Educational Tools to Sustain Our Rural Drinking Water and Wastewater Systems

Regional map Apr 2010 (from display)

Sukhwindar Singh, Director of Education and Training, RCAP Solutions 

RCAP Solutions is a private nonprofit 501c 3 multi-state Regional Training and Technical Assistance Center that simultaneously serves as a Massachusetts based Economic Development Agency with a variety of housing, lending and client programs that all support self-sufficiency.  RCAP Solutions serves as the northeast member of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) with headquarters in Worcester, Massachusetts and onsite drinking water and wastewater technical assistance specialists and trainers throughout the Northeast and Caribbean.  The RCAP National Headquarters are in Washington DC and the website is  All RCAP specialists utilize state and federal funding to work onsite with small rural drinking water and wastewater systems to effect four community outcomes:

a)      Improved environmental and community health

b)      Compliance with federal and state regulations

c)      Sustainable water and waste disposal facilities

d)      Increased capability of local leaders to address current and future needs.

For many years, RCAP personnel have documented the unique challenges small systems face in providing reliable drinking water and wastewater services that meet federal and state regulations.  These challenges include but are not limited to a lack of financial resources and customer base, aging infrastructure, management limitations, and high staff turnover.  At RCAP we offer technical assistance and training to system personnel and boards to raise awareness of technical, managerial, and financial issues and to improve the operations and compliance of these small systems.

The funding sources that RCAP utilizes to deliver training and technical assistance are highlighted here along with the types of technical assistance offered to communities.   These funding streams translate to the delivery of quality training and technical assistance programs unmatched by any other technical service provider to small and rural systems.  It is important to note that the RCAP technical assistance program is nationwide with technical assistance providers that work directly onsite with communities.  RCAP is also not a membership based association driven by dues, so programmatic efforts are very compatible with federal funding guidelines.  RCAP utilizes Health and Human services funding to improve water and wastewater facilities in small, low-income, rural communities.  With this funding, RCAP staff annually provide a variety of key training programs, serve on advisory councils and develop innovative programming in addition to serving roughly 600-750 communities with technical assistance.    For FY 2014 so far, RCAP Solutions staff have delivered long-term technical assistance to over 114 communities, delivered 130 technical assistance consultations to additional communities and we have conducted over 50 trainings to 289 community members.  Currently RCAP Solutions staff also participate in 16 task forces and program activities throughout our northeast region.  General examples of ways RCAP utilizes this funding includes the provision of workshops for small systems on asset management and budgeting, follow-up with state primacy and agency referrals, conferences and training development in the area of decentralized and onsite wastewater, rate reviews, and TMF (technical, managerial, and financial) training and assistance for small systems.  This year, RCAP Solutions staff are utilizing this funding to participate in the WARN (Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network)  meetings and activities in Pennsylvania and Maine, participate in the RCAP National Training Work Group and training activities, participate in the educational planning committee for the Massachusetts Drinking Water Day, and assist with the Ashokan Release Working Group (ARWG) Technical Subcommittee and NYS DEC Non-Point Source Pollution workgroup, as well as attendance at the New Jersey League of Municipalities Conference and participation at the Annual New Hampshire Drinking Water Training and Expo.

Since 1988, RCAP has worked with RUS (Rural Utilities Service) to provide assistance to communities of 3,300 or fewer residents that are eligible for RUS loans or grants- helping them both with the technical aspects of systems operations and with finding the financial resources necessary to operate their systems sustainably.  By putting these communities on the path to fiscal sustainability, RCAP reduces their reliance on future government grants and loans.  The RCAP network works closely with the Rural Development’s long-and short-term performance measures-particularly the goal of “ensuring the sustainability of water and wastewater systems in rural communities.”  For FY 2014, RCAP Solutions staff have provided long-term technical assistance to over 72 communities, conducted 3 board trainings (with more scheduled) and have trained over 63 staff and board members in small systems.  RCAP Solutions staff is also currently working on 5 Vulnerability Assessments and Emergency Response Plans with more scheduled.  This year it should also be noted that RCAP Solutions staff have assisted to develop capital projects and leverage over $8 million dollars of federal and state funds to benefit these rural communities.  Across our RCAP network, Rural Development is served by all of our regional RCAPs thus bringing the numbers of communities served with this funding source to well over 750 on an annual basis.

RCAP has also partnered successfully with the EPA in serving small water and wastewater systems for over 20 years and much of the technical assistance and training that is offered is customized for these very small drinking and wastewater systems to address compliance and local leadership issues. Some examples of our previous operator training deliverables and summer workshop series were highlighted in previous blogs by this author and are available here and here.

These training products and materials were made possible courtesy of our EPA/RCAP Training and Technical Assistance for Small POTW and Onsite/Decentralized Wastewater Systems and Private Well Owners to Improve Water Quality Project 2012-2013.  With this funding the RCAP Network provided over 30 on-site technical assistance projects, 20 face-to-face training sessions for system managers of small drinking water systems, 6 new training videos on wastewater collection and treatment impacts on watersheds, and over 80 half–day trainings for beginning and intermediate operators and 3 technical training webinars.  In addition, there were numerous and separate training and technical assistance activities for the private well and onsite/decentralized wastewater portions of the EPA grant as noted above.  When the grant closed, RCAP network staff had achieved 100% completion of all grant deliverables in a timely manner and feedback from the systems was overwhelmingly positive.

This year the RCAP activities will be focused on training and technical assistance activities supporting compliance of our small drinking water systems with the Safe Drinking Water Act and improving water quality through training and technical assistance to private well owners.  The outcome of this technical assistance for small and rural communities is improved compliance, improved public health, sustainable facilities and increased awareness by local leaders of future needs.

At RCAP Solutions we are making these connections every day for funders, politicians and local leaders when it comes to supporting the water and wastewater infrastructure needs of our small and rural systems. RCAP services promote economic self-sufficiency and system viability for the future.