Imagine a Day Without Water

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

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

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

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

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

So, what can we do about it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Vermont Village Looks Ahead

By Mark Johnson, Vermont State Lead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

East Branch Water System Upgrade, Town of Hancock, NY

Candace Balmer, New York State Lead

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

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

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

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

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

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

RAFT Applications Reinstated

RCAP Solutions is now taking RAFT (Residential Assistance for Families in Transition) applications.

RAFT is a program funded by MA Department of Housing and Community Development that can provide eligible families in our service area with financial assistance to help prevent homelessness.

Our Housing Consumer Education Center will provide intake for applicants at our Worcester Office each Tuesday and Friday from  9am-11am at 12 East Worcester Street, 2nd floor, Worcester.

NO walk-in hours will be conducted outside of the Worcester Office during July.

Appointments are preferred, but not required for walk-ins.

Please visit our website @ www.rcapsolutions.org for the most recent updates.

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.

 

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.