Assisting a Small Community with Aging Septic Systems, Great Valley, NY

This photograph was taken by a Cattaraugus County sanitarian following a dye test of a home’s drain plumbing as part of a property transfer inspection. The dye was discovered discharging into a local stream.

Written by Catherine Rees, Water Specialist, NY

Funding Source: HHS OCS

Great Valley is a town in Cattaraugus County, New York. The town has a total area of approximately 50 square miles. Based upon the 2010 census, the population is 1,974, with a Median Household Income of $48,490 with 14% of people living below the poverty level. The town is centrally located in the county, northeast of the City of Salamanca and the Hamlet of Kill Buck is east of Salamanca.

The Cattaraugus County Health Department (CCHD) administers a private septic system program throughout the county and is very familiar with the chronic operational problems and documented sewage discharges that present a public health hazard within the Kill Buck neighborhood.

The primary problems with existing septic systems are the poor drainage characteristics of the native soils, a high-water table, and the small lot sizes, which do not provide enough area for a properly-sized septic system meeting the New York State (NYS) design standards. CCHD sanitarians generally complete a dye test of home plumbing as part of required property transfer inspections. In the case of one Great Valley home with a failing septic system, the dye was discovered discharging into a local stream which means that sewage is seeping directly into that stream. The CCHD also tested the water coming from the storm sewer along nearby NYS Route 417 and confirmed the presence of high levels of fecal coliform bacteria which typically comes from sewage. This documented that some septic systems are illegally tied into storm drains and directly contribute to the contamination of Great Valley Creek and the Allegheny River. The Allegheny River and downstream Reservoir are widely used for boating and swimming recreation throughout the summer months and for community water supplies. This poses another direct route for human exposure and illness.

Since most of the onsite systems are undersized and 50 or more years old, the CCHD expects more systems to fail each year. The lack of a public sewer system is preventing any future economic growth and poses significant health and safety risks.

The engineering study funded by CDBG would evaluate the existing condition of the on-site septic systems in the hamlet from available records, and evaluate several alternatives for improving the collection, treatment and disposal of the hamlet’s wastewater. Preliminary indications are that the construction of a collection system to then convey wastewater to the City of Salamanca for treatment may be the best course of action at this time.

The Town of Great Valley has given full endorsement for the project by authorizing the preparation of the planning grant application by RCAP Solutions. The Town has authorized 5% matching funds for the proposed study. Town officials are committed to meeting with engineering consultants on a regular basis as the plan is developed and will hold public meetings to discuss plan recommendations with relevant stakeholders. With continued assistance from RCAP Solutions, officials will work on securing the necessary funding for the infrastructure improvements recommended by the engineering report once it is completed.

Technical Assistance during a Boil Order

Bolton Country Manor’s wellhead area.

Written by James P. Starbard, Massachusetts State Lead
Funder: EPA1

Bolton Country Manor is located in the rural central Massachusetts town of Bolton. It is a U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) owned low income senior housing facility that also serves as the Town of Bolton’s Senior Center. RCAP Solutions was assisting this system to find a new qualified water operator due to the retirement of their previous water operator. An RCAP Solutions staff member with a water operator certification also assisted with regular operations to ensure the community stayed in compliance with drinking water regulations during the interim period.

During this period, routine water samples were taken monthly, and one set of samples tested positive for Total Coliform. When repeat water samples were taken, per the Revised Total Coliform Rule, one sample tested positive for E Coli bacteria. The positive sample for E coli sets in motion an automatic Boil Order and numerous follow up actions which RCAP Solutions proceeded to assist the community with.

First and foremost, due to the highly susceptible nature of the community’s elderly population, and after consulting with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), RCAP helped to provide information to residents to make sure they boiled their water before use and provided outreach on the proper techniques to do so safely. Also, RCAP helped to arrange for the instillation of an emergency chlorination system on the community’s water system to disinfect the bacteria and make the water safe to drink again. After multiple sampling rounds of the system’s water and ongoing monitoring of the chlorine residual, a few days later the water was declared safe to drink again without boiling and the community’s residents were notified that the Boil Order had been lifted.

After the immediate emergency was resolved, the task of identifying how the bacterial contamination occurred began which included internal inspections, inspections by MassDEP staff as part of a Sanitary Survey, and a level 2 assessment conducted by an outside third-party water operator. Through these inspections, several possible deficiencies were identified and then abated. The system was brought into full compliance with all MassDEP requirements that were identified during these inspections.

With completion of the corrective actions, the emergency chlorination was disconnected from the community’s water system and the water was sampled and analyzed to ensure the bacterial issue did not return. After monitoring for several months, the original task of assisting the community to hire a qualified water operator was fulfilled with the hiring of a certified contract water operator firm through the signing of service contract with the community. RCAP also provided an orientation of the company’s staff to introduce them to the nuances of the water system. Currently water operations are moving smoothly, and the bacterial issue has not reoccurred.

The Importance of Communication in Planning Infrastructure Upgrades and Water User-Rate Adjustments in Rumford and Bridgton Maine

Congress Street Construction, Rumford, ME

Written by Art Astarita, Maine State Lead
Funder: USDA Technitrain and HHS OCS

RUMFORD MAINE – Infrastructure Upgrades
RCAP Solutions was very successful in facilitating this much needed communication between the town of Rumford and the Rumford Water District which serves about 1,700 of the town’s total population of 5,840 people.

RCAP Solutions created an asset management plan for the Rumford Water District and encouraged the superintendent to share the plan with the town planner. Timing of this communication was advantageous as the town was planning a large-scale improvement to the downtown business district. Initially, the town was looking to repave the streets and to replace sidewalks, lighting and other “superficial” improvements. The sewer department and water district represented the “out of sight” infrastructure located under the business district.

The total project cost is estimated at $5 million for the downtown improvements of which the water district will reimburse the town $990,000 for its’ part of the project. Although the vertical asset analysis broadened the scope and cost of the project, the necessary replacement of water, sewer, and storm-water pipes will ensure a final product that will serve residents for many years into the future and help to attract business to a revitalized downtown. The project is expected to be completed in 2019.

BRIDGTON MAINE – Water Rate Adjustments
Normally, water rates are adjusted at a time when the utility is incurring a new debt to fund a capital improvement of the system. The new improvement is frequently planned and based upon an asset management program.

Bridgton Water District, located in western Maine, serves about 2,000 people of the 5,200 residents of the town of Bridgton. In 2017, the town of Bridgton decided to upgrade their sewer system, including reconstructing sidewalks, installing energy efficient lighting and traffic safety measures and providing an appealing streetscape. The project is estimated to cost approximately $22 million when everything is said and done.

RCAP Solutions assisted the town in conducting an income survey of the sewer users to ensure an accurate income is used to determine the system’s optimum loan and grant funding package. During the initial phases of the survey, RCAP Solutions visited the water district to ensure they were aware of the project and asked if any of the water pipes would be impacted. RCAP Solutions suggested they submit households in their impacted area to be included in the income survey. Unfortunately, the water district was not prepared and subsequently not ready to make such decisions. The survey was completed in January 2018 and revealed that the median household income (MHI) of the project area qualifies for at least a 50% grant from the USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS). In November 2018, the town authorized issuing a general obligation bond or note not to exceed $13,528,000 to fund the balance of the project.

In December 2018, the water district had their engineering firm estimate water pipe impacts within the sewer project area. It was estimated that $600,000 of pipe should be replaced during the sewer work. This cast iron pipe replacement is mainly due to age and construction work in immediate proximity. The water district inquired to RCAP Solutions about the survey coverage and if there could be a subset of the survey that covered the water users within the sewer survey. Upon analysis, there were still 22 households requiring response within the 43 water-user household target area. The water district thought it would be best and most efficient to canvas the households themselves. Due to the sensitive nature of the questions (“what is your household income?”), many did not answer. RCAP Solutions recently spoke to RUS and it was determined that the town and water district specifically already qualifies for up to 45% grant funding. Since there is not an imminent health hazard, there is no possibility of a lower rate or additional grant percentage.

The District is working with the engineer to complete the RD-apply application process for the 2020 construction season for this project. Once the application is submitted and approved, the District will realize the funding assistance available and RCAP Solutions can complete the rate adjustment to fund repayment of the new debt.

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.