have to engage their communities to understand the need and importance of safe water.  Along with that is the importance of dealing with emergency situations.
 
4. Partner with local public health and neighboring water systems. Planning for an emergency means working with others outside your community.  When a real disaster happens, you need to know what to do, who you can call, who you can rely on for help.  You need to ask yourself, what does your community deserve? Doing it all on your own usually ends up hurting your community when a disaster occurs. It's the responsible thing to do, and best for your system and customers.  This would also be a good time to mention your state's WARN program.  Look into it, consider how it might benefit your community.
 
Getting Started
Remember these suggestions as you go through the toolbox.  Find the pieces that you think will work for you.  It states that many of the actions you can consider taking, as described in the toolbox, shouldn't require outside support from consultants or others.  It also says building a network of partners and organizations to work with in an emergency is the key to success.  We agree.
 
Should you have any questions, let us know. We will gladly help you navigate through the material and find resources that you can use with your customers for both emergency response and just for marketing the value of your water system.
 
Below are links to some of the resources mentioned above:
 
Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP)
 
National Rural Water Association (NRWA)
 
Water & Wastewater Agency Response Networks (WARN)
(click on the "WARN Regions" tab to find your state WARN program)

 

How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Monday.

 

18

At the beginning of the summer we announced our plans to host a summer intern and then in July we offered some initial insights. In October, Steve Wilson presented lessons learned from the program at the Association of State Drinking Water Administators annual conference.

Our intern and the participating communities both received great benefits and we learned even more about how we might run this program on a larger scale. The biggest surprise was an excellent reminder that every system is unique and flexibility of time and resources is essential. I've embedded the slides below. Feel free to ask questions in the comments!

An Internship Program to Develop Small System Sustainability

Posted in: Careers
14

We talk a lot about operators wearing many hats. There is one hat that many operators may be reluctant to wear, but it is perhaps one of the most important: marketer.

Marketing - The action or business of promoting and selling products or services.

As we have mentioned, operators are in an optimal position to be the voice of water's value in your community. There is no one more qualified to host a tour and share with town residents how things work and why operators are so important.

One way to take this effort even further is by filming a virtual water plant tour. It doesn't have to be slick or fancy - you can even use the video camera on your phone.

In this video below, the town of Guthrie, Oklahoma (population 9900) hosted an open house for the water plant and filmed a tour. This video was then posted to the local newspaper's YouTube account.

Here are some tips for filming your own video:

  • Keep it short. Fewer than 5 minutes is ideal.
  • Enlist students for computer help if needed.
  • Work with local government leaders or news media to promote your video.

How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Monday.

11

SmallWaterSupply.org Loves: WaterTowers.com

Over the summer, we shared why water towers have an important marketing value in your community. I'd like to continue the celebration of water towers (and Fridays!) with a link to a fun website.

WaterTowers.com "showcases the most unique and interesting water towers across the world." On this site you can find some remarkable photos and videos of water towers as well as a location map to find out what towers are near you! The site also offers educational information, making it a great resource for teachers and parents too!

Last but certainly not least, there's even a rap song and music video honoring the water tower:


Do you have a favorite water tower picture or a story to share? Let us know in the comments!

09

Gas stations and campgrounds are two
examples of transient water systems.

More than 84,000 transient public water systems across the US collectively serve 13.5 million people. 98% of these water systems are small or very small. These water systems face unique circumstances in serving changing populations and most commonly, water provision is secondary to their primary business or function.

Earlier this year we heard a talk given by Lisa Daniels from Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection. In it, she shared a variety of the tools and resources available to support transient public water systems. Here are Lisa's favorites: 

Basic Resources for Transient Systems

Start-up and Shut-down Resources for Seasonal Systems

Do you have any favorite transient resources you would add to our list?

07

Last week, I gave a talk at an operator meeting about how to make the internet work for you. One of the things I brought up is that you can use the web and social media to connect with customers. It generated quite a bit of discussion, from "no one looks at that stuff" to how the open meeting act laws have made it too time consuming for most small towns to have webpages (in Illinois).

Anyway, my point was that in many rural communities, both the residents and the town boards take their water for granted and don’t value water or their operator the way they should. I believe that the operator is the best person to try and change that attitude, we’ve seen a number of national campaigns about the value of water, but nothing on the rural community, or small community level seems to change from those efforts. Some of the operators looked at me like I was crazy, to make a long story short.

Afterward, several people came up to talk to me about SmallWaterSupply.org and were grateful to have it available as a resource. This is always great to hear, it really helps motivate both me and my staff when we know there are small system operators getting real benefit from our efforts. But, I wanted to share something that was said during that small group discussion. We were talking about small town politics, how things have changed in small towns and how boards really don’t function they way they used to.

He said that 40 years ago, small town “fathers” were businessmen. They ran the grocery store and hardware store, they understood business and cared about making the town a thriving place because they had a vested interest in it. Today, none or very few of those businesses even exist and being on the board is something residents typically do reluctantly or because they have a particular issue they want the town to address, very seldom water or wastewater.

As I thought about that, it hit me how true that is. When I was a kid, I grew up on a farm near my hometown of 600 people. We had a hardware store, a barber shop, a grocery store, a bank, a electronics repair shop, a restaurant, a gas station, and a tavern. We also had a railroad track and an elevator. Today, there are two taverns and a bank. The elevator is still there, but the tracks have been gone for 25 years or more. Everything else has closed.

The people who live there are mostly older and have always lived there, or are their kids and they all have jobs outside of the town. Many stay because they still have a grade school and junior high, and it’s a great place to raise your kids. But its not a thriving community anymore, it’s a barely-maintaining-itself community.

My point is that this is a typical small town today. In order to make any change in perception of the value of water and water service, we have to convince the boards and residents that it’s worth maintaining properly and has more value than they realize. The more I work in this field, the more it becomes clear that its going to have to be done at the community level. And operators, whether they like it or not, are going to have to step up and put in the legwork to change public perception.

How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Mondays.

04

SmallWaterSupply.org Loves: Self-Paced Training for the CUPSS Software

CUPSS, the Check Up Program for Small Systems, is US EPA's asset management desktop program designing specifically for small drinking water and wastewater systems. Recently, EPA completed a series of online, interactive training modules for the software:

Asset Management 101
Explains the fundamentals of asset management and how a community can get started.This lesson discusses why assets should be managed and a brief introduction of how to manage them by using the CUPSS software.

Setting Up CUPSS
Shows how to download and set-up the CUPSS software. This lesson also includes information on the basic computer requirements for running CUPSS, how to log in and navigate the software, and how to obtain user help support.

My Inventory and My Asset Check Up Report
Introduces the My Inventory module and explains how to create an asset inventory and an asset schematic. This lesson also shows how to create a customized asset report through the My Asset Check Up Report.

My O&M and Search
Introduces the My O&M module and shows how to enter operation and maintenance (O&M) tasks.This lesson also shows how the search features can be used to display and print reports of assets entered in the My Inventory module and tasks or work orders entered in the My O&M module.

My Finances and My Financial Check Up Report
Introduces the My Finances module and shows how to enter annual financial budgeted and actual revenues and expenses.This lesson also shows how to develop a 10-year financial projection through the My Financial Check Up Report.

My CUPSS Plan
Introduces the My CUPSS Plan module and shows the steps in developing a customized asset management plan. This lesson also introduces the CUPSS example system, Beauty View Acres, and will conclude by showing how systems can use their asset management plans to improve internal utility operations, outside communication with decision makers, as well as implementing the other initiatives expected of them.

With these self-paced classes, you don't have to wait for a web-based or in-person training event to begin learning and using CUPSS!

 

31
This special Monday edition of "Stuff We Love" is dedicated to the staff at SmallWaterSupply.org. They work hard to find free documents available on the web that will help you, as operators, to learn more about every aspect of what you do. They visit nearly 800 websites on a regular basis to update the calendar of classes, trainings, conferences, and workshops, so that you only have to look in one place. They take your calls and help you find solutions. I can't say enough about what a great team we have. Kacie, Reese, Christina, James, Brittany, Jeannine, Greg, and Jennifer, thanks for all you do. Below, some of our staff prepare "ghosts" for the halloween walk taking place this afternoon at our office. 
 
27

We really enjoyed this short video - that stats are pretty amazing to think about! Do you have any social media profiles?

Thanks to Joe Dougherty from the Utah Division of Emergency Management for sharing this with us!

Posted in: Social Media
19

Last week President Obama announced that fourteen projects would be expedited through the review and permitting projects, as part of his jobs creation program. The Navajo-Gallop Water Supply project is on the list.

From Circle of Blue...
"The 280-mile pipeline network would deliver San Juan River water to the Navajo Nation, the Jicarilla-Apache Nation, and the city of Gallup, N.M., weaning those areas from unsustainable groundwater use."

In other news, the USDA Rural Utilities Service is moving forward on implementing of the Substantially Underserved Trust Area ("SUTA") provisions contained in the 2008 Farm bill. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says this "will provide those located in Trust Areas with better access to infrastructure funding to serve tribal communities seeking to build modern utility infrastructure."

Posted in: Tribal Systems
17

We talk a lot here on SmallWaterSupply.org and across the industry about how the public doesn't properly value their water and the vital services provided by water and wastewater systems. We also produce, as a community, a lot of publications on why that should change. The one thing we don't talk a lot about is how.

A few weeks ago we mentioned a do-it-yourself guide for talking to local officials about source water. That is a start. We also pointed out a great little article in Small Biz Survival on building cooperation within your community. These two resources have one thing in common: a leader, an initiator, a loud voice in the crowd that gets the ball rolling.

You know as well as I do that the important business in town gets done over morning coffee or an evening beer. The action happens one-on-one between people. If you're reading this blog, you're likely in a position to be the instigator in your community. You don't have to have all the answers, you just have to start the conversation.

Each week in our newsletter we often share great articles talking about the value of water and water operators. We hope we're preaching to the choir with these - but we see a great opportunity in putting excellent food for thought in your hands.

Last week, a friend of SmallWaterSupply.org shared a great article from Readers Digest that ranks the top 10 jobs that Americans cannot live without. Water and wastewater operators are ranked #2, behind registered nurses. This article and those like it can be the catalyst for that one conversation to launch changes in your community.

So what are YOU going to do? Who will you share an article with?

How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Mondays

14

SmallWaterSupply.org Loves: AWWA's Conservation Community

Earlier this month, the American Water Works Association launched its first "community of interest" (COI) on the topic of water conservation. These mini web-portals will help members and non-members alike access the vast array of AWWA resources as well as interact with like-minded industry professionals.

Each community will gather topic-relevant news, research, forums, products, tools and events in one location. The COI project represents an ongoing effort across the industry to develop websites that connect people with each other as well as with information.

Stuff We Love is posted on Fridays and includes favorite documents, links and other resources for small water and wastewater systems. We'll find the cream of the crop so you don't have to. 
12
Both in June and recently, we wrote blog posts about the results of an operator survey published by the North Carolina Environmental Finance Center.  This is another piece from their report dealing with operators suggestions for retention ideas.
 
Better Pay, Benefits Top The List
Below are the suggestions from operators as to what a utility could do to better recognize and retain them, as listed in the NCEFC survey results report.
 
  • Higher Pay
  • Increase Pay with Certification Level
  • Improve/Include Benefits
  • Pay for and Allow Attendance at Seminars/Workshops/Classes
  • Cost of Living Increase
  • Merit-Based Pay Increases
  • Provide Incentives
  • Certificate of Appreciation
  • Hire More Staff
  • Public Acknowledgement
  • Pat on the Back
  • Realize the Importance of Our Jobs
  • Training of Board Members
  • Increase Communication Between Board and Employees
  • Become More Involved with Day-to-Day Operations
I want to talk about the last 4.  Honestly, if community leaders did these 4 things, some of the salary and benefit issues would likely be more understandable to them, and the community as a whole would be more likely to develop sustainable practices.
 
They All Fit Together
To get the mayor and/or board to realize the importance of the operator's job, they need to communicate with the operator, become more involved in daily operations, and be trained on the issues and responsibilities they face.  Maybe we have been going about this all wrong.  Instead of just requiring training for board members, as some states now do, board members should also meet with the operator on a regular basis, say every other week on a weekday morning for breakfast.  The operator can give an update on what has been happening, what issues he has been dealing with, what things he plans to ask the board to do and why.
 
In addition, each board member should spend a day each quarter working with the operator.  They could help collect samples, help read meters, see how a backwash cycle is completed, order chemical, and anything else that would help them understand what goes into the operation of a water plant.  I hear all the time that the problem with training board members is that they serve their two years, then someone new takes over.  If a community had this sort of program in place, how long would it be before the list of supporters for the system grew well beyond the current board?
10
Back in June I wrote a post about perceptions of operators, boards, and customers based on work completed by the North Carolina Environmental Finance Center.  They surveyed 300 operators in North Carolina on a number of topics. The post in June discussed how customers and town boards value or don't value their operators. Today, I wanted to highlight a little more from their report dealing with operator satisfaction.
 
Study Purpose
According to the report, one of the main reasons for completing the study was that so many small towns complain about their operators leaving.  Turnover is high, and in this study they wanted to look at why.  Here are some reasons they found:
  • 32 left their last job for more money
  • 32 left for more possibility of advancement
  • 19 left for better benefits
  • 12 retired
The other top 10 reasons given included plant closed/downsized; laid off; management/board issues; closer to home; career change; and better shifts.  It's a common problem for small towns across the country that small town operators, move on to better paying jobs with benefits once they have the experience to be eligible for those jobs.
 
Common Problem
Last week I heard two different stories about operator retention that highlight the problems for small systems.  A community of about 1000 hired a new operator to run their water and wastewater plants.  He left 6 months later to take a meter reader position in a large community that paid more ($26/hr) and gave him the opportunity to get into operations after 2 years making ($30/hr).  So he could not only make more, but he had a chance for advancement.
 
In the 2nd case, a trainer told the story of a large community that offers him free space to hold CEU classes for small town operators in the area.  The community provides the space because they use the training events to recruit operators/workers for their system.
 
You Get What You Pay For
There is really one issue here, and that is how valuable is a safe, dependable water supply to your community.  It all starts with your operator, who understands your system and has experience working with it. Without that person, the community can't sustain their water system.  Small communities are fiercely independent and want to be left alone, but at the same time don't understand the costs required to stay that way. 
 
What Can Be Done?
I don't believe there is a lot a small community can do to change this trend.  The facts are simple: to retain an operator long term, they will need a competitive salary with benefits and a supportive work environment.  Too many small communities don't value their water, so it follows that they don't understand the value of their operator.  It is that understanding, by the community and its leaders, that will change things, nothing else.
 
That said, in our next post we will share some ideas for improving operator retention.
07
A little over a month ago, we let you know about a new tool available from CDC on how to prepare, deal with, and learn from situations where you need to (precautionary) or have to (mandatory) communicate with your customers to advise them of a drinking water situation in your community.  In that blog post, we said we would provide more information about how this tool can help you. Today, we are going to cover some of the basics about when and why you should communicate with the public.
 
Why Send Out Advisories
You all know when its required, legally, to send out an advisory, most commonly a boil order, but there are a range of things that could result in an advisory, and more importantly, would be good business practice to do so.  The thing you need to take away from this blog post is that you can use advisories for your benefit, to educate your customers and to engage them to take ownership of their water system.
 
Advisories are many times required, necessary, and bad news; they can also help you by helping your customers understand what is going on with your water system. The toolbox says there are 4 reasons to issue an advisory:
  • to provide information,
  • to encourage preparedness,
  • to recommend action, and 
  • to meet public notification requirements. 
Using Advisories For Your Benefit
Do you send out advisories to provide information?  These are the advisories that don't require any customer action, but let them know that something is going on.  The example the toolbox mentions (on page 10) is to let customers know about seasonal changes in taste.  How many of you let customers know when you are flushing lines, or dosing chlorine, or when a large storm affects your influent water quality and taste or color?  Or even when you are going to be working on a water main that might shut down a road in town?  Or when you are drilling a new well? Some of you may not see the need to let your community know about all of these things, they would rather deal with the few phone calls they get.  What you are missing is an opportunity to teach your community more about what you do. 
 
Changing Public Opinion
Most of us would agree that in small towns, people tend to take their water for granted.  Many pay very little for clean, safe water, but the public tends to view their water as a right, not a privilege.  You, as the operator, understand this is not the case.  You, as the operator, are also in the best position to change that public perception.  Advisories are one way to do that.  When you are drilling a new well, send out an advisory letting the community know they will be getting a new resource that will benefit them.  Include the cost, why its necessary, what it will mean to the town.  When chlorine is going to be an issue, send out an advisory.  Let them know why its necessary, how it protects them from bacterial contamination, and offer them additional resources to learn more about it.
 
Be Proactive
It can't be stressed enough that the operator is the front line person for educating the public about their water system and why water costs what it does.  The public needs to understand that though water itself is free, delivering clean, safe water to every home, park and building has a cost both in delivery and to maintain. You are the person who should be explaining those costs, every chance you get.
 
If You Need Help
If this is all new to you and you need help, let us know.  We would be glad to find free materials for you to use with customers.  We can also contact your local/regional technical assistance providers to get their suggestions and support of your efforts.  If you really want to get serious about keeping your community in the loop, you could even start a Facebook page and post information regularly on different aspects of your system.  We can help you set that up too (for free).
04
As you may or may not realize, some of the Federal programs that support operator training and technical assistance for small systems were not funded this fiscal year (starting Oct 1).  This will affect many states as training providers look at charging for training that has been free in the past, and technical assistance providers struggle to maintain staff levels.
 
Small System Technical Assistance
The programs I am referring to are for the state Rural Water Assocations and the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) affiliates.  Here in Illinois, the message from the most recent Illinois Rural Water Association newsletter is that training will no longer be free.  We have seen the same from several other state Rural Water Associations, as some have eliminated part of their training programs or lost staff altogether. It's the same for the RCAP affiliates and their state programs.  Many are losing staff and that will mean fewer services provided. Its a frustrating time as we watch the organizations operators have come to rely on struggle with funding issues. It's also a worry that the expertise these folks provide may not come back, and thats everyone's loss.
 
Understanding Value
As a small system operator, now is the time to realize that this may be the new normal for the forseeable future.  Free or not, you still have to maintain your CEU's.  That means you need to budget for training, some of you for the first time in a number of years.  What it also means, I hope, is that any operator who has taken advantage of the free training opportunities in the past realizes how valuable a service it has been.
28

From HUD's Southwest Office of Native American Programs...

FIRST NATIONS DEVELOPMENT INSTITUTE LAUNCHES NEW ONLINE SERIES ON AMERICAN INDIAN ENTREPRENEURS TO INCREASE AWARENESS ON NATIVE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

The new Native American entrepreneur online series entitled, “Native Entrepreneurs: Faces and Stories of Economic Development,” is dedicated to illustrating why healthy Native economies require innovative and successful entrepreneurs. The series shares success stories about American Indian business owners and examples of what entrepreneurs can do when they have the resources necessary for effective business development. To view the online series, visit www.firstnations.org.

Posted in: Tribal Systems
26

Whenever I talk to someone about starting a Facebook Page to promote their business, they ask about creating a user account just for that purpose. Most are not too excited to hear that Facebook just doesn't work that way.

How Facebook Accounts Work

Do you know why they called the Facebook movie "The Social Network?" - because Facebook is fundamentally built on relationships between individuals. To reduce impersonation and creation of too many unused accounts, it is against Facebook's Terms of Use to create more than one account.

They even make it difficult for one individual to create a second account by requiring unique email addresses and phone numbers. It's really in everyone's best interest for it to work that way, but it does lead to some concern for those who don't want to mix their business and personal lives.

How to Protect Your Personal Privacy When Using Facebook for Business

Fortunately, Facebook has thought of several ways to protect the privacy of individuals who manage Pages. First off, Facebook does not display whom is a Page administrator except to the administrator himself. That means your friends won't know what Pages you administer and your Page's fans won't know who is running the show.

More significantly, it was recently made possible for an individual to log in using their personal account but then switch modes to "use Facebook as [Page Name]". This allows you to post comments and interact with other individuals and Pages without displaying your personal profile. Plus, it is already a standard feature that anything you post on your own Page will appear to come from the Page and not you personally. Here is an example that I posted today - you can see that no where does it identify me (Jennifer).

Note: We do recommend sharing in the information about your Page who is running things and is able to make posts. You can simply list yourself and any other administrators as well as your positions. This provides a transparency that breeds trust with customers, but ensures that your personal profile is not visibly linked to your Page.

The Bottom Line

It is completely understandable that for some, privacy concerns have kept you from launching a Facebook Page. The social media landscape changes so rapidly (especially Facebook), that it is hard to keep up. We're looking out for you and will keep you updated here and on our Facebook Page.

How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Mondays

19

Initiating the conversation is sometimes the hardest part. One of the tricky roles that water system operators, especially managers, have is communicating important issues to the decision makers in the community. You best understand the challenges facing the water system, but you most often don't control the funding that can make things happen.

In this new create-your-own guide from the Source Water Collaborative, you can create a brochure designed specifically to educate decision makers in your community about protecting sources of drinking water. This can be the topic that helps spur further discussions about taking small steps towards a more sustainable water supply.

This guide covers three key areas:

  1. Development Patterns - Offers local officials considerations for promoting development in already developed areas or in less environmentally sensitive areas.

  2. - Offers local officials considerations for promoting responsible use locally and regionally.

While source water protection may just be one important issue in your small community, it is one that is readily understandable and has clear implications for the present and the future. It may be that 'low hanging fruit' that can spur even bigger changes and support down the line.

How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Mondays

16

In this week's newsletter, we reported about a new law in Missouri that requires training for public water supply board members before they can get paid or reimbursed. SmallWaterSupply.org loves seeing states think creatively about providing effective incentive systems to make training a reality.

Why are we concerned about getting board members trained? These critical players in each water system have a lot of decision making power, but often lack the education they need to make sound choices In a 2006 article from NESC's On Tap magazine, Jerry Biberstine, an engineer with the National Rural Water Association, said it well:

"If, indeed, board members are too busy, too cost conscious, or too important to learn how to be proper guardians of their water system, then they shouldn’t be on the board in the first place. Their role as board members is to make important decisions about the future of the water system based on their knowledge of pertinent issues, and that means learning all they can about water systems and everything that goes into providing safe drinking water to their customers."

Resources for Board Member Training

As states increasingly do require board members to obtain training (read more on five different state models), there are more resources available to support their continuing education efforts.

Small Utility Board Training - Videos, animations and interactive documents provide new board members with valuable tools and experience to hit the ground running from the Montana Water Center. This course contains over three hours of total training time.

Water Board Training Manual - Videos and comprehensive written materials designed to educate and serve as a resource for board members of public water associations and municipal water supplies from Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Guidebook to Financial Leadership for Water Utility Boards - An extensive set of resources focused on the business basics board members need to know. These materials are based on a previous customized training program from the UNC Environmental Finance Center.

Stuff We Love is posted on Fridays and includes favorite documents, links and other resources for small water and wastewater systems. We'll find the cream of the crop so you don't have to.
09

SmallWaterSupply.org Loves: Fire Hydrant Master Record Excel template from AWWA

Hydrants are a key backbone of your water infrastructure - allowing for community fire protection and proper flushing of the distribution system. But like a lot of the in-the-field infrastructure, they don't get a lot of love and attention when it comes to record keeping and asset management.

"Flushing fire hydrants is one of the most important maintenance practices that can be performed on a water distribution system. If ignored, corrosion and rust can cause problems such as: severe rusty water, reduced water pressure, lower chlorine level" (City of Sandusky, Ohio).

This spreadsheet template makes it easy to begin documenting the location and maintenance history of your hydrants. You can use it electronically or print off copies for a binder. The key is to use documents like these to make your day-to-day a little easier!

Stuff We Love is posted on Fridays and includes favorite documents, links and other resources for small water and wastewater systems. We'll find the cream of the crop so you don't have to.
08

Funding and Implementing Your CWA 319 Program: Base and Competitive Funding and Developing Work Plans

When: Tuesday September 13, 2011, from 1 to 2:30pm Eastern Time

This webcast will review the Tribal CWA 319 Program funding structure and compare the base and competitive grant processes. Discussion on the competitive grant process will include an update on upcoming changes to the FY 2012 Request for Proposals, differentiate Regional review and Committee review, explain the match component, and discuss the importance of linking the budget and work plan together. The webcast will also cover steps for developing a good work plan and include a tribal case study discussing lessons learned from the base and competitive grant processes.

For more information: www.epa.gov/nps/tribal


Recreational Water Quality Criteria 2011 Stakeholder Webinar

When: September 20, 2011, from 1 to 4:30 pm Eastern Time

EPA is conducting a webinar on selected presentations from the 2011 Stakeholder Meeting on EPA's Development of New or Revised Water Quality Criteria. The webinar will be held on Tuesday, September 20, 2011 from 1:00 pm to 4:30 pm EDT. The purpose of the webinar is to obtain input from interested stakeholders who were unable to attend the face-to-face meeting in New Orleans in June 2011. Stakeholders will have an opportunity to provide feedback to EPA on the general direction and EPA's evaluation and current thinking for the new or revised recreational water quality criteria.

For more information: http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/standards/criteria/health/recreation/index.cfm


2011 National Tribal Water Quality Conference Posuwageh (Water Meeting Place) Where CWA Section 106 and 319 Meet

When/Where: November 14-17, 2011 at the Hilton Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino, Santa Fe, New Mexico

EPA is hosting a national conference for all tribes with water quality programs, or those who wish to begin water quality programs. The conference will highlight the blended nature of the Clean Water Act Section 106 and Section 319 programs.

For more information: http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/tribal/conference2011index.cfm

Posted in: Tribal Systems
07

By Sandra Fallon, Training Specialist, National Environmental Services Center

If a natural disaster or other incident strikes your town, local water and wastewater utilities must rely on their own resources immediately following the crisis. It can take 72 hours or longer for assistance to arrive from the state or federal government after a state of emergency is declared. Because first responders, local businesses, community and health services, and the public continue to rely on water services during and after an emergency, and because water service disruptions can make recovery efforts even more difficult, it’s prudent to plan ahead so that assistance is in place for rapid, effective response and recovery.

Public and private water and wastewater utilities, both large and small, can now participate in the Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (WARN), a utilities-helping-utilities program that uses mutual aid and assistance agreements, which are established and signed prior to an emergency, to help affected utilities quickly obtain resources such as personnel, equipment, materials, and related services from utility signatories to the WARN agreement. In an emergency, WARN support kicks in when local resources are overwhelmed or unable to provide what's needed. WARN can be activated by any impacted signatory utility in response to an emergency, and aid can arrive quickly, saving critical response time. "Simply put, WARN helps ensure continuity of operations" says Kevin Morley, manager of the Security and Preparedness Program with the American Water Works Association (AWWA). "If a system is impaired or impacted, WARN provides an option to recover as fast as possible."

Now is the time to encourage your local water and wastewater systems to join WARN, before disaster strikes.  WARN programs are underway in almost all 50 states, and those without a WARN are working on it.  You can find your state WARN contact information on the National Warn Web site at www.NationalWARN.org.

Partnerships, Planning, and Mutual Aid
The network is formed through partnerships among public and private water and wastewater utilities and key representatives from professional associations, state water and wastewater regulatory and emergency management agencies, and the regional Environmental Protection Agency. This collaboration helps facilitate pre-disaster planning and training, and encourages sharing information and lessons learned from other disasters. Ongoing communication among WARN leaders and members is essential to keep the network up-to-date and ready to handle an emergency.

The heart of WARN is the mutual aid and assistance agreement, which addresses members' responsibilities, procedures and protocols for providing aid, legal and liability concerns, and issues related to crossing jurisdictional boundaries to provide emergency aid. These agreements are designed to meet National Incident Management System (NIMS) and federal requirements for homeland security grants, and such agreements must be in place prior to an incident for federal disaster assistance reimbursement. According to Morley, all communities are required to become NIMS compliant (http://www.fema.gov/national-incident-management-system), and becoming a WARN signatory helps a community achieve this goal.

WARN members in each state use the same pre-established mutual aid and assistance agreement developed by that state's initial WARN leadership team. This agreement takes into account state laws and regulations, establishes a cost recovery process for utilities, and addresses expectations for reimbursement. The agreement also addresses how workers’ compensation, insurance, or damaged equipment on loan will be handled. The WARN agreements address hazards ranging from small incidents like power outages and major line breaks to large, catastrophic disasters, and facilitate assistance from across state lines if necessary.

Benefits of Joining WARN
WARN offers a practical and affordable approach with multiple benefits for the utility and community. "WARN functions like a no-cost insurance policy," says Morley. There is no cost to join the network, and in an emergency each utility decides whether it can respond on a case-by-case basis; there is no obligation. The utility may incur some planning and coordination costs such as staff time to attend meetings, conducting legal reviews, or communication efforts. Overall, the costs are small and well worth the benefits.

AWWA conducted a survey to determine the economic benefits of WARN and found that WARN participation improves a utility's ability to respond to emergencies and reduces their costs to respond. Cost savings include reduced costs to purchase and maintain back-up power capabilities, such as portable generators, and to borrow rather than purchase and store other emergency supplies and equipment. Utilities also indicate reduced loss of water and wastewater revenues due to expedited recovery of services. WARN membership can be a positive factor in risk assessments for insurance purposes, resulting in reduced insurance costs.

Encourage Local Utilities to Join WARN
No community or utility is immune to disaster, and past experience suggests that outside help can be a long time coming. WARN helps the water and wastewater sector become more self-reliant and offers rapid, specialized assistance for emergency response and recovery. Securing this help requires a utility to join its WARN program before disaster occurs. Trying to figure out who can help when your treatment plant is flooded is not good business. According to AWWA's Morley, "WARN participation should be a key part of every utility's business continuity and risk management plans. The costs are small and the benefits to the utility and the community it serves are large." By making sure that your local utilities join your state WARN, you'll be taking a positive step to protect your community, its water services, and the water utility's ability to return to normal operations as soon as possible.

This article is part of the Water We Drink series, developed by the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) and the National Environmental Services Center (NESC).

05

By Sandra Fallon, Training Specialist, National Environmental Services Center

Providing safe, dependable water and sewer services to your community requires that the water and wastewater systems bring in sufficient, stable revenues to cover total costs and meet future needs. These include operation and maintenance costs to collect, treat, store, and distribute drinking water to customers; treat wastewater and manage stormwater; contribute to reserve accounts (funds set aside to cover operating, maintenance, capital, or emergency needs); comply with regulations; and make debt payments. In many rural and small community systems, current water and sewer rates may be too low to cover these costs. A system whose rates are too low not only struggles financially but compromises its ability to remain operational and meet its public health goals of providing clean and safe drinking water and disposing of wastewater.

Neither local leaders nor customers want higher rates. However, local leaders and utility board members have an essential role in making sure rates are adequate to ensure the ongoing services, viability, and solvency of the utilities. Practical methods are available for determining appropriate rates, making sure costs are shared fairly among all customers, addressing revenue and affordability challenges facing rural and small systems, and then gaining community-wide acceptance for moving ahead.

Responsibility for Paying Water and Wastewater Costs is Shifting
In the past, federal grants and low-interest loans helped pay for water and wastewater infrastructure. Consequently, water and wastewater services have been available to utility customers at a low cost, an average of $523 per year for U.S. households, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Web site. Federal investments, especially grant funds, have declined significantly since 1980, and obtaining low-interest loans has become more competitive for utilities. The result is that customers who use the services are bearing a greater burden of the costs and those costs will likely rise as systems take the necessary steps to remain operational, repair or replace aging equipment, and stay in compliance with regulations.

Rural and small communities may have too few customers to generate the necessary revenue, or customers may not be able to afford high rates. There are many opinions about addressing this challenge, such as increasing federal and state investment, imposing fees on polluters, forming cooperative or regional partnerships with nearby systems to share selected services or personnel, increasing efficiency, and adjusting rates. Each community's situation is different, and each solution will be unique. Regardless of your situation, it's important to know your system's current and future needs, actual revenues and expenses, and how they impact rates. This knowledge will help lay the foundation for determining adequate rates, as well as the best options for continuing to provide safe and affordable water and sewer services.

Assess Your Situation
The North Dakota Small Community Handbook on Developing and Setting Water Rates recommends asking the following questions about your current rates to help decide whether a rate adjustment is needed. A "no" answer indicates that it's time to examine your rate structure and consider an increase.

  1. Did revenue exceed system expenses each of the last three years?
  2. Were you able to make scheduled payments on all long-term debt?
  3. Is your system in compliance with state drinking water standards and regulations?
  4. Were you able to cover the cost of emergency and preventive maintenance as needed?
  5. Have you had a rate increase in the last three years?

Determining the appropriate water and sewer rates takes time and effort on the part of the utility's governing board and staff. It involves reviewing all aspects of current system operations, including your current rate structure (rate structures are explained below); true costs for all operation, maintenance, administration and management expenses, both labor and non-labor; debt retirement; and equipment, or asset, repair and replacement costs. Examining these items may require digging through bookkeeping, maintenance, and other records, and reviewing state and local laws that govern rate setting. To help determine the system's future costs, consider developing an equipment replacement plan or asset management program to help estimate future equipment maintenance, repair, and replacement costs (see asset management resources at end of article).

It's also important to examine whether current operations are running efficiently. For example, are the appropriate management and staff in place? Can operating, maintenance, purchasing, or repair costs be lowered? Are there opportunities to team up with nearby utilities to achieve economies of scale? Do customers have water meters, and are they billed for the amount of water they use? Is the utility collecting all the money that's owed? Is it losing treated water through leaks in the distribution system? Is water conservation encouraged? Are drinking water sources being protected from pollution? Addressing these issues can help reduce expenses and keep rates as low as possible.

Conducting a Rate Study and Setting Rates
After assessing your utility's situation, conducting a rate study will help determine if current rates are adequate to cover costs, which type of rate structure is fair and equitable to all customers, and the amount of the rate increase, if needed. While it's possible to examine your utilities and conduct a rate study in-house, some systems may benefit from securing the help of an outside expert. A qualified expert or rate analyst who is familiar with the rate study process will help ensure that you get the numbers and future projections right. Technical assistance providers, such as your state Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) affiliate or your state drinking water agency's capacity development program, may be able to provide tools and guidance. If getting this assistance is not an option, small systems may want to assemble a committee of key utility personnel, the city auditor or billing and collection clerk, and a couple of customers to conduct the study (some states require public participation in rate setting.) Free technical assistance may be available to small, low-income communities. Another approach is to hire an expert to do the initial rate study, continue with yearly studies on your own, and bring in an expert every few years to make sure the study and the rates are on track.

Rate study and rate setting calculations can be lengthy and involved, but the underlying concepts are fairly clear-cut. According to the North Dakota Small Community Water System's Handbook on Developing and Setting Water Rates, you first need to determine how much additional revenue is required to cover the full costs of operating the system. This involves preparing a budget, which is a financial plan for estimating total expenses and revenues for the upcoming year, based on your assessment of current and future costs. If your estimated expenses exceed estimated revenue, a rate increase is probably necessary. Next, consider how to spread the increase fairly among all customers. This requires knowing how many customers you have, how much water they use, and then determining if the current rate structure spreads the cost of providing water equitably among all customers, both high and low users. Ultimately, these and other calculations and projections will help determine appropriate rates to cover the full cost of doing business, now and in the future.

Identifying the Right Rate Structure
The rate structure determines how your system charges customers for the water they use. There are four common types: (1) Uniform Flat Rate: charging a flat rate no matter how much water is used; (2) Single Block Rate: charging a constant price per gallon regardless of how much water is used; (3) Decreasing Block Rate: charging less money as the amount of water used increases; and (4) Increasing Block Rate: charging more money as the amount of water used increases. Figure 1. provides a more detailed explanation of these rate structures. There are additional rate structure options that build upon these basics. For example, “seasonal rates” charge higher rates when there is a high demand for water, such as summer. "Lifeline rates" offer lower rates for low-income customers.

Each rate structure offers benefits and disadvantages, such as encouraging or discouraging water conservation, economic development, or fair and equitable pricing. Every community has its own priorities that should be taken into account when choosing the appropriate rate structure.

Traditionally, most small systems have used the single block rate structure (a constant price per gallon) or charged a flat fee for water (same price regardless of amount used). To encourage water conservation, the trend in rate structures is moving toward increasing block rates. Water conservation not only cuts down on the amount of water people use, but can help decrease a system's costs to collect, treat, and deliver water, as well as corresponding wastewater costs.

Most rate structures include a base rate, or minimum charge for having water available on demand, and a flow charge, which is a cost per 1,000 gallons, for example. The base rate typically covers the system's fixed expenses, which are monthly costs that do not change, such as billing, payment of debt, or contributions to reserve accounts. The flow charge generally covers the variable costs, such as salaries or chemicals, which change each month as the amount of water produced changes. As a general rule, wastewater rates are based on the amount of water used, and may require seasonal adjustments. Some systems may use more than one type of rate structure. For example, high water users like industrial or commercial customers may be given special rates if the community is trying to keep or attract these entities. In these cases it's important to consider the impact on your local water sources, and protect these water sources from pollution and overuse.

Keep in mind that your state regulatory agency or public service/utility commission may need to approve rate changes. Once approved, a rate hike may be more acceptable to customers if the new charges are spread incrementally over several years. Finally, funds from utility revenues and reserve accounts should not be used to pay for unrelated projects or costs.


 

Public Education: The Most Important Factor
Customers can become irate upon learning that the water and sewer rates are going up. Common complaints include "higher rates will make our water unaffordable," "government wastes enough of our money already," and "I won't vote for that elected leader again." Customers often do not understand the real issues facing water and wastewater services. Increasing their understanding and gaining their support starts with public education. Experience shows that if people understand the value and benefits of water and sewer services, they are usually willing to pay the price.

The EPA's Building Support for Increasing User Fees recommends informing customers that clean water has a price, explaining what their money is purchasing, pointing out all the efficiencies you've put in place, and conveying the consequences of inadequate water and wastewater management. Consequences include a lack of clean water and reliable services; public health and water pollution problems; and threats to quality of life, property values, community growth, and a sustainable economy. If you've conducted a good rate study, you'll have plenty of evidence to illustrate what their money is buying.

Public education campaigns should start well in advance of a proposed rate increase. Effective strategies include delivering tailored messages to different audiences (local service clubs, community groups, the media, school children, the general public), using a variety of communication strategies (presentations; utility tours; local fairs and events; direct appeals through the mail; Web site, newspaper, radio, and television announcements), and delivering the messages repeatedly over time. It's important to be well organized; use a designated, credible, and knowledgeable spokesperson; and develop a good relationship with the media and provide the information they need. If necessary, public education campaigns can be done on a shoestring budget, with a little creativity and commitment.

Local Leadership is Essential to Success
Many small water and wastewater systems have not raised rates in a long time and may not be adequately funded to keep up with the necessary operation, maintenance, infrastructure upgrades, and reserve accounts. Even in these difficult economic times, there are many options available to address the costs of drinking water and wastewater services. Strong local leadership and support are essential for making sure water and wastewater services are running as efficiently as possible and that there are adequate revenues to cover the full costs.

This article is part of the Water We Drink series, developed by the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) and the National Environmental Services Center (NESC).

How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Mondays

02

SmallWaterSupply.org Loves: Tips for Defending Rate Increases factsheet from Ohio RCAP

One of the most important yet most challenging parts of water and wastewater system management is dealing with rate increases. Nobody wants to be 'that guy' who changes rates for the first time in 20 years - but it is an unfortunately and necessary reality of today.

This factsheet developed by Ohio RCAP provides proactive responses to the most common arguments from customers and other local government officials. It is important for system managers and local decision makers to understand that "many of the arguments against a rate increase are based on misperceptions, a lack of information, or false information," says Ohio RCAP.

Download the factsheet (PDF)

Stuff We Love is posted on Fridays and includes favorite documents, links and other resources for small water and wastewater systems. We'll find the cream of the crop so you don't have to.
31
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released a new document, the Drinking Water Advisory Communication Toolbox.  This 162 page document was a collaborative effort among 6 organizations that all work in the drinking water and environmental health fields.
 
What Is It?
The Toolbox provides protocols for communicating with stakeholders and the public about water advisories and has practical information on how to plan for, develop, implement, and evaluate drinking water advisories.
 
How is this document different?
It is to date, the most far reaching effort to help prepare and assist drinking water systems in dealing with drinking water advisories to their customers that we have seen. The document recognizes the degrees of severity where advisories might be needed, from a drop in pressure,to a hurricane, and everything in between. It has practical solutions that affect the types of tools, planning, and communication needed for specific situations.
 
More importantly, it was developed by consensus among a tremendous number of stakeholders, industry folks, water systems, and technical assistance providers.  The list of acknowledgements is over 3 pages long and includes over 50 water systems.  They really did their research, compiling over 500 documents related to advisories, and conducting over 100 interviews.
 
What does that mean for me?
It means it will be a useful tool that you can use when you need to prepare a drinking water advisory. It also means the document is well thought out, organized, practical, and useful.  
 
That's a lot to read!
We agree, the problem is that it is 162 pages long.  We hope to help with that aspect by breaking the toolbox down in subsequent blog posts and highlighting the things we feel are most relevant for small systems.  Stay tuned for more, but if you get the chance, take a look.  You can find the report here.   
29

US EPA will host three webinar sessions in September on the CUPSS asset management software for small drinking water and wastewater systems. This free training is designed with "trainers" (state staff, technical assistance providers) in mind, but can be attended by anyone with interest. Here are the details:

This 6-hour presentation will consist of comprehensive training on how to use the CUPSS asset management software. It will closely follow the CUPSS Users Guide; an overview of each module (with screenshots) followed by exercises on how to use the module. To participate in this training, users will be asked to log in from their own computer. Users can begin their asset management process through this training or they can follow the presenter's hypothetical scenario. The EPA sponsored web-based conference delivery will be separated into three 2-hour sessions.

 

Information on Each Session

Session 1 of 3: September 15, 2011, 1:00 - 3:00 PM (EDT)
The goals of Session 1 include the following: CUPSS preparation, download and installation of CUPSS, set-up the utility's basic information, login and navigate CUPSS, create the asset inventory, and create a customized asset report.
 
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:  
https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/735400686
 

Session 2 of 3: September 22, 2011, 1:00 - 3:00 PM (EDT)
The goals of Session 2 include the following: create your operation and maintenance tasks, learn how to search and print reports on assets and associated tasks, enter your past, current, and projected finances, and determine your financial forecast and print a custom report for your utility.
 
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/593050726


Session 3 of 3: September 29, 2011, 1:00 - 3:00 PM (EDT)
The goals of Session 3 include the following: become familiar with the 10 steps in developing an asset management plan, generate an asset management plan, learn about the different troubleshooting tips to help you along the way, and get the most out of CUPSS with advanced features.
 
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/682303950

 

How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Mondays

26

SmallWaterSupply.org Loves: US EPA's updated website Water Infrastructure: The Bottom Line for Local Officials

When we went out this summer to get our intern ready to help several communities with asset management and long rang plans, the first thing we did was talk to the local officials as well as the operator. We all know who gets things done in water and wastewater systems, but we also know who most often wields the power and the purse strings.

The key to making headway towards sustainable systems is ensuring that local decision makers have the right knowledge about the problems and the solutions. In this newly updated web area on US EPA's site, local officials have a special place to get schooled in the basic issues of the water infrastructure problem.

We love the meat of this site the best: Five Things Local Officials Should Know About Sustainable Water Infrastructure and Five Things Local Officials Should Do to Support Sustainable Water Infrastructure. We love how the site offers step-by-step ideas, practical advice and real world case studies.

Stuff We Love is posted on Fridays and includes favorite documents, links and other resources for small water and wastewater systems. We'll find the cream of the crop so you don't have to.

 

24

By Sandra Fallon, National Environmental Services Center

Water is critical to life. Ensuring that our drinking water sources are protected—now and in the future—not only means safe drinking water for us, but for our children and grandchildren.

Source water protection refers to the concept of protecting sources of drinking water, including water from lakes, rivers, and underground aquifers, from overuse and contamination. Source water protection plans can help drinking water systems and the communities they serve keep our drinking water safe. But that's not the only reason for developing these plans. Consider the value of a dependable supply of clean, safe drinking water to the local economy, development opportunities, and quality of life. Or the importance of saving money on expensive water treatment costs, especially savings that can be realized from pollution prevention.

Potential Threats to Local Water Sources
Any substance that goes down the drain, runs off of urban or agricultural landscapes, or is buried or stored underground, could eventually end up in drinking water sources. A variety of activities or land uses could pose a threat to your local waters, including agricultural practices, logging, mining, military bases, active and abandoned industrial or commercial facilities, hazardous waste sites, solid waste landfills (especially older ones), oil and gas operations, construction sites, storm water runoff from urban areas, failing septic systems and deteriorating sewer mains and wastewater treatment plant discharge, salt water intrusion (contamination) of coastal aquifers, forms of transportation that may create avenues for spills (railroads along rivers or creeks, storm water discharge from interstate highways, barges on rivers), underground tanks or wells that store waste disposal, and lawn care practices. The list could go on.

Another concern is the unsustainable use of groundwater from our underground aquifers. Over the past 75 years, as a result of improved energy sources and technologies for pumping groundwater to the surface, this resource has become an important supply of water in the U.S. Approximately one-half of the population relies on groundwater for drinking water, and up to three-fourths of groundwater withdrawals are used for agricultural irrigation. Although groundwater supplies in the U.S are vast, this water is essentially being pumped out of the ground faster than nature can replenish it. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, while the extent of depletion in groundwater levels due to increased pumping is not regularly monitored or analyzed, available information indicates that underground water-level declines in the U.S. are widespread. The consequences of these declines include increased pumping costs, water quality deterioration, reduced amount of water in streams and lakes, and land subsidence.

Current Measures That Protect Drinking Water Sources
According to Robert Glennon in his book Groundwater Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America's Fresh Waters, groundwater withdrawal is regulated in different ways in different states. Many western states use the prior appropriation doctrine, which protects the rights of senior water users (those who were first to use the water). This doctrine generally means that water rights are not linked to land ownership, and senior users can continue to use it for beneficial purposes; subsequent users may use the remaining water only if it does not interfere with senior users’ rights. Some western states and most eastern states rely on the reasonable use doctrine, which allows pumping for any beneficial use but does not protect senior pumpers from newer pumpers. Some states rely on the English rule of absolute ownership, which allows property owners to pump unlimited amounts from beneath their property. Two states require that all landowners above the aquifer share the water. Although some states require groundwater pumpers to obtain a permit from their state agency, the general outcome of these practices is that most states regularly allow new wells to be developed.

For surface water use, two water rights doctrines generally apply. Most western states rely on the prior appropriation doctrine; most eastern states rely on the reasonable use doctrine, which allows property owners adjacent to the water body to make reasonable use of it. These rules can generate controversy and legal challenges, especially in times of drought or limited water availability.

Various laws are in place to manage the impacts of water pollution. For example, laws regulate the burial and monitoring of underground storage tanks (UST) that contain fuels, chemicals, or other hazardous substances that can leak out and pose a threat to groundwater. There are 640,000 USTs subject to regulation; many others are not. Other laws govern the injection of hazardous and nonhazardous wastes, including industrial, oil and gas production, radiological, and other waste, into deep or shallow wells or natural underground formations. Underground injection is used to dispose of more than 50 percent of these liquids generated in the U.S. While most underground injection wells are considered to be safe, some types of shallow wells that hold motor vehicle wastes or stormwater drainage, for example, are some of the most overlooked sources of groundwater contamination. An estimated 1.5 million of these wells are in existence.

Great strides have been made to curb the level of pollution discharged into U.S. waterways from point sources. Point source pollution is wastewater from sewage treatment plants, power plants, manufacturing or other facilities that is treated and discharged directly into a water body through one point, such as through a pipe or ditch. Being able to trace the source of contamination helps to determine ways to reduce the contaminant's concentration or eliminate it as a problem. Point source pollution is regulated by the Clean Water Act, the federal law that sets contaminant and discharge limits for specific waterways.

Contaminants also enter water bodies through dispersed, or nonpoint sources. Nonpoint source pollution occurs when water that flows over the landscape or through the soil as a result of rain, snow melt, or irrigation, picks up natural or human-made pollutants and makes it way into surface waters (rivers, lakes, streams) or underground aquifers. Pollutants can include chemicals, pesticides, sediment, animal waste, and in the case of faulty septic or sewer systems, human waste. This nonpoint source pollution process can occur in agricultural, urban, or forested areas, and on public or private property.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, nonpoint source pollution is the primary cause of water quality problems, and is harmful to drinking water sources, recreation, fisheries, and wildlife. Water that runs off agricultural land is considered to be the number one source of water quality problems in the rivers and lakes assessed by federal and state governments. Faulty septic and other sewer systems have been identified as a leading cause of water pollution in small communities and rural areas.

Because there are so many types of nonpoint sources of pollution from so many dispersed locations across the country, it is considered to be difficult to regulate. For the most part, the Clean Water Act leaves the regulation of nonpoint pollution sources up to each state. While some states have adopted regulations, many states use other incentives to curb this pollution, such as facilitating local watershed and land use planning efforts, encouraging the use of best management practices (a wide variety of strategies, such as planting vegetation along a waterway to help remove or filter pollutants flowing from adjacent land), providing technical assistance, and sharing costs with local partners for implementing prevention and control measures.

Water Quality and Water Use Challenges
To be safe, public drinking water systems, which are regulated by another federal law, the Safe Drinking Water Act, are required to treat the water they draw from local water sources. The drinking water they produce for public consumption must not include contaminant levels higher than what the law allows, and public water systems in the U.S. have been very successful in protecting public health and providing safe water to drink.

But given the fact that federal and state regulations allow certain levels of pollution to enter our water sources in the first place, local leaders and drinking water system personnel may ask "Are our current water protection strategies adequate?" Or, "What costs are imposed on the drinking water utility and the community to treat the water and remove contaminants?"

The issues surrounding current water use and water pollution practices are complex, but in the end, there are important questions at stake. Is it best to prevent or seek to control water pollution? Who has the right to pollute? Who is responsible for cleaning it up? To what extent do citizens have the right to a reliable supply of clean and safe water? At what point do economic, agricultural, or private property interests infringe on public health or water availability? What is the appropriate balance for protecting everyone's rights? And finally, where do local governments and their public drinking water systems stand and what options are available at the local level?

Source Water Protection Planning Can Help
Source water protection planning involves a series of steps that can help a community, group of communities, or everyone in a watershed work toward preventing or limiting threats to the water sources. A watershed is an area of land that drains into a river, river system, or other body of water such as a lake. Watersheds and the water flowing through them may cross many boundaries such as city, county, state, and even national borders. Planning on a watershed level, rather than for a single community or body of water, has the potential to be more effective in protecting waterways. It's not surprising that the most successful source water protection planning requires the combined efforts of many partners, such as local leaders; economic, energy, and agricultural interests; public and private water systems; resource managers; citizen groups; and the public. Local watershed organizations may already be working on source water protection and may have a lot of information available.

Initial planning steps include identifying the watershed or source water protection area; identifying contamination or threats to water availability; and evaluating how susceptible the water sources are to these threats. State drinking water agencies have already identified some of this information for every public drinking water system in their state. It is available in a document called a source water assessment. This assessment may need to be updated and developed in more detail, but it can be a good starting place.

The next steps include developing action plans detailing what will be done, when, and by whom; determining management measures to prevent, reduce, or eliminate threats (measures can include zoning, developing local ordinances, purchasing land near the water source, and public education); and identifying alternative sources of water in case of emergencies. There are many resources available to help with watershed or source water protection planning, and you may want to consider working with an outside facilitator, such as a technical assistance provider from the Rural Community Assistance Partnership or your state drinking water agency.

Developing a source water or watershed protection plan is a voluntary activity that requires time, effort, resources, and local leadership. Important payoffs can include reduced costs for drinking water treatment, more reliable water supplies, and increased public health, quality of life, economic opportunities, and environmental protection. Ultimately, ensuring we have safe and clean water to drink is everyone's responsibility. However, local decisions are critical for protecting water sources from pollution and overuse. Investigating the situation in your community, state, or watershed; bringing all parties to the table; discussing all perspectives; setting priorities; and enacting workable solutions at the local level may offer the best chance to prevent contamination and ensure safer and more sustainable water sources for the long term.

This article is part of the Water We Drink series, developed by the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) and the National Environmental Services Center (NESC).

22

By Jean Holloway, Sustainable Infrastructure Circuit Rider, Delaware Rural Water Association

What is your system's future (as you see it today) and how do you plan to arrive at that future? To answer those questions requires asking several others:

1.            Do you a have capital improvement plan (CIP)?
2.            Is it really a plan or a list of projects for the next several years?
3.            How often is it updated?
4.            Do you have a concrete strategy for financing each project?
5.            Does your CIP mesh with your long-range, comprehensive, land-use or other plan(s)?

These are just some of the questions to ask in reviewing the adequacy (or inadequacy) of a capital improvement plan.

Capital improvements planning is the multiyear scheduling of improvements accompanied by the intended funding sources and strategies for those improvements. These improvements may be system upgrades or expansions, or they can simply be for replacement or restoration of existing apparatus. Anything that adds value to the system or its service can be a capital improvement. A capital improvements plan is a road map to the future: where you want to go and how you plan to get there. It is, perhaps, the single biggest step in moving a small system from a reactive, crisis management mode, into a planned for, "I meant to do that" mode. A simple list of projects is just that: a wish list, and not a plan for attainment and completion.

There are a number of misconceptions that may come up during a first CIP process attempt. Here are some common questions:

If I develop and adopt a CIP, won't I be locked into doing all the things it lists?
Because a CIP document must be flexible and reviewed each year to reassess needs and goals, it is not a rigid document that commits the system to the projects it contains. It should be reviewed and adapted as needs change to make it a usable tool.

If I develop and adopt a CIP, won't I be burdened with debt to accomplish the projects?
The CIP process incorporates an analysis of affordability and debt service capability and, thus, helps to avoid imprudent debt obligations. Analyzing affordability means figuring out what customers can pay for and what the system can afford. Besides, debt is but one of the ways to pay for capital improvements and replacement. With proper advance planning and sound financial management, even a small system can do some CIP projects without incurring any debt. Pay-as-you-go funding largely depends on adequate monetary reserves accumulated over time by recognizing equipment wear and depreciation as a real cost of operation and funding it annually. This practice also helps accumulate the local match usually required by funding programs.

Is there a regulation or rule that says I have to have a CIP?
There is no rule in federal regulations that says a system must have a CIP. However, if a system applies for funding from any program that examines financial management practices as a condition of funding, a CIP will be one of the first things they examine. Having a CIP is both a practice and a measure of sound financial and managerial capacity regardless of regulation. Financial and managerial capacities are cornerstones of a system's sustainability.

If I don't have to have a CIP, why should I go to the trouble to develop one?
A CIP provides a formal framework for the decision-making process and a clear link to long range or master plans. It helps to focus a community‚Äôs attention on goals, needs, and financial capability while helping to avoid the waste of public resources. It serves as a guide for system operations for the planned years, provides a formal vision for the system's future and its value to the community, and helps to sustain the system while providing some stability to the rate structure over time. Small systems often need to do more with less and get the optimum "bang for their buck." That means planning for expenses rather than simply covering them as they arise. One of the best ways to do that is to have a CIP. 

Getting Started
The first step in doing a CIP is to establish the framework for the process itself. This means determining the participants, timetable, procedures, and policies that will direct the planning process. Establishing clear and defensible standards for judging and prioritizing proposed projects can be crucial to the plan's success. A written set of standards that governs the prioritizing decisions can go a long way toward satisfying potential questions and criticisms. Other policies may address borrowing versus self-funding, citizen input procedures, or something as pedestrian as the format for the written CIP document. Looking at other jurisdictions' CIP documents may help identify a format and presentation that works for your community.

The second step is to inventory the system and all its assets, fixtures, and equipment, and itemize and evaluate the conditions found. From this inventory, the planning body can derive a list of needed projects and prioritize them to address the most urgent needs, such as:

1.      Is there a legal mandate or order requiring a particular improvement?
2.      Will the project eliminate an existing or potential threat to the public health?
3.      Will the project benefit all the population or only a segment?
4.      Will the project provide better safety for system employees?
5.      Will the project improve efficiency, save money and time, or enhance service quality?
6.      Will a project modernize an outdated facility or piece of equipment that has outlived its expected usefulness?

The priority of a project may be changed to accommodate funding availability, timing, or factors
outside of the objective considerations attached to prioritizing needs, such as coinciding with a street paving.
The third step in the CIP process is to analyze the financial capacity of the system and its customers. The utility may look at things like trends and growth potential along with past financial performance. Examining the impact of planned expenditures and debt on customers means considering how much of the average customer's income goes to pay for user charges.  Affordability is doubly important because if the utility can't afford to pay the debt service, it will have to raise rates to pay for a project. However, if the rates go up higher than the average residential customer can afford to pay, utility cash flow and bottom line revenue will suffer.

From this financial analysis, the planning body can go identify specific funding options and programs for the various projects. Potential sources will likely include the traditional (grants, loans, and bonds), as well as the less traditional (impact fees, depreciation reserves, cash reserve funds, and the like). It's important not to spend general fund and tax dollars to keep utility enterprise funds afloat.

The final step in the planning process is to put the plan together, making sure to include all the pertinent information for each project proposed. The plan should contain an individual project description and purpose, alternatives considered, cost estimates, proposed funding sources, and the intended schedule of improvements. Be especially attentive to funding program requirements and whether or not your specific activities or projects are eligible. Also make sure that you can meet the funding program's application and advertising deadlines. Allow enough lead-time to advertise and meet any public hearing or notice requirements.

After internal reviews and approvals and adoption by the governing body, it is critical that the CIP is not treated as just another study or exercise in planning that gathers dust on a shelf. A road map is only helpful if it is consulted before the driver gets lost. Likewise, a CIP is only helpful if it is referred to and reviewed regularly as the community moves forward.

This article is part of the Water We Drink series, developed by the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) and the National Environmental Services Center (NESC).

How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Mondays

19
 
When I first got involved in this business, my view of the small community operator was that of an older operator who possibly grew up in the town he was working for.  As I got more involved, I realized that contract operations is commonplace, and in some cases big business.
 
In Illinois, there are currently about 1750 community water supplies, and those supplies are being managed by about 1180 operators.  That means that at least 1/3 of the community water supplies in Illinois are being managed by a contract operator, who operates more than one system.  That doesn't even consider those who are contracted that only have one system.  Wow, thats many more than I realized.
 
Is It Getting Out Of Hand?
I was at the USEPA Capacity Development Workshop last fall where most of the state programs were represented.  In a large group discussion about contract operations, it was brought up by one state that they had an operator request to be the operator in charge of over 300 systems.  That was the extreme case, but it points out how a contract operator can take advantage of a small communities needs and lack of adequate funding for a full time operator to create a better income for themselves.
 
Am I Naive?
My impression of a contract operator, based on the few I know, is that its an operator who is in charge of a decent sized system, which is his permanent position, who takes on one or a couple of small systems that are between operators or that is close enough and simple enough that they can juggle the added effort needed.  Now I am beginning to wonder.
 
Interesting Call
I got a call from an operator who was asking about job possibilities and if we knew of any available operator jobs that might be available.  I wasn't able to help him, but in talking to him, he is an operator with 20 years experience who is trying to contract himself out. He just lost out on a job to an operator with 37 years experience who was applying for the same position.  That's not that surprising, but then he said it was for  a contact operator job for a small mobile home park and that there were well over 50 applicants for the job.  
 
Doesn't That Seem Backward?
If we are having an operator shortage, how can there be so many operators applying for a part-time position like that.  I talked to a technical assistance provider who had been an operator early in their career and she suggested that being a contract operator can be a lucretive business, earning well over $1000 a facility per month.  It wouldn't take too many of these facilitiies to make a decent living for sure.
 
So What Is Really Going On?
I don't claim to know what is going on, and I imagine it is different in different states.  Some states have strict rules for their operators.  Either they have to spend a certain number of hours at their facilities or they limit the number of facilities they can be responsible for.  Others, I suspect, may not have such rules in place.  So, the real question is what does this mean for the future?  Is there really a shortage, or has the profession found a way to reduce the number of operators necessary by allowing them to operate multiple facilities?  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this issue. 
15

By Sandra Fallon, National Environmental Services Center at West Virginia University

The Public Works Department in Riverton, Wyoming, population 10,000, makes planning a priority, and it has paid off. On Superbowl Sunday, for example, water system personnel can be found watching the football game instead of working out in the cold weather replacing broken water lines, according to Riverton's Public Services Director Bill Urbigkit. By planning ahead and keeping up with repairs and replacements, the department has been able to prevent water line breaks and to significantly extend the life of the system's equipment.

When Urbigkit took the job in the 1990s the utility plan was already in place, thanks to funding from the state of Wyoming's Water Development Commission. "That plan has allowed us to anticipate maintenance and repair needs over the last 15 years, and to set aside adequate reserves to pay for those improvements. We have very few water main breaks and water leaks because our lines are in good shape. The norm in other communities can be hundreds of breaks every winter, which equates to treating water and letting it flow directly into the ground--a costly way to do business."

Why Plan Ahead?
Planning ahead can help you implement practices that save money. For example, protecting your drinking water sources (streams, lakes, rivers, aquifers) from pollution can save the cost of removing that pollution through expensive treatment processes at the drinking water plant. Using water meters helps calculate the amount of water used by customers so that you can collect those fees. Choosing proven decentralized wastewater technologies, such as onsite or cluster systems versus a costly centralized system, can be more affordable and easier for a small or rural community to manage.

Planning ahead can help you develop an equipment repair and replacement schedule and a strategy to cover those costs. As with your car, house, or any piece of equipment, keeping it in good repair helps to ensure safe, cost-efficient, and long-lasting operation. The same goes for water and wastewater systems. Knowing the condition and expected life of the equipment will help determine when to fix or replace it. In turn, that helps estimate how much money you'll need and when you'll need it, allowing you to set aside the right amount of revenue, a little at a time. Planning will also guide your efforts to obtain or raise funds through water rate adjustments, loans, grants, and bonds.

Planning ahead helps you anticipate changes that can affect the system. Knowing the community's future water and wastewater needs, upcoming regulations, and number and types of customers is key to determining future services, expenses, and income. Considering the impact
of climate change, natural disasters, or other unexpected events can guide your efforts to put preventive, emergency response, or long-term adaptation measures in place.

Planning ahead helps protect the public health and preserve what is likely your community's largest capital investment. Planning for system protections, operations, improvements, and funding strengthens your ability to protect public health, which is the most important goal, says Pat Kline, a consulting engineer and small system expert. Another key consideration, according to Mark Rounsavall, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) Program Manager for Community Resource Group, Inc. (Southern RCAP), is to protect the community's sizable investment in the water or wastewater plant. "When people realize it's either the biggest or one of the biggest investments their community has made, the importance of safeguarding that investment becomes clear."

First Things First: Know the System's Financial Condition
Understanding your system's current financial condition and the cost of doing business is essential, according to Rounsavall. Three financial documents--the income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement--produced by your bookkeeper, accountant, or independent auditor, provide this information.

The balance sheet (or statement of financial position) identifies the system's net worth--how much the system is worth at a given point in time, and indicates whether or not the system is operating with a deficit. The income statement (or statement of activity) shows the results of operations over a period of time--how much revenue the system has earned and the amount of expense it has incurred. The cash flow statement breaks down all of the system's financial transactions and shows how they affect the flow of cash. Examining these documents, performing simple calculations, and comparing the numbers from year to year provides a wealth of information for planning and making corrections, such as:

  • How the system is progressing and whether revenue or expenses are up or down;
  • The system's ability to pay off current liabilities;
  • How much the system relies on debt, its ability to pay its debt, and whether long-term debt is increasing or decreasing;
  • The system's net operating income or loss and profitability (whether it's making more income from the sale of water than it spends producing the water);
  • Whether the system is charging high enough rates to cover the costs of system operations, treatment, storage, distribution, and future infrastructure investments; 
  • How financial transactions (borrowing money, equipment repairs, investments, etc.) impact the amount of cash available to meet obligations or pay operating expenses;
  • Whether the system is experiencing growth or decline, collecting money owed, paying vendors on time, and keeping up with cash flow requirements. 

Urbigkit says he doesn't know how you'd plan or have any credibility when talking to ratepayers without knowing your financial situation. "For some small systems, it can be like pulling teeth to get all the financial information together, but you've got to do it. The software and tools available today make it easier to organize and get access to your financial data." He recommends getting help wherever you can, such as from assistance providers, your independent auditor, perhaps even a student from the local high school who can help input data and get the software up and running.

Starting the Planning Process
Small and rural water and wastewater systems should consider planning at least five-years and up to twenty years out. While this may sound overwhelming, all planning typically comes down to four basic questions:

  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to be?
  • How do we get there?
  • How will we measure our progress?

A common planning technique for getting a handle on system conditions is known as a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) Analysis. For most purposes, a good review of internal conditions (good and bad), and what’s going on externally will be sufficient.

System strengths could include things like good relationships with customers, trained operators who will likely remain at the system, solid finances, and up-to-date infrastructure. Conversely, weaknesses such as employee turnover, money troubles, or aging facilities must be listed. External conditions--be they threats or opportunities--include potential emergencies, whether your area is growing or losing population, if new regulations are in the offing, if private companies are buying nearby systems, and if there are plans for consolidating or regionalizing systems. Climate change impacts such as drought, severe or changing precipitation, sea-level rise, and the resulting effect on the availability and dependability of your water sources and services should also be considered. Of course, no one can see into the future, but a SWOT analysis will be invaluable when problems arise.

Where are we now? The financial and SWOT analyses, if done honestly, provide an accurate picture of the way things are right now. It's also useful to collect data about pollution threats, current customers, current water consumption patterns, and current system capacity.

Where do we want to be? What will the system be like in five, ten, twenty years? When will you need to make major upgrades or replacements? Will you add new customers? Which water and energy conservation and efficiency measures will you implement? These questions allow you to state, in concrete terms, where your system will be by the end of the plan’s timeline. Many systems find it useful to craft mission and vision statements to capture who they are, what they do, and what they seek to achieve.

How do we get there? To achieve the goals you’ve set, describe how to make them happen. Each goal should have a specific plan of action and the list should be prioritized. Document who will be responsible for leading each project, when it will be done, and how much it will cost. Take advantage of strengths and opportunities, minimize weaknesses and threats to the system. Remember to be realistic. Setting too many goals often means that none are done very well.

How will we measure our progress? It's easy to say, "We will add new customers" but hard to quantify and, therefore, hard to document progress. A better method is to say, "We'll add 50 new customers in each of the next five years." Decide what the milestones are for the various goals and set stages for achieving them. Goals should be measurable, and progress (or lack thereof) should be reported to the board and other stakeholders on a regular basis.

Plenty of Work But Worth It
Planning takes commitment and leadership--there are no two ways about it. But the effort will be worth it. And, you don't have to do it alone. Kline recommends seeking assistance from your state's Rural Community Assistance Partnership office, federal or state agencies, a neighboring water or wastewater system, or knowledgeable community members.

"Many of us have a natural aversion to numbers as well as to planning," says Rounsavall, "and think that if things are OK today, why worry about tomorrow? There's a long tradition of thinking 'water is free' even though the cost of treatment, equipment, maintenance, and pumping water to and from our homes keeps going up. Sooner or later we have to face the real cost of providing this service." Urbigkit stresses the importance of taking pride in the system and leaving it in better shape for future customers and employees. Understanding your system's financial condition and planning ahead can be positive steps in the right direction.

This article is part of the Water We Drink series, developed by the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) and the National Environmental Services Center (NESC).

How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Mondays

12

SmallWaterSupply.org Loves: Asset Management for Small Systems factsheet from Washington's Department of Health

Asset management can sound intimidating and the time investment to get started, daunting. We love factsheets, handouts, brochures and other short-format documents that break down the process and make it easy to understand for a beginner.

This four page document helps you understand

  • What asset management means.
  • The benefits of asset management.
  • Best practices in asset management.
  • How to implement an asset management program.

Knowing the basics of the asset management process before digging into a more in-depth training can be extremely useful - as you can see how the pieces fit together. A just-the-basics approach also demonstrates how asset management is very much rooted in common sense and logical decision make, facts that can be masked by too many details too soon.

Note: This is a reformatted version of US EPA's Asset Management: A Best Practices Guide. Another helpful document is Asset Management for Local Officials, a no-nonsense plain language introduction to the topic.

Stuff We Love is posted on Fridays and includes favorite documents, links and other resources for small water and wastewater systems. We'll find the cream of the crop so you don't have to.
10

Simultaneous Compliance is a big phrase for something that is essentially very simple: being in compliance with all regulations while operating one or more treatment processes on your raw water. As an operator you know that every action has a reaction. Simultaneous compliance techniques help find that special balance.

You may be most familiar with this term in relation to maintaining sufficient disinfectant residual in the distribution system while minimizing disinfection by-products and maximizing corrosion control to prevent introduction of lead and copper. It's not always easy and unfortunately, increasingly complex regulations make finding this balance even more difficult.

Addition of new treatment for removal of arsenic or radionuclides, for example, can introduce cascading effects across all your processes. Fortunately, there are a couple of tools designed specifically for helping small systems make sense of all this:

  • WaterRF Simultaneous Compliance Tool
    This web-based tool utilizes a framework of technology-based rules to identify potential unintended consequences based on user defined treatment and source water quality parameters.

Have you encounted simultaneous compliance issues? How did you address them?

Posted in: Water Treatment
08

Earlier this year, we shared why we love Facebook Pages as an inexpensive (i.e. free) and easy-to-use method of developing a web presence that also allows you to interact with customers. Today we want to show you exactly how to create a Page.


Setting Up your Facebook Page

This short video shows how easy it is to create a Facebook Page. Below the video, we've added helpful tips. 

  • The URL to get started with your page is https://www.facebook.com/pages/create.php
  • First select Company, Organization or Institution and then Energy/Utility or Government Organization (as appropriate).
  • Follow the wizard to customize your Page
    • Images can be up to 180 pixels wide and 540 pixels tall
  • Make sure to click the "Edit Info" icon to add details about your organization.


What to Post on your Page

Now that you've set up your Page, you may be wondering what is next. If you choose to set up a Page, it is important to post updates on a regular basis. You can post announcements like planned hydrant flushing or simple water-related questions for your customers. The goal is not only to broadcast information but also to develop trust between your business and your customers by talking to them person-to-person.


How to Get Fans for your Page

After you create a Page, you want to encourage your customers to "Like" it so they receive your updates in their news stream and can communicate with you. You can include the address of your Facebook Page in your next bill or even add it to your letterhead so it appears on all bills and letters.

Facebook is a place where you can likely find many of your customers. You can stay on their radar and get them involved in your water and/or wastewater system with a Facebook Page.

How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Mondays

03

While a majority of the documents that the US Environmental Protection Agency has developed for small systems are applicable to tribes, they have also created valuable resources with tribal utilities in mind.


Drinking Water

Building Water System Capacity: A Guide for Tribal Administrators
This 6-page handbook is designed to help tribal decision-makers develop capacity for improvement of drinking water systems.

Total Coliform Rule Monitoring Placards for Community Water Systems Serving 25-1,000 People or 1,001 to 10,000 People
These 1-page mini posters may be displayed in the treatment plan as a reminder for the distribution system monitoring requirements for total coliform. Additional posters are available for Non-Community Water Systems.

Lead and Copper Rule Minor Revisions Fact Sheet for Tribal Water System Owners and Operators
This 9-page document presents the minor revisions to the LCR, covering the topics of demonstrating optimal corrosion control, monitoring and reporting, public education, and lead service line replacement.

Preventive Maintenance Tasks for Tribal Drinking Water Systems: Guide Booklet & Log Cards
This 35-page document provides a schedule of routine operation and maintenance tasks for small drinking water systems that use a groundwater supply. They will help you develop a preventive maintenance program for your water system.


Wastewater

Primer for Municipal Wastewater Treatment Systems
This 30-page document provides basic information on municipal wastewater treatment systems and advanced methods for treating wastes.

Tribal Management of Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems
A fact sheet that defines onsite wastewater treatment systems and explains the four onsite wastewater management steps (map, design, maintain, and regulate).


Source Water Protection

Drinking Water Quality in Indian Country: Protecting Your Sources
4-page factsheet provides guidance about source water protection; also lists additional resources for tribes.


For additional resources, you can visit US EPA's pages for tribal drinking water and wastewater systems.

 

Posted in: Tribal Systems
01

"Exceptional leadership is essential for today’s water and wastewater utilities to thrive."

We totally agree.

Unfortunately this statement was attached to a $12,500 leadership training opportunity. While it is true that large utilities can have extensively complicated human resource, technology and financial situations, required attributes of good leadership and successful business are fundamentally the same across system size. These facts simply underscore the disparity between small and large within our industry.

Small systems are fortunate to have many advocates in their court - organizations and individuals who realize that the small guys need this sort of training more than ever. As a community we are moving away from paying lip service (and excuses) to sustainability for small systems and doing what we can to help them thrive just like the big guys.

We browsed the SmallWaterSupply.org calendar for "leadership" and came up with several upcoming opportunities. We believe there are more out there, and as the infrastructure crisis comes to a head in rural America, we expect to see even more.

NRWA Annual Leadership Forum & Technology Exhibit Center
Louisville, KY — October 4-6, 2011

TAUD 2011 Leadership Conference
Gatlinburg, TN — October 9-11, 2011

Plus we found this recent event worth mentioning...
KRWA Management Leadership Program
Topeka, KS — July 21, 2011

Do you know of other, similar training opportunities or even online courses? Please share in the comments.

How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Mondays

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One Of Our Users Asked
We felt this was a pretty relevant topic for many of you so we are posting the following question and response from our operator forum:
 
"A Diatomaceous Earth plant is experiencing a high Raw and Finish water pH of 8.5 and greater. The source water is near a major road and I am certain road salt is a contributing factor ( I do not have an alkalinity reading yet). Acid dosing of the clear well or filter outlet seems to be in order. I have never used acid to reduce pH in a water pant and am looking for recommendations or reference material to get this process going."
 
Getting You Answers
When we need answers to technical questions we are lucky to have experts nearby that we can count on.  We are fortunate in Illinois that our rural water training specialist, Wayne Nelson, has seen and done it all. I certainly rely on his expertise when a technical issue comes up. I sent this question to Wayne, and here is his response:

Based on the information given, the addition of an acid in the treatment process could be used to lower finished water pH. I would first recommend finding the exact source of the problem. If the problem is caused by road salt other problems can occur such as high sodium levels causing possible health problems in immuno-compromised persons (hypertension) as well as the addition of chorides to the drinking water. While there is no MCL for sodium levels in drinking water (only a recommended level) high levels can also adversely affect the taste of drinking water in elevated levels.

The most common type of acid used in lowering pH is 23% sulfuric acid fed either straight or in solution with water. I can't address its use in other states from a regulatory standpoint but if an Illinois public water supply plans to feed the acid, it first needs to obtain a construction permit/then operating permit from the IEPA Permit Section before the treatment is implemented. This recommendation applies to the continued use of the acid. A simple one time treatment of the clearwell would most likely not solve the problem since sodium levels in the surface water source could remain constant and also could rise again every time rainfall or snowmelt occurs in the watershed. I hope that this provides some direction for the operator.

Wayne Nelson
Training Specialist
Illinois Rural Water Assn.
 
Check The Forum Out
Take a look at our forum and let us know what you think.  It will only be as useful as you make it, so join in with questions, or to answer some of the questions we have posted. You do need to register on the site to be able to post to the forum, but its free and pretty painless.  If you have any questions about registering or logging in, check out our help videos on the front page that walk you through the process.
27

In this week's newsletter (are you signed up yet?), we highlighted a new document created by WorkForWater.org that details opportunies for various entities to improve recruitment and training of veterans for careers in water. We wanted to highlight the specific steps a small system can take to help bring veterans into the field.

1. Post Jobs Online
Employers can post job opportunities online at the Department of Veterans Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment (VR&E) website (
vetsuccess.gov). Prior military experience gives veterans an understanding of teamwork, discipline, and personal accountability that can make them excellent employees at water systems.

2. Host an Intern
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may pay monthly financial education benefits to a veteran while he/she is taking part in an approved entry-level on-the-job training or apprenticeship. During the training period, the utility pays an apprenticeship or internship wage while the veteran receives an additional financial benefit through VA. There are also opportunities to provide non-paid work experiences to disabled veterans.

These on-the-job experiences must be approved within your state and coordinated among various state and federal agencies. If you would like to host an intern, the first step is call the VR&E point of contact listed at the end of the document. To make this process even easier, SmallWaterSupply.org would be happy to facilitate communication with the VR&E for any small community wishing to host a veteran at their water or wastewater system. You can email us at info@smallwatersupply.org to request our help.

Posted in: Careers
25
I was at AWWA's Annual Conference June 12-16 and attended several of the small systems sessions.  As has been the case over the last few years, one of the prominent topics revolving around capacity development is the potential shortage of operators.
 
We All Have To Get Involved
It's not enough to take care of your system and just go about your business.  All of us, operators, TA providers, vendors, educators, and state/federal authorities, need to get involved in promoting jobs in water/waste water.  Most of us know of an operator who is over 70, who's community/system has no idea what they are going to do when that person moves on/retires.
 
What You Can Do
There are a number of things you can do.  One is to contact your state's operator schools and offer to host an intern.  Many of the operator training programs are desperate for on-the job opportunities for their students.  Talk to your state folks and TA providers and find out what intern opportunities might be available in your state and offer to help. 
 
It's Time To Open Up Your Plant
After 9/11 many plants closed their doors to schools, youth groups, and other civic organizations.  I understand the worry and the need to take safety seriously, but its time to start plant tours again.  It was one of the best ways to inform the public, and more importantly, the next generation of potential operators, about the need, benefit, and importance of water and waste water treatment.  If we want an informed public, we have to let them in and show them what we do.  We have to publicize ourselves, toot our own horns, be proud of what we do, and look ahead to what our systems are going to do when its our turn to pass the responsibility down to the next generation.
 
How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Mondays
22
SmallWaterSupply.org Loves: Treatment Plant Operator, a free monthly magazine

We here at SmallWaterSupply.org want to help connect operators with the best industry news, tips, techniques and ideas - but we can't cover it all. Free resources are our favorite to recommend, because we know budgets are tight. Treatment Plant Operator magazine (which also has several sister publications) is geared towards wastewater operators and is completely free.

Each monthly issue (August is already available online!) includes a variety of articles that showcase projects and programs from wastewater plants across the country. While the content is sponsored by advertisements, the articles feature real people and their stories - not product/service endorsements. Sign up for a free subscription by mail or read the articles each month online.
 
Stuff We Love is posted on Fridays and includes favorite documents, links and other resources for small water and wastewater systems. We'll find the cream of the crop so you don't have to.
20

We all have good intentions. We want to serve our audiences, our customers, our clients in the best way we know how, to protect public health and the environment. But sometimes we, like anyone, can be short-sighted. We develop "great" new ideas that may not be all that spectacular to the end user. We think we are saving time or money, but maybe we overlooked an important piece of information.

I started thinking about this last week after reading this blog post on certain websites (i.e. Flash-based sites) not being accessible on the iPad. The post turned the problem on its head, pointing out that the solution is not to buy another brand of tablet, but for the creator to maximize his reach by better considering the needs of his customer.

This reminded me of a situation we had encountered just the day before while visiting one of our pilot project communities. In this example, the village president was eager to use a form developed by a TA provider for preparing an emergency response plan. The form was in Microsoft Word (including not just text, but form fields) and this individual was using Open Office. While Word is more commonly used than Open Office, a fill-in PDF would have served both types of users in the end.

What This Means to You
The lesson here applies to both small systems as well as the agencies and assistance providers who support them. While I don't recommend catering to every last permutation of needs, we can all take steps to better understand the end user's needs before jumping in feet first. For a water system, this could mean conducting a survey of email and text message use in the community before implementing an
electronic system of instant notification. For others, even us here at SmallWaterSupply.org, it means being both adaptive and forward-thinking when it comes to development of new products and tools. They need to not only work, but work well.

Through efforts to better understand and hone our focus on the customer, we continue to build the much-needed trust that keeps all our efforts financially sustainable.

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In June, we announced the kick-off of our internship pilot program. Over the next several months, we'll be documenting the progress, challenges and lessons learned in this experience.
 
Two Communities So Far
We have found two communities, so far, that we will be working with this summer. They will be utilizing our intern to assist them in developing tools and information that they can use to help run their systems more effectively. Each community is in a different place, and has unique issues they want help with. 
 
Our idea, when we started this program, was to find a few communities interested in developing ERP's, asset management plans, and long range plans, and have our intern, who is a Class C water and Class D wastewater operator in Illinois, provide some of the man power necessary to develop the inventories, look up information, etc. 
 
Every System Is Unique
Boy is this an understatement. Neither community fit the model we envisioned for this project. Community A, for lack a better name, is actually in really good shape. Their operator and village president are on the same page, they have an idea of where they want to go, they have an ERP (with help from ILRWA), and they have a little money in the bank. It's a community of only 800 people, and they are doing a great job managing their system. They actually contacted us, after seeing the article in our newsletter, and asked for specific help with asset management.
 
The best way to describe the situation in Community A is they are doing well and are being proactive and moving further forward. They are in a classic situation where succession planning needs to be a part of the picture - with the village president and operator on the verge of retiring in 5 years or less. They have the CUPSS software from USEPA and were a little intimidated with trying to work with it, so Nate's main job for them is going to be to get CUPSS set up for them. We are also using the new "AM Kan Work" manual from NMEFC, and plan to have Nate develop both sets of tools for each of the communities that ask for our help.
 
Community #2
This community was suggested to us by Illinois RCAP, and we are grateful for their help and support.  Community #2 is a community that is starting from scratch. We haven't talked to them yet, our first meeting is tomorrow, but the information we do have suggests that it is a community that has had significant problems in the past, and are now stepping up with new managment and village officers to try and get a handle on their water and wastewater systems. They first need an evaluation of where their systems stand, so Nate will be conducting a Vulnerability Assessment for them. Based on those results we will move forward. Illinois RCAP is also assisting this community, and will be advising Nate as we work with the community. 
 
Working Out Better Than We Had Hoped
The goal of the program is to expose Nate to a variety of community situations that will better prepare him for managing his own system, while providing a measureable benefit to each of the communities that participates. We are already seeing that Nate's exposure to even these two communities, is going to go along way in preparing him for his first head operator position. And for the communities, we are developing plans with Nate that will really help them move forward and meet their needs.
 
Note #1: We are still looking for 1-2 communities of under 1000 people within an hour of St Louis, that would be interested in participating in this program.
 
How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Mondays
15

SmallWaterSupply.org Loves: SurveyMonkey

Customers are at the center of any good business model and in few other industries is the business so closely tied with public health protection. Communication is essential to understanding customers and we've discussed a variety of ways here to make those connections.

An additional, more modern mechanism of market research is the internet survey. In today's day and age, it is easy to put together a set of questions, collect your data and analyze the results. And with SurveyMonkey, you can develop a questionnaire with up to 10 questions and 100 respondents for free!

I've personally used SurveyMonkey dozens of times and in many applications. It is a simple, easy-to-use tool that walks you through each step. Questions can be formatted in a variety of ways (multiple choice, open answer etc.) and always be made dependent on previous responses. Water and wastewater supplies can use this kind of survey to develop a deeper understanding of the public in their neck of the woods and ideally improve subsequent decision-making.

Stuff We Love is posted on Fridays and includes favorite documents, links and other resources for small water and wastewater systems. We'll find the cream of the crop so you don't have to.
12

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is sponsoring a series of in-person training workshops for federally recognized tribes and Alaskan Native Villages across the country to help increase participants' skills and knowledge in the operation of wastewater and drinking water treatment systems. The training is intended for water system operators, wastewater system operators, tribal utility managers, tribal council members and leaders involved with water utility management.

Dates and locations include:

  • July 26-28, 2011 — Billings, Montana
  • August 9-11, 2011 — St. Paul, Minnesota
  • September 13-15, 2011 — Phoenix, Arizona
  • September 27-29, 2011 — Kansas City, Kansas
  • October 25-27, 2011 — Anchorage, Alaska

There is no registration fee for the workshops. There is a cap of 50 participants at each session, and tribes and Alaskan Native Villages that received 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds will be given priority. Travel, hotel, and per diem costs for attendees from tribal reservations may be covered by a participant's local Indian Health Service Area office. For more information, including how to register, please go to: http://water.epa.gov/learn/training/tribaltraining/tcourse7_2011.cfm.

 

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