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.

RCAP Solutions invites consumers to ‘Protect the Source’ during Drinking Water Week

RCAP Solutions today kicked off this year’s Drinking Water Week with an invitation to “Protect the Source” throughout Massachusetts and the northeast.

RCAP Solutions, the American Water Works Association and the water community across North America will celebrate Drinking Water Week by recognizing the vital role drinking water plays in daily lives. Focus will be placed on ways in which water consumers can take personal responsibility in caring for their tap water and protecting it at its source.

“When we get to know our local drinking water sources, we come to understand that it is our duty as consumers and community stewards to protect and preserve them,” said AWWA Chief Executive Officer David LaFrance. “Drinking Water Week provides a great opportunity to learn the various ways in which we can each protect our source water so it’s available for future generations.”

To commemorate the week, water utilities, water organizations, government entities, environmental advocates, schools and other stakeholders will celebrate the importance of drinking water through presentations, events and festivals to provide information on how consumers can understand and appreciate their water.

“We are proud to be promoting Drinking Water Week at the Massachusetts State House,” stated Karen A. Koller, President & CEO of RCAP Solutions. “Rural America is right here in our backyard, represented by many communities we serve in Massachusetts and throughout the Northeast. We are pleased to be able to fulfill our mission and meet the essential needs of small towns and rural communities by providing valuable technical assistance and other important resources so that municipal water systems can provide safe, clean drinking water to their residents.”

For more than 40 years, AWWA and its members have celebrated Drinking Water Week, a unique opportunity for both water professionals and the communities they serve to join together in recognizing the vital role water plays in daily lives. Additional information about Drinking Water Week, including free materials for download and celebration ideas, is available on the Drinking Water Week webpage.

About RCAP Solutions, Inc.

Established in 1969, 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 a comprehensive nonprofit community development corporation that works with communities of all sizes to address a broad range of needs. RCAP Solutions is part of a coordinated nationwide network with an integrated, multi-faceted approach to delivering high-quality services customized to each community’s unique requirements. For more information, please visit www.rcapsolutions.org.

About The American Water Works Association

Established in 1881, the American Water Works Association is the largest nonprofit, scientific and educational association dedicated to managing and treating water, the world’s most important resource. With approximately 50,000 members, AWWA provides solutions to improve public health, protect the environment, strengthen the economy and enhance our quality of life

 

 

May Announcements

Phone Issues:

RCAP Solutions has been experiencing telephone and voice mail issues – please bear with us as we install a new phone system effective Tuesday, May 8, 2018. We appreciate your continued patience during this period as we transition to a new system.  We trust the new phone system will correct the many problems we have been experiencing.

 

Closed for Lunch:

RCAP Solutions will be closed for lunch daily from 12:00 – 1:00 PM beginning Monday, May 14, 2018. Please note that the Worcester office will not be open to clients during that period each day.

 

New Intake Schedule for HCEC & RAFT Applicants

Updated Intake Schedule for Housing Consumer Education Center (HCEC) & Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) Applicants

RCAP Solutions Worcester Office: 12 East Worcester Street, 2nd Floor, Worcester

Tuesdays & Fridays: 9:00 am – 11:00 am (Walk ins accepted)

Other walk-in locations throughout Central MA: (updated March, 2018)

1st and 3rd Monday Monthly: 10:00 am-12:00 pm, Centro, 437 Main Street, Fitchburg, MA

1st and 3rd Tuesday Monthly: 9:00 am – 11:00 am, North Quabbin Patch, 423 Main Street, Athol, MA

3rd Thursday Monthly: 10:00 am-12:00 pm, Family Continuity, 76 Church St Ste 301, Whitinsville, MA

Fridays: 10:00 am – 12:00 pm, Southbridge Community Connections, 346 Main St, Southbridge, MA

 

Please note: HomeBASE applications are submitted and approved at DTA only.

If someone has been deemed EA eligible by DTA and qualifies for HomeBASE, then he/she should call Tina Ext. 6707 to schedule a front door intake.

Questions should be directed to Tracey, 978-630-6741 or Esmerelda, 978-630-6734

A Successful Partnership Gets Results!

Bottled water in storage. Hubbardston House was spending $350/month to provide bottled water to its 36 residents.

A Successful Partnership Gets Results! The Do Not Drink Order Lifted at Hubbardston House

Hubbardston House Apartments is a beautiful 36-unit, elderly and disabled residential home set in the rural central Massachusetts Town of Hubbardston and managed by RCAP Solutions. The affordable housing complex experienced a nitrate contamination issue with their drinking water and was issued a “Do Not Drink Order” from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

The Hubbardston House Apartments Property Manager, Elizabeth Tatro met with residents to explain the situation. “Our residents were able to bathe, cook and wash with the water, just not drink,” she explained. “We reminded the residents each month in our newsletter and with posted announcements.”

Residents were mindful not to drink the water and were provided with a bottled water dispenser and free bottled water in each unit. Because of the high acidic levels causing corrosion, the water was a blue/green tinge, which caused the sinks, toilets and tubs to stain and residents were advised not to wash light colored clothes as they could become stained.

A team of technical specialists led by Jim Starbard, Massachusetts State Lead for the Rural Community Development Division at RCAP Solutions with extensive background in water and environmental issues worked with the Property Management at Hubbardston House. “We were able to identify the contamination source by fully evaluating the property’s on-site wastewater treatment system,” he explained. “We discovered that the system was not installed as designed.”

Under Construction: Water tanks are installed during the onsite wastewater system upgrade.

The team oversaw the construction of the on-site wastewater system and since that repair, the Nitrate levels have abated to levels acceptable under state drinking water standards. “Our team also helped property management with a variety of compliance issues including previous sanitary survey consent orders,” continued Starbard. “Finally, we provided long-term planning for the community’s drinking water system, to ensure continued compliance and long-term sustainability.”

“I really appreciated Jim’s expertise, he always knew the best course of action for us to take with every situation,” commented Tatro.

The residents were recently notified that the do not drink order had been lifted and that the water was completely safe to drink. While the announcement was met with cautious optimism and many questions, the residents are happy to be able to drink the water again and fully utilize nature’s most valuable resource.

“It is just such a relief, having the do not drink order lifted,” commented Tatro. “As a leasing agent for the property I would be showing potential residents this beautiful facility with all these wonderful amenities and would then have to tell them that they can’t drink the water. It was frustrating.”

Because Hubbardston House is considered a public water system; an entity that provides water for human consumption through pipes or other constructed conveyances to at least 25 people, the property manager will continue to test the water levels each month to ensure that it’s meeting all the necessary requirements and is safe for public consumption.

Forging New Partnerships After Hurricane Maria

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

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

By Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist, RCAP Solutions

San Diego is a small community located in the hills of Coamo, Puerto Rico. With the assistance of RCAP Solutions, the community was in the process of developing their official public drinking water system to provide potable water to their residents. 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 Environmental Protection Agency, referred this system to RCAP Solutions to help guide them through the process of developing an official and more 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, we 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 provided assistance to help 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.

“Everything occurred as you said,” commented Alex Mendez, Community Board President of the situation. “I couldn’t believe this disaster when I saw it, but I remember your words and what you said to us. [The well failed] exactly as you predicted!”

But the challenges are more than predicted because it was not an isolated, local disaster. The islands main power grid was destroyed, and consequently, there is no electric power in the town and the estimated time for recovery is more than four months. The community was able to get the old 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 our 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 our 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 with the WM staff engineer, Michael Steele and water samples were taken to determine the kind of treatment needed based on available technical and financial resources. 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.

Edwin Vazquez-Asencio teaching community members how to use Kohler Water Clarifiers provided by Water Mission and the importance of essential sanitary procedures.

RCAP coordinated the delivery of a Kohler Clarifier provided by Water Mission, an effective filtration system that can purify drinking water without electricity. Created in collaboration with World Vision, iDE, and WM, the Kohler Clarifier filter eliminates over 99% of contaminants.

RCAP Solutions staff, Edwin Vázquez-Asencio, coordinated the assistance and taught the community how to use the equipment including a brief workshop about disinfection and how it provides safe drinking water to the community. He was also able to distribute Aquatabs to the community for additional water disinfection after the filtration process, thanks to the Puerto Rico Department of Health

The 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 these small public systems. As a result, the residents of San Diego have filtered water and are less vulnerable to diseases related to the consumption of untreated water.

This unfortunate 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 create a willingness to become more involved in the future.

Finally, the RCAP Solutions TAP is also working with the community in the search for their missing well casing and the recovery of the well pump. They are working hard to recover what was lost and rebuild their community and their water system. RCAP Solutions will guide them every step of the way, to maximize limited resources and ensure the best possible results.

RCAP Secures USDA Disaster Relief Funding to Restore Small Communities

The Rural Community Assistance Partnership, Inc. (RCAP) has received $500,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development’s Water and Environmental Programs to provide training and technical assistance, onsite repairs, and utility management advice for rural water and wastewater utilities impacted by the 2017 hurricane season. RCAP has been on the ground providing technical assistance to rural communities affected by hurricanes since the storms hit, and this funding will allow the RCAP network to expand that work.

“Ensuring safe drinking water has proven to be a critical first step in rebuilding the small Texas communities ravaged by Hurricane Harvey at the end of August 2017,” explained Ines Polonius, CEO of Communities Unlimited. “Once critical community backbone infrastructure — a town’s water and waste water systems — is back in place and functioning properly, families can begin to rebuild their lives in the place they call home.”

With this funding, RCAP will assist rural communities, borrowers, and small water systems in Texas, the Southeast US, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands in their recovery from the recent hurricanes. RCAP regional partners including the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project (SERCAP), Communities Unlimited (CU), and RCAP Solutions will assist small utilities to complete damage assessments and disaster technical assistance work plans, apply for Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) disaster programs, file insurance recovery claims, and update existing Security Vulnerability Assessments and Emergency Response plans.

“Our work in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands is in higher demand than ever before.” says Karen A. Koller, CAE, President and CEO of RCAP Solutions. “The increased funding provided by the disaster recovery grants will allow RCAP Solutions to provide additional vital technical assistance and services to those in desperate need of safe, clean drinking water as we assist in the rebirth of those communities.”

Rural communities of 10,000 or less impacted by natural disasters are often the last to get assistance. This grant will provide RCAP the opportunity to provide long-term technical assistance to communities in need of basic capacity building expertise in immediate response to the hurricanes that impacted their communities.

“The funds awarded to the SERCAP region for disaster recovery will assist our communities impacted by the devastating 2017 hurricane season,” said Hope F Cupit, CPA, President & CEO of SERCAP. “SERCAP is committed to rebuilding small communities in Florida during the long-term period of recovery.”

 

Rural Community Assistance Partnership is a national network of six regional non-profit organizations working to ensure that rural and small communities throughout the country have access to safe drinking water and sanitary wastewater disposal. The RCAP network provides a variety of programs to accomplish this goal, including direct training and on the ground technical assistance. For more information, visit www.rcap.org.

 

There are no words to properly address our gratitude…

Acueducto Rural Guacio, is a community water system located in San Sebastian Municipality of Puerto Rico. Guacio is a low-income community were 57.9% live below the poverty line with a median household income of $14,463. The aqueduct provides drinking water to 85 rural families, most small farmers of minor crops.

The water system consists of two deep wells and a 52,000-gallon capacity distribution tank in which water is treated with a tablet chlorinator. The drinking water is distributed by gravity to all members and the community charges a flat rate of $20 per family per month for water consumption. The RCAP Solutions Technical Assistance Provider (TAP) assisted Guacio by helping submit a proposal that would provide funds necessary for the installation of individual water meters.

With this improvement, the community was in the process of shifting from a flat rate charge to one based on cost per consumption. The TAP assisted the community by helping to set the new payment structure, but the project was put on hold due to damage created from Hurricane Maria. The system suffered several broken pipelines due to landslides, but were able to rapidly repair and replace them. Since there was no electric power to operate the system, they tried to operate it with a generator, but it was damaged, and the community was without water service for more than 3 weeks.

Due to the emergency, RCAP Solutions was assisting the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Health in completing drinking water assessments in rural areas. After performing Guacio’s assessment, RCAP was able to provide and install a new generator with assistance from the EPA, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Water Mission, another nonprofit organization with a focus on clean water solutions.

As a result, the community was once again able to operate the water system and provide safe, clean drinking water to the entire community. They were incredibly grateful for the work RCAP Solutions offered, and their partnership with Water Mission in providing the generator and bring power to the water system.

 

“Today, the 19th of October, we would like to give thanks to RCAP Solutions and Water Mission for recognizing and prioritizing the need in this area. We are a small non-profit community water system (Non-PRASA) that provides water to 86 families. We are well organized and well managed and have been successfully providing water for many years. For the last month, to keep our system open and serving our almost 90 families, we had to manually throw water into our distribution system to keep things flowing without the electricity that normally runs our pumps. We are very proud that we kept our system going since many other systems with similar issues were closed. In the last three days it has been a miracle that RCAP helped us to overcome a month of extreme sacrifice and get our system back to running normally. Thank God for RCAP Solutions and what they have done to help us–there are no words to properly address our gratitude.”

– Teresa Torres Quiles, from Aqueducto Rural Guacio, San Sebastian municipality of Puerto Rico.

Click here for more information on our REACH Out to Puerto Rico & USVI Campaign.