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RCAP Solutions Holds First Spanish “Workshop In A Box”

As part of our ongoing efforts to serve diverse, rural communities, RCAP Solutions held its first all-Spanish workshop in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico in June. This interactive workshop, which has been administered by our Technical Assistance Providers in English on a regular basis, helps operators and board members identify areas for improvement that are critical to success at their utility. The workshop focuses on ten key management areas of effectively managed water utilities, which make up a framework for a complete and well-rounded management approach.

The workshop materials, which were originally prepared by the USDA and the EPA, had been translated into Spanish by FEMA, RCAP Solutions, and the EPA, respectively. Due to the success of this first workshop, a local EPA staffer who facilitated the translation has requested additional workshops across the island, including a “Train the Trainer” session.

Among the more than two-dozen attendees were participants from eight different systems, including one from the municipal government, as well as Mr. Julio Chevres – a loan officer from the USDA Rural Development office in Caguas. RCAP Solutions’ six Technical Assistance Providers stationed in Puerto Rico also welcomed Sarah Buck, Director of Regionalization at our national affiliate, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership. Sarah helped our TAPs facilitate the training.

In addition, Yabucoa Mayor Rafael Surillo stopped by to thank the attendees and RCAP Solutions for their hard work. Mr. Surillo had previously requested technical assistance from the USDA after the devastation from Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017. Both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are still feeling the effects of these storms, and RCAP Solutions continues to help communities mend their water infrastructure and administer solid waste clean-up.

Sarah Buck (Director of Regionalization, RCAP Inc), Yabucoa Mayor Rafael Surillo, and Josefa Torres-Olivo (Director of District III, RCAP Solutions)

To view all of the photos of this event, check out our Facebook page. Photo Credits: Carlos Velazquez-Figueroa & Sarah Buck

RCAP Solutions Plans and Participates in the 27th Annual New Hampshire Drinking Water Festival

RCAP Solutions also sponsored the event, which was attended by over 400 fourth-graders.

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) Drinking Water and Groundwater Bureau recently held their 27th Annual Fourth Grade Drinking Water Festival at the Manchester Water Treatment Plant. The event, which took place during National Drinking Water Week, aimed to heighten the awareness of water resources and help students recognize water’s relationship to other resources.

Photo courtesy of New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services

The festival was sponsored by the New Hampshire Drinking Water Coalition in conjunction with the NHDES, as well as other organizations, including RCAP Solutions. New Hampshire State Lead, Erick Toledo, was a member of the planning committee. More than 400 students from 11 different schools participated. Operators, scientists, consultants, artists, and environmental educators from public water systems, non-profit organizations, and other agencies joined together to share their expertise.

In addition to education displays and exhibits, the event also featured age-appropriate activities such as a water poetry competition, live music, and storytelling – all related to water quality, conservation, erosion, the effects of pollution, and more.

RCAP Solutions and other environmental health professionals were not the only ones exhibiting; the NH state-level Water Science Fair gave students the opportunity conduct research, create an exhibit, write a report, and present their findings to a panel of judges at the festival.

When asked about why it is important to engage the youth about these topics, Toledo said, “They are the future leaders, educators, researchers, scientists, and maybe even operators.” He continued, “They have the energy, the curiosity, the ability to do great things, to develop projects and articulate ideas. Their brains are like sponges of knowledge.”

Photo courtesy of New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services

Make History Today | NH Gives

Donate to RCAP Solutions today and sponsor life-saving well water testing kits for New Hampshire residents.

Have you dreamed of making history? Of course, we all have. Now you have a chance to be a part of New Hampshire’s day of giving, and to top it off, your gift will go twice as far! Every donation will be matched by a very generous, anonymous donor.

Did you know that almost half of all New Hampshire residents get their drinking water from Private Wells? RCAP Solutions partners with many organizations to provide awareness, education, well assessment tools, testing kits, and treatment options in order to provide private well owners with safe drinking water.

With your donation of just $15, $30, $85 or more, you will help New Hampshire Residents by:

  • Providing free well water tests to residents in rural communities
  • Ensuring that families have water that’s free of harmful contaminants
  • Preventing cancer and other life-threatening diseases
  • Providing private well owners with safe drinking water
  • Giving small communities the resources to keep water healthy and clean

Starting at 6:00 PM on June 11, visit http://bit.ly/NHGives2019 and make your gift to support clean drinking water for New Hampshire residents. NH Gives ends at 6:00 PM on June 12.

No matter the size of the donation it will help provide small and rural communities with necessary resources to keep New Hampshire residents’ water healthy and clean.

Questions? If you have any questions or would like more information about private wells, visit www.rcapsolutions.org/private-wells/ or contact Martin Mistretta, New Hampshire Water Compliance Specialist, at Mmistretta@rcapsolutions.org or 603-312-7901.

Thank you in advance for your generosity to RCAP Solutions!

New Testimonial Sheds Light on Importance of Training Sessions

“You don’t know how happy I am.” RCAP Solutions’ team in Puerto Rico recently held a review session that yielded impressive turnout and results

A few months ago, the Puerto Rican Treatment Plant Operators Board of Examiners announced an exam for current and would-be drinking water treatment plant operators. As a result of this announcement, several communities requested assistance in preparing. RCAP Solutions’ team in Puerto Rico quickly arranged a free training session, opened registration, and just as quickly filled all of the available spaces.

The training session was conducted in November 2018 and covered areas of math, biology, physics, and chemistry – as well as other topics like safety, equipment maintenance, regulation, and public health. The goal was to assist prospective operators who already had basic knowledge of how to treat community systems by giving them a “refresher course” regarding topics that would be on the exam.

The session attendees who took the exam recently got their results back. One participant who passed with an exceptional score told us, “You don’t know how happy I am, this means a lot to me in many ways. I felt I needed to tell you guys the great news first. It was not the first time I took the exam and the training was a difference this time. Thanks to all [at the] RCAP team.”

Juan Campos Collazo, our Community Development Specialist in Puerto Rico, led the training and was assisted by Carlos Velazquez-Figueroa, a Wastewater Technician. Campos Collazo expressed his thoughts, “The relationship between [the participants] and RCAP Solutions is an open one, with confidence to talk about their experience in the field and to ask questions. They have the opportunity to be themselves, be taken seriously, and be treated with respect.”

He continued, “The refresher training is maybe their best chance, for some of them – the only chance, to prepare for the Operator Certification Exam. I would add that this is the best investment for the required effort, as a certified operator will be more careful in the operation of a system in order to keep his license and will rely on better operation practices, thus producing more reliable drinking water.” He finished his thoughts with one final statement about the sessions, “We should keep doing them.”

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.

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.

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.

 

 

East Branch Water System Upgrade, Town of Hancock, NY

Candace Balmer, New York State Lead

The East Branch water system has been under a Boil Water order from the health department for almost three years. A recently-completed Preliminary Engineering Report suggested that without outside funding assistance, a project to resolve the problem would cost residents upwards of $900 per year per household.

Preferred site for the new East Branch Well: The Town Park.

The Town of Hancock is proposing to take over the water system and provide a new well source; ultimately, they also plan to upgrade the aging distribution system. RCAP Solutions completed an income survey to document income eligibility of the service area to compete for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to pay for the improvements; the system was deemed eligible and the application was funded

The private water company serving 42 homes in the hamlet of East Branch in the Town of Hancock, located in Delaware County, is fed by two deep, low-producing wells and by springs that have been determined to be groundwater under the direct influence of surface water (GWUDI). The system’s infrastructure is also aging, and the Water Board that has been running the system for many years was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the need to upgrade the system and bring it back into compliance. The Town of Hancock offered to take over the water system and commissioned an engineering study to evaluate alternatives and estimated costs. However, the cost of the suggested improvements was projected to triple the existing water rates. On the other hand, having the Town take over the system enabled East Branch to be eligible to compete for CDBG funds to pay for the much-needed upgrade. In order to document financial need, RCAP Solutions assisted the Town to document the % Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) Individuals in the service area through the completion of an income survey.

RCAP Solutions helped the Town to initiate the survey by providing the survey form, a sample cover letter, and survey instructions. RCAP received the completed surveys, processed the data in a specialized database, provided periodic updates, and assisted the Town to achieve the required 95% return rate through follow-up door-to-door canvassing. The survey documented that the percentage of residents served by the system exceeded 51.0% LMI Individuals, the minimum needed to be eligible to compete for CDBG funds. The survey documented that fully 64.8% of the residents were considered low-to-moderate income. RCAP provided the Town with the survey results as well as the methodology and supporting documentation for the CDBG application.

In December 2017, it was announced that the NYS Office of Community Renewal awarded the project $595,500 in CDBG funds. More than two thirds of the project costs are associated with providing the 3,000-foot service line from the site of the new well to the existing system. The Town plans to use the income survey results to support a second CDBG application this year in order to fully replace the distribution system as well. This valuable grant funding will help to keep rates reasonable for this lower income community instead of paying over $900 a year per household, which would have been the case if they had to pay 100% out of pocket for the needed upgrades and interconnection. The project, once complete, will also allow the Boil Water Order to be lifted, so residents will have water in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act flowing from their taps for the first time in nearly three years.

Water Operator Training in Wescosville, Pennsylvania

Jeff Oxenford, Training and Technical Services Specialist with RCAP, Inc. working with training attendees.

Since 2014, RCAP has utilized EPA funding to successfully develop and deliver customized, participant-based drinking water operator/manager training that addresses compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. When this project started, RCAP conducted a nationwide training needs analysis with primacies across the country to determine root causes of compliance failure for systems serving fewer than 10,000 people. These systems include community water systems, non-transient noncommunity water systems (schools, factories, office buildings and hospitals that have their own system) and transient noncommunity water systems (campgrounds and stores where people do not remain for long periods of time).

RCAP staff conduct Annual Workplan meetings with state primacy agencies to identify the most desirable training topics and address each state’s needs. Operators across the country have been lining up to take advantage of these free training opportunities sponsored by RCAP and their national partner, the American Water Works Association. Training topics include the following: Microbial Contaminants; Disinfection By-Products; Regulatory Overview for Operators; Safe Drinking Water Act for Managers, Boards, and Councils; Distribution System Operations & Maintenance; Source Water Protection; Water Quality; Cross-Connection Control; Strategies to Comply with Regulations; Nitrites/Nitrate; Arsenic; Radionuclides; Revised Total Coliform Rule & Coliform Sampling; Ground Water Rule and Wellhead Protection; and Lead/Copper.

RCAP’s grant is part of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program to competitively award funds to non-profit organizations to provide training and technical assistance for small public water systems, small wastewater systems and private well owners in urban and rural communities. More than 97 percent of the nation’s 157,000 public water systems serve fewer than 10,000 people, and more than 80 percent of those systems serve fewer than 500 people, according to the EPA. Many small systems face unique challenges in providing reliable drinking water and wastewater services that meet federal and state regulations. These challenges can include a lack of financial resources, aging infrastructure and high staff turnover. During these training sessions, RCAP tries to address problems and solutions particular to the operation of small water systems.

The full-day Pennsylvania Operator training was held at the Lehigh County Authority in Wescosville in October. 27 small systems operators attended this RCAP and PA AWWA sponsored workshop which focused on drinking water quality. The workshop included curriculum topics from the list above related to “How to Achieve and Maintain Compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act”. The course was approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for 8 Training Contact Hours to help operators be eligible for a first-time certification or maintain their existing certification.

The workshop included exercises and a question-and-answer period where participants broke into work groups and did hands-on problem solving. Networking was also a very large component of this training and participants were able to learn from each other as well as the professional trainers. RCAP staff received overwhelmingly positive feedback and it was noted in the evaluations that attendees felt the quality of the training was very high.  

“We have all this really great training for smaller utilities, training which can be tailored to specific needs…each organization has extensive expertise and strong connections to small systems which enables us to provide free quality training to folks who need it most. Instructors have extensive training in water issues. They have knowledge of the local landscape and issues that smaller systems in particular areas are constantly faced with,” – Kami Johle Butt, AWWA’s Former Manager of ETS Business Programs.

“I went outside while they were demonstrating a hydrant test and a few of the people said this is one of the best trainings they have been to.” –Trissina Trusdell, Lehigh County Authority

“It should make you feel good that they enjoyed the training and are getting good, valuable information…” – Nancy Dinger, PA AWWA

Financial Management in Benezette Township, Pennsylvania

By Sukhwindar Singh, Director of Education & Training, Pennsylvania

Benezette Township is located in Elk County, Pennsylvania in the northwestern region of the state. The Township contains the unincorporated communities of Medix Run, Benezette, Summerson, Grant, and Dents Run, all in the valley of the Bennett Branch Sinnemahoning Creek. Eastern elk once roamed statewide, but colonization and overhunting forced out the entire native population by the late 1800’s. The establishment of the Game Commission a decade later allowed for the reintroduction of Elk in Pennsylvania from the west so that today, Benezette is known as the “Elk Capital of Pennsylvania”. The local Quehanna Wild Area is a wildlife area comprised of parts of Cameron, Clearfield and Elk counties that was founded in the 1950s as a nuclear research center and because of this, the area has a legacy of radioactive and toxic waste contamination while simultaneously being the largest state forest wild area in Pennsylvania.

In 2012, Benezette Township received a $1,301,000 Water and Environment Program (WEP) loan and a $1,114,000 WEP Grant from USDA Rural Development to construct a wastewater collection and treatment system to service 160 or more of the township’s residents in addition to the large number of tourists who visit the area each year. A press release provided by USDA at the time justified the project’s need “…the continued discharge of raw and semitreated sewage into streams represents a constant threat to water resources for residents, visitors and wildlife.”

In late 2014, RCAP staff received a referral for the project from USDA and became aware that the system needed help to get items together for their audit. In addition, the system personnel needed training on Annual Budget Preparation and Financial Reporting for WEP Borrowers. RCAP staff has continued to assist with this task as well as with the preparation of an Emergency Response Plan for the system. The outcome of this RCAP work is that the system will be more efficient and able to manage its infrastructure more effectively.

Finally, it is clear that the system has billing and treatment challenges, which is partially due to the sometimes-unpredictable influx of visitors and campers on a seasonal basis.

As a result of the ongoing technical assistance and training, RCAP has improved the capacity of local officials to better manage their newer wastewater facility, and improve budgeting activities and reporting, especially those required by USDA as part of their loan terms. The long-term benefit will be improved system sustainability and emergency response. This help provided by RCAP will better enable Benezette to manage their finances responsibly and to meet the covenants of their USDA/RUS loan.