2nd Annual RuralRISE National Entrepreneurship Summit to take place in Pine Bluff, Arkansas

Pine Bluff, Arkansas (September 17, 2019) – A coalition of partners is pleased to announce the second annual RuralRISE Summit, a national event focused on building rural entrepreneurial ecosystems, driving economic prosperity, and supporting doers and innovators in rural communities across America.

From September 17 – 19, rural leaders from across the country will gather at the Pine Bluff Convention Center in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to address both the challenges and opportunities facing rural entrepreneurs throughout the United States.

“From rural Alaska to rural Appalachia, entrepreneurship and innovation span America’s rural communities,” said Joe Kapp, President of the National Center for Resource Development. “RuralRISE brings together rural leaders from across the country to share their expertise and experiences to help new rural businesses launch and their ecosystems thrive.”

At this event, attendees will have the opportunity to actively participate and collaborate with other entrepreneurial leaders from across the country in order to seek out practical, scalable, and replicable solutions to drive real results in rural American communities.

“Ultimately, the goal of this conference is to transform rural communities and create opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship to take place.” Says Nathan Ohle, Executive Director of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP). “Innovation is in the DNA of rural communities, and we are excited to help raise the voice of entrepreneurs in these areas across the country.”

For more information and to register, please visit: www.ruralrise.org

HCEC Workshops Cancelled Until Further Notice

RCAP Solutions’ Housing Consumer Education Center workshops are cancelled until further notice. This includes all online workshops as well as our First Time Homebuyer and Financial Wellness Workshops.

Please note this will not affect our scheduled RAFT Intake hours on Tuesday and Friday from 9:00 to 11:00 AM at our office located at 12 East Worcester Street, 2nd Floor, Worcester or our RAFT Screening Walk-In Hours at Montachusett Opportunity Council (MOC) at 49 Nursery Lane, 2nd Floor, Fitchburg every fourth Thursday of the month from 9:00 to 11:00 AM.

If you need immediate assistance, please call 800.488.1969 or email hcec@rcapsolutions.org.

¡Taller en una Caja!

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

RCAP Solutions’ Massachusetts Homeownership Collaborative Seal of Approval Renewed

Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association Approves Renewal Application

RCAP Solutions is pleased to announce that the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA) has renewed the organization’s application for the Massachusetts Homeownership Collaborative Seal of Approval, effective through June 30, 2021.

The application, which was reviewed by CHAPA’s Collaborative’s Selection Committee, confirms that RCAP Solutions meets the criteria that has been established by the Massachusetts Homeownership Collaborative for the provision of pre-purchase homebuyer education and counseling services to low and moderate income households. The Homeownership Collaborative, which was formed in 1996, is an initiative managed by CHAPA that supports and promotes homebuyer education.

As an agency that has received a Seal of Approval from the Homeownership Collaborative, RCAP Solutions must adhere to their Code of Ethics, listed here. In addition, when providing homebuyer education classes targeted to those with low and moderate income, RCAP Solutions must cover the required information about the homebuying process; information which is determined by the Collaborative.

The purpose of administering these programs “is to educate and counsel prospective homebuyers to make informed, voluntary decisions regarding the homebuying process.” RCAP Solutions also has agreed with the Collaborative to provide transparency in regards to where our funding sources for these classes come from. If you have any questions regarding this, please contact our Housing and Consumer Education Center at hcec@rcapsolutions.org.

RCAP Solutions holds First Time Homebuyer Classes at the Worcester office almost every month. To view and register for an upcoming class, please visit our HCEC Events Calendar. To view the full letter from CHAPA and to read the full Seal of Approval, click here.

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.”