RCAP Solutions Receives USDA Disaster Assistance Funds for Puerto Rico Communities Affected by Hurricane Maria

Contact: Maegen McCaffrey, RCAP Solutions

978-630-6714, mmccaffrey@rcapsolutions.org

Washington, DC (September 10, 2019) – The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) and our northeastern regional partner RCAP Solutions is pleased to announce the receipt of disaster assistance funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for three rural communities in Puerto Rico. These communities were badly affected by Hurricane Maria in September 2017.

The communities receiving assistance are: Acuedouctos Barrio Guayabota Yabucoa, Inc.; Pozo de Agua, Inc.; and Comunidad Sector Los Gomez, Inc. The three communities combined received $169,571 in federal assistance from USDA.

“2017’s Hurricane Maria created a monumental shift in how we think about disaster recovery,” said Karen A. Koller, RCAP Solutions President and CEO. “We were fortunate to have the first boots on the ground as our organization worked around the clock to assist communities and assess the tremendous damage done to Puerto Rico’s small water systems. We applaud the USDA for providing the necessary resources for the revitalization and rebuilding of the Island. Access to safe and clean drinking water will only become more important as we see continued climate change. Creating sustainability for the long term in the Caribbean will continue to be an ongoing priority for our team, who lives and breathes their vitally important work at RCAP Solutions.”

Acueductos Barrio Guayabota Yabucoa is in Yabucoa, the eastern region of Puerto Rico. This water system serves 600 families, and several small businesses and community organizations. The water system is still severely affected by Maria and without power. The funding they received will provide generators and lab equipment needed for the system to increase compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

Pozo de Aqua is in Caguas, the central mountain range of Puerto Rico, and provides drinking water to approximately 183 families. The water system needs extensive repairs from damages caused by Maria. The funding they received will replace pipes, wells and other equipment and help prepare the system for any future disaster.

Comunidad Sector Los Gomez is in the central eastern part of Puerto Rico. Prior to Hurricane Maria, the system provided drinking water to 60 families, but the system lost power for six months following the disaster. The USDA funding will allow the community to replace damaged equipment and purchase a new generator. Because Maria damaged the water tank and well, the community is planning a second phase of funding to evaluate soil conditions to determine if next steps are needed to ensure the system is safe for all citizens.

“Even before Hurricanes Irma and Maria came through Puerto Rico, our team has been working with some of the smallest, most remote areas across the island. The tremendous support that our team in Puerto Rico provided to these communities was critical in securing these funds for three of the island’s hardest hit and lowest capacity areas,” said RCAP CEO Nathan Ohle. “The success each community had in securing these funds is exactly the reason the RCAP network is working to build capacity in small communities across the country and is a testament to the incredible work the team at our partner RCAP Solutions is accomplishing every day.”

About RCAP:
RCAP is a network of nonprofit organizations working to ensure rural and small communities throughout the United States have increased capacity to drive access to safe drinking water, sanitary wastewater, economic development and disaster recovery that leads to economic prosperity. To learn more about this work visit: rcap.org.

About RCAP Solutions:
Established in 1969 as Rural Housing Improvement, RCAP Solutions’ mission is to foster personal and public self-reliance and improve the quality of life for individuals, families and the communities in which they live. RCAP Solutions is an integrated community development organization serving the rural northeast, Caribbean, and Worcester county region for housing assistance. RCAP Solutions is the Worcester County affiliate of The Regional Housing Network (RHN) of Massachusetts and the Northeast affiliate of the national Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) Network based in Washington D.C.

RCAP and LOR Foundation Introduce National “Rural Homecoming” to Celebrate Local Innovation and Opportunity

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contacts:
Kinsey Brown, RCAP: kbrown@rcap.org, (202) 800-4127
Korenna Wilson, LOR: korenna@lorfoundation.org, (307) 690-0550

WASHINGTON, DC — (September 4, 2019) Rural communities across the country will celebrate the inaugural Rural Homecoming Oct. 18-20 by hosting events and engaging members of their community as part of a national movement that is rooted in local connections.

#RuralHomecoming was created this year to reconnect people to their hometowns and to kickstart a national dialogue on what being rural truly means. This fall, communities will come together to celebrate and give current and former residents a reason to reconnect with their
hometown and the innovation and unique attributes that make their community so special.

Rural Homecoming was developed by the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) in partnership with the LOR Foundation, and today the organizations are launching the program by inviting any rural community across the country to participate, free of charge. Each community will receive a toolkit to inspire and guide communities interested in getting involved, including a social media and communications plan rooted in each community’s plan to participate.

“Rural Homecoming lets each community tell their own story,” said Nathan Ohle, CEO of RCAP. “It provides an opportunity to let communities take back their story and highlight what makes rural America so special by giving communities a reason to open their doors and reconnect people with their hometowns. Rural Homecoming empowers each community to take part in a national partnership with a locally-focused approach.”

“We’re all from somewhere,” said LaMonte Guillory, Chief Communications Officer of the LOR Foundation. “Cities or small towns, coastal or inland, East or West, plains or mountains, the concept of Rural Homecoming allows people to connect with their roots and think about where they came from. It also gives us a chance to talk about the innovation and accomplishments that are happening in rural America right now, of which there are many.”

To access and download the free toolkit, visit https://rcap.org/events/ruralhomecoming/. Follow #RuralHomecoming on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to join the movement. We want to hear from you. What makes your community special?

About RCAP: RCAP is a network of nonprofit organizations working to ensure rural and small communities throughout the United States have increased capacity to drive access to safe drinking water, sanitary wastewater, economic development and disaster recovery that leads to economic prosperity. To learn more about this work visit: rcap.org.

About LOR: LOR is a foundation that works to increase prosperity in the rural Mountain West, while preserving the character that defines these iconic places. Together with communities, they revitalize main streets, protect clean water supplies, preserve agricultural land and open space, and improve access to the outdoors and recreation. lorfoundation.org

RCAP Solutions is on the Move!

RCAP Solutions is on the Move!

We are expanding into our new headquarters, the home of the Worcester County Housing Consumer Education Center located at:

191 May Street, Worcester, MA 01602

Our Worcester office will be closed to walk-in traffic from Wednesday, August 21 through Tuesday, August 27, 2019.

We will be open for business on Wednesday, August 28, 2019 at our new location.

During this week, we will be offering only one RAFT Screening:
Thursday, August 22 from 9-11 AM at MOC, 49 Nursery Lane, 2nd Floor, Fitchburg.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause; however, staff will be available via phone and email during this period.

Our phone number, 800.488.1969, extensions and email addresses will remain the same.

Please update your contacts with our new address.

We look forward to seeing you at our new location.

For full press release announcement, click here:  http://bit.ly/RCAPMove

Press Release: RCAP Solutions Relocating Headquarters

RCAP Solutions Relocating Headquarters

Move allows organization to expand services to a growing customer population, while reengaging with its rural roots.

RCAP Solutions, the Gardner and Worcester based non-profit, is pleased to announce that the organization will be moving its headquarters to 191 May Street, Worcester, MA on August 28, 2019.

The headquarter relocation is part of a strategic plan to expand services to satisfy the increasing demand for improved community assistance. These services include safe and affordable housing; clean water, wastewater, and infrastructure programs; economic and workforce development; and education and training.

RCAP Solutions’ new headquarters will also serve as the home of the Worcester County Housing Consumer Education Center. The Center provides homelessness prevention and counseling; management of over 360 affordable apartments for families, the elderly and disabled; residential loan programs; financial wellness and workforce development programs; and the Housing Choice Voucher Administration of over 2,600 section 8 vouchers. In addition, the Center manages over $28M in pass-through funds throughout the central Massachusetts region.

The Gardner corporate office will move to the new Worcester headquarters this fall, along with the consolidation of several field offices currently in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. This integration will result in the creation of the northeast office of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), which will service its rural community constituency with technical assistance, community funding programs, and environmental services through the national RCAP program, centered in Washington D.C. (www.rcap.org).

The opening of this new location will jump start the next generation of RCAP Solutions’ enhanced services, and will embrace the strategic sustainability of the future, as the organization celebrates its 50th Anniversary in the spring.

“This is an exciting time for RCAP Solutions as the demand for our services continues to increase,” said Karen A. Koller, RCAP Solutions President and CEO. “The organization is going through an extensive transformation that will positively impact our constituents across the northeast. We’re embracing our rural roots, as we were founded in 1969 as Rural Housing Improvement.”

“While we are moving to the second largest city in New England, it’s important to remember that we are surrounded by rural communities,” said Koller. “Bringing our rural staff together under one roof allows for a more collaborative customer service approach, and the consolidation of our offices gives our new headquarters stronger brand recognition.”

RCAP Solutions has directly serviced Worcester for over 30 years, with its current address located at 12 East Worcester Street. The expansion plan provides increased intake areas; enhanced classroom and meeting space for training and workshops; and computer terminals for clients to access information and supportive services. The location will serve as a center for comprehensive assistance for those in need.

191 May Street is the former site of Reliant Medical Group, which offers 21,000 square feet on two floors. The previous leases totaled 12,000 square feet. This increase allows the organization to combine two offices into one headquarters location with additional square footage, and the resulting increased efficiencies and expanded services for a stronger program delivery system. Matthew Mayrand, Vice President of NAI Glickman Kovago & Jacobs and Vice Chair of the RCAP Solutions Board of Directors represented RCAP Solutions in leasing the property from Chacharone Properties LLC.

“I cannot say enough about Matt’s attention to detail and assistance in representing RCAP Solutions in the lease of this property,” said Koller. “Jim Chacharone and his team at Chacharone Properties have been incredible to work with in meeting our very specialized needs as a customer service organization along with a tight timeline to move into the space. As a federally funded organization, we do all we can to keep our administrative costs low. This space proved to be the best and most affordable option to meet the needs of the 70 staff members as they provide vital services to thousands of constituents who will visit our office in the coming months.”

About RCAP Solutions, Inc.
Established in 1969 as Rural Housing Improvement, the RCAP Solutions mission is to foster personal and public self-reliance and improve the quality of life for individuals, families and the communities in which they live. RCAP Solutions is an integrated community development organization serving the rural northeast, the Caribbean, and the Worcester county region for housing assistance. The organization has been helping people and communities with a wide range of technical and supportive services for 50 years. RCAP Solutions is the Worcester County affiliate of The Regional Housing Network of Massachusetts and the Northeast affiliate to the national RCAP (Rural Community Assistance Partnership) Network.

 

Imagine a Day Without Water

It can be easy to forget that some issues we all care about cut across political and geographic lines. Constituents may have different opinions on health care and tax reform, but when it comes to our daily lives, voters have a lot in common. They get up in the morning and brush their teeth, use the bathroom, and make coffee. They shower, do their laundry, and wash the dishes. But none of which would be possible without safe and reliable water infrastructure.

If you’ve never experienced it before, it’s hard to imagine a day without water. Most citizens recognize that water is essential to our quality of life. In fact, the vast majority of Americans, across parties and regions, want the government to invest in our water infrastructure. The data shows 88 percent of Americans support increasing federal investment to rebuild water infrastructure, and 75 percent of Americans want Congress to be proactive and invest in our nation’s water infrastructure before our systems fail.

Renewed investment in our water infrastructure isn’t only about avoiding a day without water for personal use. A day without water would mean havoc for businesses and our economy too. Basically, every business is a water reliant business in one way or another.

According to the Value of Water Campaign’s report on The Economic Benefits of Investing in Water Infrastructure, a one-day disruption in water services at a national level would result in a $43.5 billion daily sales loss to businesses.

Unfortunately, there’s a disconnect between what Americans value and the actions of the federal government. Investment in water infrastructure has not been a priority for decades. The federal government’s investment has declined precipitously, leaving states, localities, water utilities, and people who pay water bills to make up the difference. Meanwhile, our systems are crumbling. The US government is currently funding $82 billion less than what is needed to maintain our water infrastructure, putting our health, safety, economy, and environment at risk.

So, what can we do about it?

Today, October 10, 2018, is Imagine a Day Without Water, a national day of action to raise awareness about the value of water. We have the opportunity to leverage our collective power, educate our decision makers, and inspire our communities to put water infrastructure on the agenda. There is a groundswell of communities and partners coming together to promote safe and reliable water systems on Imagine a Day Without Water. Together, on this fourth annual day of action, we can make a difference.

No matter what the cause, a day without water is a public health and environmental crisis. That’s why we are joining with hundreds of groups across the country for Imagine a Day Without Water to educate our communities on the value of water. No community can thrive without water, and every American deserves a safe, reliable, accessible water services. Let’s invest in our water systems now, so no American ever has to imagine a day – or live a day – without water again.

Operator Training and Community Engagement Workshop, Potluck Style

Kathy Rodgers, NH State Lead and Sarah Buck, Deputy Director, Community Resources

When you think of your typical water operator training for seasoned or prospective operators, you likely would envision a room set up classroom style at a utility, community space or hotel, filled with men and women in work boots, all on call, coffee in hand, trying to sit as close to the back of the room as possible, there to get the required continuing education hours needed to maintain their operation license. The word potluck would not even come to mind, but if done right, that promise of shared food, can bring together seasoned operators to assist a community concerned about their distribution system and water quality. This concept was successfully piloted at the Pepperidge Woods water system in Barrington, NH in November 2017, entitled: Distribution System & Community Engagement Workshop.

An animated exchange of information was had by all participants.

Small community public water systems are often run by volunteer operation committees within homeowners’ associations, Co-ops, small Village Districts, etc. Operation committees are a great way to keep costs down and retain institutional knowledge. However, when water quality diminishes, the community may need to seek outside resources to help identify and tackle their issues. That was the impetus for this unique and successful potluck training. Experienced operators would have an opportunity to earn continuing education units while utilizing their expertise to assist a community that, in this case, was experiencing low pressure and brown water.

This idea of an educational potluck with operators, community & board members, and TA providers may not work everywhere, but, in the places that it might, there are a few best practices to keep in mind to ensure a successful experience. First of all, you need a community sparkplug that will draw community residents to the event.   That sparkplug is someone who understands the needs of the community and is willing to partner with you to accomplish a specific goal.

In this case, Jane Astley, a member of the finance committee for Pepperidge Woods, worked with the board, the operation committee, neighboring system leaders, and residents to bring in RCAP to lead a training to educate them on their water quality and effective distribution maintenance methods. It was Jane’s idea to host a potluck. Jane understood the importance of an evening shared over food. Both community members and operators took ownership of the workshop by contributing home cooked food–good food, too. RCAP’s staff learned that NH water operators really know how to cook and can make a mean chowdah!

Bear in mind, if the workshop is offered to address a problem, then there will naturally be grievances that residents will want to express. To keep the workshop productive, create a very structured agenda and follow it closely. Revisit the agenda after each section and abide the times to keep things moving along. Assure the group that you will address their individual concerns and leave ample time for open discussion during the “practical” portion of the workshop. Start out with the basic training to enable a baseline of understanding for the general audience.

Research the community prior to the workshop. It is important to have a good grasp on the community needs to tailor the content. For the NH potluck, the RCAP trainer utilized the Area 1 RCAP/AWWA Distribution training materials. The primary audience was Pepperidge Woods’ operational committee and board members, which had limited to no hands-on operational experience. Knowing the distribution system components, water quality issues, and applied treatment enabled the slide deck and examples to be geared towards the host community, Pepperidge Woods.  Water quality topics such as hydrants and nitrification were brushed to the side as it didn’t pertain to them—only the topics most relevant to this system were covered during the workshop.

Another good practice is to establish a group agreement on productive conversation or a set of “ground rules” to avoid conflict and promote a more synergistic workshop. The recommendations provided in the agreement can include:

  • Share “air time.”
  • If you disagree, consider asking a question rather than arguing to prove your point.
  • It’s okay to disagree, but don’t personalize it. Stick to the issue, not the person who is disagreeing with you.
  • Speak up if the process doesn’t seem fair.
  • Speak for yourself, not for others and not for an entire group (use “I” statements).
  • Personal stories stay in the group unless we all agree we can share them outside of the group.
  • We all share responsibility for making the group productive.
  • Be respectful and use respectful language.
  • Respect the facilitator’s role.
  • Listen first

 

Allow the community to break into small groups with the seasoned operators in attendance to help identify issues that they have encountered. Bring the group back together to report out and post the identified problems. In this case, brown water and low pressure were the predominant concerns. Then break back into small groups to discuss what could be causing the problem. Again, bring the group back together to outline potential root causes.

Community members listen and share ideas.

During the workshop, the experienced operators were eager to share several potential reasons that could contribute to the brown water and low-pressure issues. A lot of these reasons had not been previously discussed. After further trainer led discussion, the group was able to agree on the most probable root causes and discussed how to address those concerns moving forward.

The community was delighted to have new perspectives and ideas on how to work through their existing and any future issues.  The operators were more than happy to help and the whole group was so entrenched in the process that nobody was in a hurry to leave. Conversations and expressions of appreciation were still going on at least 15 minutes after the workshop’s close.  Ideally, you want to make sure that all attendees feel welcomed, are engaged, and are able to get something valuable out of the experience. The NH workshop evaluations confirmed that both the operators and community enjoyed this fresh style of training and found great value in the experience. The NH RCAP trainer is now working to develop a workshop using the same operator and community engagement potluck approach to introduce digital mapping to another small system.

RCAP Solutions and Water Mission Join Efforts After Hurricane María to Bring Clean Water to Rural Communities

Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist, Puerto Rico

Mr. Vazquez teaches community members about the importance of water purification.

San Diego is a small community located in the hills of Coamo, Puerto Rico. They have been providing water to community members for a long time, but not under the official status of a public water system. Because of this, the water quality has not been regulated for many years. The PR Department of Health, in coordination with the EPA, referred them to RCAP Solutions to help them to develop an official and reliable system.

The community, with a small donation from the municipal government, drilled a well despite the topography challenges of the area. Their economic restrictions and a lack of technical assistance at the time of construction caused them to place the well between a ditch and a pluvial discharging area. When RCAP Solutions evaluated the situation, RCAP taught the community about the elevated risk of losing the well in its current location and the immediate negative effects that they might face if a heavy rain event occurs.

RCAP helped them chlorinate the water and become compliant with the required test schedules. As the system began making positive changes, the catastrophic hurricanes hit Puerto Rico; and Coamo was devastated, along with most rural areas on the island. Hurricane Irma brought rain and landslides to the area, leaving them without communication and in terrible condition. A week later, Hurricane Maria, considered the worst storm in the history of Puerto Rico, took out what little was left. The community lost their well and part of their distribution system. The well area was covered by three to four feet of rocks, gravel and pebbles.

The island’s main power grid was destroyed, with no electric power in San Diego and the estimated time for recovery is still unknown. The community was able to get the old water system online with a superficial water source, a small storage tank and gravity-fed distribution, but without any kind of filtration, disinfection or water quality testing. This was the only choice they had to continue water service for their residents.

After RCAP’s assessment of the situation, San Diego was instructed to inform the community members about the change of source, the absence of treatment, and the need to boil the water before using it.

In the efforts to provide alternatives to the community, RCAP Solutions contacted Water Mission (WM), a faith-based not for profit organization that seeks to ensure safe drinking water access across the globe. RCAP coordinated a site visit to perform a second assessment, and water samples were taken to determine the kind of treatment needed. This would allow the team to determine the best course of action and decide whether point of use filters were an option for the community.

RCAP coordinated the delivery of a Kohler Clarifier provided by Water Mission, an effective filtration system that can purify drinking water without electricity.

RCAP Solutions coordinated assistance, teaching  the community about the equipment and disinfection. Aquatabs were provided for additional water disinfection after the filtration process, thanks to the Puerto Rico Department of Health.

Water Mission staff has provided meaningful assistance with many RCAP Solutions supported communities, resulting in a very fruitful partnership. After WM’s intervention during the emergency phase, they are counting on RCAP Solutions’ support to follow up and assist with the long-term recovery process of this small public system.  As a result of this collaboration, the residents of San Diego have filtered water and are less vulnerable to diseases related to the consumption of untreated water. 

Surveying the damage after Hurricane Maria, the well area was covered by three to four feet of rocks, gravel and pebbles.

This disaster has presented an opportunity for this community. For many years, the community as a whole has participated minimally in the administration of the water system, but this crisis has forced them to become better educated about their drinking water and will hopefully create a willingness to become more involved in the future.

Most recently, RCAP Solutions  helped the community recover their missing well casing and  the well pump. While their generator cannot carry the electric load of running the system,  RCAP will assist the community in reconstructing their well in a more secure location that should prevent future damage.  San Diego is working hard to recover what was lost and RCAP will help them maximize limited resources and ensure the best possible long-term results.

When is a Bridge an Asset for a Water Utility?

Erick Toledo, Water Specialist, New England and Jenna Day, Community Development Specialist, New England

When is a bridge an asset to be considered in your water system’s financial planning? One small system, the Leino Park Water District, located in Westminster, Massachusetts, is an example of just that. The residents and water board knew they had to do something to replace this crumbling structure that was integral to servicing their community. Its value was always clear to the sixty-five households for whom it was the only right of way, but unfortunately it was not a priority for local or state highway funding. One would not normally categorize this as a water system asset, but out of desperation, ingenuity was born.

Bridge conditions had become treacherous.

After nearly a decade of patching the physical structure and countless meetings with town and state officials, the Leino Park Water District board members were told the sixty-five homes served by the bridge were too few to qualify for traditional road and bridge funding sources. Then the Leino Park Water District Board took matters into their own hands. They secured clear ownership to the bridge and land on which it is built and approached USDA Rural Development (RD) program staff to discuss their options. The had a good relationship with RD, having successfully completed loan repayments on a past water infrastructure project, so they figured they would see if they could apply for funding assistance from federal infrastructure dollars to replace the aged bridge.

Unfortunately, what looked like a promising standard application process that the system had been through before has since become more complicated and ground to a halt. RCAP Solutions received a referral from the MA/CT/RI state RD office in November 2017 to assist in the application process. Under a very tight deadline, RCAP Solutions’ staff completed the required Environmental Assessment (EA) to expedite Leino Park’s application for the replacement of the bridge. RCAP Solutions staff completed this report for free under their USDA Technitrain grant within three months. This service is often something systems pay for out of pocket—but it is an eligible work product under several RCAP’s funding sources. If your system is struggling to find funding for your required EA or Preliminary Engineering Report (PER)—contact your local RCAP and/or RD office. Like in the case of Leino Park, if your local RCAP has the expertise, they could assist and provide these services free of charge. RD also has pre-development planning grants available for low income systems that can cover these application development costs: https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/water-waste-disposal-predevelopment-planning-grants.

Current bridge conditions.

Another option is the Community Engineering Corps (CEC), the domestic version of Engineers Without Borders. They have a very simple application process—although they mostly provide free engineering services for low income systems—they consider each application one on one to determine need and eligibility: http://www.communityengineeringcorps.org/.

The Board of the Leino Park Water District submitted their USDA RD funding application and though there have been a few setbacks, they are confident that funds will soon be awarded, maybe even this federal fiscal year. RCAP Solutions, the local RD staff and the Leino Park Board worked closely together to accomplish this. The existing bridge, pilings, and concrete abutments will be removed and replaced with a timber structure, designed, engineered, and built on-site that will meet or exceed state/ local specifications. Now that they own the right of way, they can plan to maintain this community/water system asset into the future. Fixing it now will ensure public safety and will allow local municipal and emergency vehicles easy access to the 65 homes if needed that they currently do not have.

Recovery of Hazardous Waste in Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico

Edwin, Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist, Puerto Rico

With the assistance of a few community volunteers from Barrio Collores, Pontifical Catholic University students, and municipal representatives, RCAP Solutions conducted an electronic (e-waste) and Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) collection event in Juana Diaz.

Mr. Vazquez-Asencio (right) at the electronics collection event with Mayor Ramón A. “Ramoncito” Hernández Torres

As part of the solid waste program, RCAP has been educating communities about the negative impacts of household hazardous waste on the environment and public health, as well as looking at ways to promote participation in recycling activities. While many materials can be recycled and taken out of the waste stream, residents don’t know which items or how and where to recycle them.

After evaluating the data from past RCAP cleanup events as well as illegal dumping sites, RCAP discovered the need for education related to e-waste in particular. Interaction with community members and other stakeholders has demonstrated that there is a lack of knowledge on this topic, leading to the creation of illegal dumping sites, and the mixing of these products in the normal waste stream and landfill system.

In an effort to educate residents and make improvements in this area, RCAP organized a small e-waste collection event in December, with the collaboration of the Juana Diaz municipality.

As a result, RCAP collected 2,880 lbs. of electronics which were processed and recycled. Another 10,000 lbs. of non-recyclable HHW were collected and properly disposed of according to the guidance in the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations.

Even though the event only lasted four hours, the amount of e-waste that was diverted from being illegally dumped was considerable.

Non-conforming items are difficult to identify and depend on factors associated with the local recycler, the current market, or the item’s condition. Items like old TV’s are depreciated in the market, and the options for selling their components are only viable in countries with growing economies like India, Indonesia or Malaysia, and it is very expensive to export these large items. Other items like printers containing ink cartridges cannot be accepted because they must be separated and there may not be the means to dispose of them properly as the market for ink cartridges is also limited.

The EPA helped dispose of many of the HHW items that could not be recycled, but ink could not be received for disposal, so as a result, printers could not be accepted.

The materials recovered were treated according to regulations and will not end up in the local municipal landfill, a landfill that is not suitable for these kinds of toxic materials.

Josefa Torres-Olivo, District Director for PR and USVI removes ink cartridges from old printers before recycling.

The success of this event and related activities can be measured in many different ways: it was extremely educational for local residents, students and municipal staff; it served as a kickoff for the recycling industry in the area; it acted as a means to divert materials from the main waste stream and reduce their impact in our limited landfills; and it served as a way to protect the environment and public lands from illegal dumping and ultimately, protect public health.

“This activity is something that I was looking forward to for a long time; I had a huge old TV sitting in my house because I didn’t know what I was going to do with it,” commented Karina Zayas, Host of WPAB Radio 550 AM in Ponce. “I used to remove the batteries from a radio, flash light or remote control and throw them in the trash, as well as light bulbs. After our last radio interview, I put the batteries and bulbs in a Ziploc bag, and take them to the recycling center; now I know not to mix these items with the regular garbage.”

 

A Vermont Village Looks Ahead

By Mark Johnson, Vermont State Lead

It’s late in the evening, and the monthly meeting of the Prudential Committee has been over for hours. Lisa Bowden, treasurer and clerk of the Barnet Fire District #2, is tired and frustrated. She should have been home hours ago, but an issue with the chlorine pump at the well pumphouse is keeping her awake. Lisa is used to sending out bills, balancing the District’s too-thin checkbook, and chasing customers down for delinquent payments; replacing the diaphragm on a chemical feed pump is not in her proverbial toolkit. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a new pump diaphragm in her actual toolkit, either.

A board member points out where a critical water main crosses a river in the village. The pipe has been undermined due to erosion from recent flooding and has become a source of concern for the community.

RCAP Solutions had attended the meeting out of concern that two of the three Prudential Committee members of Barnet Fire District #2 (BFD2), a special district that manages the water system, sidewalks, and the few streetlights in the tiny Vermont village, had thoughts of stepping down. Having worked with the community years before, RCAP Solutions stayed in touch with the system and knew that it was a critical time for the village. Volunteering to attend meetings, make difficult financial decisions, and mind the day to day operation of the water system seemed to be getting old for members of the Prudential Committee. Not the only thing getting old, as Lisa pointed out. “I’d hate to look at the average age in this village,” she said during a recent meeting. “We’re not getting any younger.”

In a village of a few hundred people – the system has just 61 connections – finding the right people to lead the Fire District and figure out how to fund critical infrastructure improvements wasn’t necessarily the issue. The issue was finding anyone at all. Fortunately for the village, they may have finally found the right people. For months, Lisa had pleaded for residents to attend meetings and to get involved with the water system in her regular emails to customers. And there were plenty of emails, because Lisa religiously kept customers up to date on the latest in a long string of water main breaks, boil water advisories, and water usage restrictions. Then, a resident who lives a few doors down from the pumphouse, Jon Carpenter, decided that he’d be willing to step into the role of Chairperson for the Prudential Committee. David Stevenson, a holdover from the previous Committee, agreed to be trained to help monitor the system and record chlorine residuals under the tutelage of the system’s certified water operator. Jay Sprout, a resident and pastor at a local church, decided that he’d be willing to add his voice to the three-person governing body.

Despite recent source water and treatment plant improvements made by BFD2, maintaining regulatory compliance is a real challenge – as it is for many rural communities. The water system, which serves about 205 customers, had been under a boil-water advisory since 2004 due to long-term source water deficiencies. In 2014 members of the community expressed a desire to acquire the system from its private owner, and RCAP Solutions facilitated several steps in the process. The goal of the purchase was to give the community more control over the fate of its water system. As a publicly owned water system, BFD2 would now be able to access federal funding sources for long overdue improvements.

In February of 2017, BFD2 completed a major source water improvement project, financed in part by the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund. This should have marked an important milestone for the community, as they were able to lift the boil water advisory following the improvements and installation of a new disinfection process. It was not the end of infrastructure concerns, however; frequent distribution system failures were crippling the system’s operating budget. Well pumps work overtime, the chlorine supply dwindles, and another tab is opened with the local contractor to start digging. Replacing a few feet of pipe at a time is unsustainable, and the Prudential Committee knows it. The contractor, who has enabled BFD2 to continue providing pressurized, potable water by allowing BFD2 to pay when they can – knows it. Maybe most importantly, the customers are beginning to realize that a long-term solution is needed.

To address the issues in the distribution system, RCAP Solutions provided an action plan to the board. The plan calls for taking advantage of available state resources, such as an asset management grant, to better plan for future needs. In the process, BFD2 could prioritize distribution system improvements – including the replacement of a critical, aging water main crossing a river in the village. Meanwhile, the Prudential Committee is taking advantage of grant-funded leak detection services and is working with RCAP Solutions to increase revenue. In addition to securing a rate adjustment and looking at available planning grants, though, they will need to work on another critical task – gaining the support and trust of the community. For a system this size, taking on more debt – which requires community support in the form of a bond vote – will be a likely scenario considering the lack of reserves and mounting infrastructure concerns. For BFD2, it is the financially prudent approach; annual repairs are comparable to, and occasionally more than, another bond payment. With interest rates on the rise, a project that is “necessary and inevitable”, in the words of a local USDA representative, can’t be started soon enough.

For the Prudential Committee, it is more important than ever that they build on the achievements of the source water improvement project. Unfortunately, operational issues with the new

RCAP Solutions staff gives a thumbs-up after successfully restoring an adequate chlorine residual in the drinking water system.

chlorination system, coupled with the lack of local capacity for diagnosing and resolving those issues, contributed to a violation in late 2017 for failing to maintain adequate microbial treatment. Under the Groundwater Rule, the system is required to maintain a minimum chlorine residual to ensure adequate disinfection. Avoiding an additional violation would be critical; every violation or misstep for the Prudential Committee – especially one that results in another boil-water advisory- reduces the likelihood that they will be able to gain the community’s trust. Without the trust of the customers, it’s unlikely that they will move ahead with the bond vote necessary for future improvements.

Scanning the shelves of the Fire District’s pumphouse, Lisa and RCAP Solutions TAP, Mark Johnson, finally found a rebuild kit that would work for a backup pump. The chlorine residual was re-established, a violation avoided, and Lisa had received her first lesson on rebuilding a chemical metering pump. In the weeks that followed, RCAP Solutions provided practical guidance to the system’s operator and treatment plant engineer on how to improve the chemical feed system. RCAP Solutions has also provided the system’s board members with the knowledge they need to maintain compliance with state and federal regulations.

A former dairy farmer, Jon Carpenter, has brought his dedication and work ethic to help solve some of the Fire District’s most pressing issues. David Stevenson’s watchful eyes have kept the Prudential Committee from having to request a site visit from the certified water operator every time a minor issue pops up, which is helpful. Even though the operator keeps close tabs on the system, she lives over an hour away and BFD2 can’t pay for too many emergency visits. Jay Sprout’s common-sense approach to system management has already started to pay dividends; meetings are run efficiently, and discussion stays on topic.

Lisa Bowden, on the other hand, continues to claim that she’s ready for a break from her duties. Whether it’s trudging up to the storage tank in a snowstorm, communicating critical details about the system to customers, performing her duties as tax collector, or trying to act interested in the intricacies of pump diaphragms, for years Lisa has been a passionate advocate for the village. But Lisa can’t do it much longer. Nor does she want to, as she tells anyone who will listen. “I’m too old for this stuff,” she pointed out as she locked up the pumphouse, ready for a vacation that is long overdue.