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.

RCAP Solutions Selected as Hannaford Cause Bag Beneficiary

RCAP Solutions, Inc. was selected as a beneficiary of the Hannaford Cause Bag program for the month of November.

The Hannaford Cause Bag program is designed to support local nonprofits through the sale of their reusable Hannaford Helps bag.

RCAP Solutions, Inc. was selected by Hannaford store leadership as the November beneficiary of the program at the 21 Timpany Boulevard, Gardner, MA Hannaford store. For every Hannaford Helps reusable bag with the good karma message purchased at the Hannaford Store in Gardner, MA during the month of November, RCAP Solutions, Inc. will receive a $1 donation.

“This is an exciting opportunity for RCAP Solutions as we kick off our holiday season giving campaign,” said Karen A. Koller, President & CEO. “Our focus this year is to raise funds to help Puerto Rican hurricane victims. With this initiative, we’re providing an opportunity for the greater Gardner area to support those in the U.S. Caribbean territories as they struggle to rebuild their lives and stabilize their future.”

The funds raised will be divided into two distinct categories. The first will be directed towards the immediate need of providing emergency housing and support services to those who have chosen to resettle either temporarily or permanently in Massachusetts. The second will be deployed over the coming months to assist with reconstruction and economic recovery projects to those on the island of Puerto Rico.

“RCAP Solutions is uniquely positioned to help those who have been devastated by the recent hurricanes,” continued Koller. “With our housing efforts in Worcester County and a seasoned technical assistance team in Puerto Rico, RCAP Solutions is ready and able to meet the needs of those who so desperately need our vital services.”

RCAP Solutions has set a goal of raising $20,000 during the holiday season to support these two important initiatives.

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 http://www.rcapsolutions.org/.

For more information on the Hannaford Cause Bag program, visit hannaford.bags4mycause.com.

RCAP Staff Finally Arrive Home in Puerto Rico

Pictured from left: Josefa Torres-Olivo, District Director of Puerto Rico & U.S.V.I.; Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist, Community Resources; and Juan Campos Collazo, Community Development Specialist, Community Resources.

RCAP Solutions staff members were finally able to return home to their families in Puerto Rico after being in the states since Monday, September 18, before Hurricane Maria hit later that week. The three Puerto Rico based staff members were in Massachusetts for an all staff meeting and were then stranded in Florida for ten days awaiting a return flight to the island.

The following email message went out just before getting on the plane:

“Just to let you know that we are leaving Florida in a couple of minutes. Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers, it’s going to be an emotional day when we finally get together with our families. We will stay in contact if possible! A long journey ends and, a new one will start today. Please keep us in your prayers for strength and health so we can help others and raise from the adversity as we are good people and stronger than ever!”

Our thoughts go out to all those in Puerto Rico, the U.S.V.I. and the many others as they recover from the crippling effects of the recent hurricanes and other natural disasters. For almost 50 years, RCAP Solutions has been a vital resource to those in rural communities when they have critical need for assistance. We’re working with our staff and partner agencies in those areas to assess the most pressing short term and long-term needs. In the coming weeks, we’ll be outlining new initiatives that will provide funds and assistance to those in need as they work to rebuild their homes and communities.

Education is key to implement behavior change

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

Capitanejo, Guaraguao, Guayabal and Rio Cañas Arriba are rural barrios in Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico (PR) which are served through a USDA-RD Solid Waste Grant.

Since the fall of 2014 RCAP Solutions has provided technical assistance to overcome one of the most noticeable problems in these communities: the improper disposal of solid waste. Even when the municipality provides services such as weekly trash collection and monthly or bimonthly debris removal, many community residents do not participate in these initiatives to reduce solid waste generation. This demonstrates a current lack of interest or knowledge about how to solve their mounting solid waste disposal situation. The most probable reason for this behavior is a lack of environmental education and a low level of awareness of both the problem and its short and long term consequences.

Limited resources and an emphasis on funding and support in urban areas make it challenging to educate and assist rural residents. Important government supported initiatives like the Single Use Plastics Bag Ban (PR ACT 247), which went into effect on December 31, 2016 are very important because they pique the interest of not just urban but also rural communities.

RCAP has conducted eight workshops this year about the reasoning behind the passage of the “Plastic Bag Ban” in rural community schools to educate both students and teachers. They have learned the importance of this act and how they will benefit in terms of their health and the improvement of the surrounding natural environment.

The main goal of the initiative and RCAPs work around Solid Waste in PR is to initiate a process in which reduce, reuse and recycle can be a part of the local culture. A change in adult behavior can be promoted through the education of their children concerning solid waste problems and simple, affordable solutions. The kids have and will continue to assist RCAP in its efforts to modify the community’s learned bad habits and transform them into new positive ones.

“It’s been an excellent experience for our students to participate in the RCAP Solutions Workshops. The ways in which the concepts were taught were great: age appropriate for our students, very concise, using appropriate vocabulary, and captivating students’ attention. All teachers have expressed positive feedback. Our students are putting into practice what they learned in the workshop…and we hope to receive more workshops about recycling soon.”

Prof. Juan Cesari Delgado, Director of Capitenejo School.

Eliminating Illegal Dumping in Puerto Rico

Edwin Vázquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist, RCAP Solutions, Puerto Rico

Collores is one of the most named barrios in Juana Díaz PR. It was the birth place of  poet Luis Llorens Torres, one of the most important journalists of the first decades in the 20th century in PR. As a lawyer, playwright, politician and poet, he was responsible for the immortalization of the beauty of the rural areas of Collores in his writings. But in recent decades some of the beauty of “El Valle de Collores” was lost as a result of poor management of the solid waste.

Due to the collaborative strategy and the efforts between the “Solid Waste Taskforce” members and the communities, we can appreciate a positive change.  The Natural Resources Department contacted RCAP to refer a situation with the establishment of an illegal dumping site in the Agustinillo Sector at the road 512 km 4.2.  The place near the river is been used for the accumulation of solid waste for future pickup by the municipality.  Using the information in the RCAP solid waste brochure published in the community newspaper, some residents called the DRNA  Vigilant Corp. to complain about the problem. The lieutenant in charge, looking for a more proactive way to deal with the situation, oriented the residents in the sector and some interviews were made by RCAP TAP.pr dumping

“The residents who agree with this practice alleged that the area was designated by the municipality employees who collect the materials. They also claimed that the collection service has been delayed for a few weeks; according to them, maybe more than two months.”

With the assistance of the DRNA the residents were oriented about the consequences of that practice for the environment, the river and their health, also the legal penalties associated with the intervention from the DRNA and the police.

The community ceases the practice and contacted the municipality officers for the collection with the information provided during our intervention.  TAP call the Juana Díaz DTOP Director to let him know about the situation and coordinate the removal of the materials. The DRNA on their part contacted JD DTOP to require action on the collection of the materials. The municipality took action immediately.

With the participation of residents of the Agustinillo sector, TAP performed a cleaning and restoration of the area used for illegal dumping.  The small illegal dumping site in progress was stopped and eliminated. The place was programed for the developing of a land scape that will be adopted by community members.  Community groups such as; the Colectivo Valle de Collores, were involved in the process and additional members of other sectors will be contributing with the design of a landscape.

The DRNA donated endemic bushes for the place.  The activity was reported to the Regional Offices of DRNA and all stakeholders, as a result of this, the State Department of Transportation and Public Works collaborated with the initiative and invited the community to their nursery for orientation and selection of other ornamental plants. The adoption of the area is going to be made formally by DTOP. The residents are in the process of developing a project in which they can integrate food crops and ornamentals in the area in order to address the interest of residents with different interests.  Some banana trees were planted in the background as suggested by the some of them.

The PR Natural Resources Department Vigilant Corp was present on the cleanup and the possible violators of the law were identified for orientation about the situation and the possible repercussions of their behavior.  A sign donated by Colectivo Valle de Collores was placed in the area with a positive message: “ Isla Adentro: peces, flores, pájaros, aire puro, aguas cristalinas…pr dumping1Consérvalos.  (Inside Island: fish, flowers, birds, pure air, crystal clear waters…Preserve it).

After a few months the place remains clean and the donated plants are in the area waiting for the final design and the top soil conditioning. Collores is going back to be the idyllic place nostalgically described by one of its favorite sons; who immortalized its rural beauty before the solid waste were part of the scene.  Thanks to the team work of the taskforce created by RCAP and the community support Collores is changing for good; the empowerment of the community is taking place in the solid waste management and we are convinced of the success of or approach.

RCAP Receives Award from Department of Agriculture

RCAP Solutions has been awarded $244,831 from the USDA-Logo-300x167 Department of Agriculture’s RCDI grant program.

This grant will allow RCAP Solutions the opportunity to undertake 33 Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping or technical assistance projects to 14 recipients and 20 beneficiaries in rural and low income communities in Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico that work to develop the capacity of the recipients through the provision of training, technical assistance and the development and outreach resource materials.

The primary focus of the projects is to increase the capacity of small, rural water and wastewater systems by providing high level GIS services and technical assistance and training.

RCAP will also provide financial and technical assistance to recipients to develop their capacity and ability to undertake related projects for housing, community facilities, or community and economic development by providing technical, financial, managerial training and technical assistance that focuses on board development, energy efficiency, source water protection, asset management, and effective utility management.

“This is the second time that we have been awarded this grant, but with a sizable increase over our last award,” stated Karen A. Koller, President & CEO of RCAP Solutions. “This award will allow us to increase the capacity of small, rural water and wastewater systems by providing high level GIS services and technical assistance and training in Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico.”

The overall goal of the project is to increase the capacity of the recipients through the provision of training and technical assistance as well as the implantation of a GIS solution specifically designed for each beneficiary.  Each local beneficiary will be equipped with a cutting-edge GIS solution capable of significantly improving operational efficiency.

Water and wastewater facilities are one of the primary factors that limit the community and economic development opportunities in rural areas.  Enhancing the capacity at such facilities supports effective management of this infrastructure.  Furthermore, training and technical assistance will help in developing the capacity to implement and utilize GIS technology.  GIS is an important and effective tool for infrastructure management, land use planning, and community outreach and consensus-building.

RCAP has the training materials and delivery network, skilled rural community technical assistance providers, and relationships with county planning offices to make these services accessible and beneficial to the rural and low income systems participating in this project.

RCAP will meet with each recipient prior to commencing each project to discuss project work plans and goals and will use a variety of benchmarks to measure the success of the program.

Disclaimer: Any RCAP Solutions work completed with small communities for GIS is strictly to provide data to small systems and counties and is in no way intended for design, construction and surveying use.

This is Our Home: Tackling Rural Solid Waste Issues in Puerto Rico

IMG_0493As the snow storm winds down here in Central MA, we thought it appropriate to share a video made recently about the clean-up efforts RCAP is spearheading in Puerto Rico. This video shows the tremendous support shown by the community, resulting in over 400 volunteers coming together in the poor, rural barrio of Manzanillo, to clean a beach destroyed by illegal dumping. Our second annual clean-up will take place in just a few weeks in Guayabal, a similar area just a few miles away.

https://vimeo.com/143277565

Click here for more detailed information about the cleanup including before and after photos:  http://www.rcapsolutions.org/rcap-solutions-changes-lives-and-perceptions-in-a-rural-puerto-rican-community/

RCAP Solutions Changes Lives and Perceptions in a Rural Puerto Rican Community

Manzanillo PR

Manzanillo, Puerto Rico

Manzanillo is a small, poor, rural barrio located on the southern coast of Puerto Rico, where the Jacaguas River meets the Caribbean Sea. Manzanillo, like much of Puerto Rico, faces significant challenges with solidwaste management and illegal dumping, but for Manzanillo the problem is magnified because the debris is washed into the river and ocean only to be returned to the beach and into the community during the all too common flood events in the area. That continuous cycle of pollution, combined with the limited budgets and personnel, made the goal of cleanup seem almost out of reach. Recognizing the need for a comprehensive solution, RCAP Solutions partnered with the Solid Waste Authority of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources to form a community coalition with the goal of cleaning up Manzanillo.

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An example of the waste dumped along the beach.

The initiative attracted a wide range of participants, including the state and local police, local government officials, students from the University of Puerto Rico in Ponce, high school students, teachers, Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops, church groups, and a number of other people concerned with the condition of the neighborhood and its beaches.

In total, over 400 volunteers took part in the event, which took place in January, 2015 and which resulted in 15 truckloads of trash – approximately 100 cubic yards – hauled away.

“The cleanup was an inspiring event for me,” said RCAP Solutions Sustainable Materials Management Specialist Edwin Vázquez-Asencio, “We proved the importance of providing assistance to the communities that are in need, coordinating with local institutions, government agencies, municipalities, the state, and hundreds of volunteers who lined up when needed. We provided the motivation for members of the community to see a new way of thinking about their future, clean and simple. We have a problem with improper disposal of solid waste, and now we are looking for practical and sustainable ways to deal with it.”

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Large numbers of volunteers working along the rocky coast.

Edwin and his RCAP Solutions staff trained volunteers on how to handle waste and hazardous materials. Participants were given gloves, bags, and tracking sheets to map the volume, type, and location of the waste materials. The volunteers were also provided with educational information on recycling, water and wildlife conservation, and illegal dumping and burning.

The residents of the area not only gave their time, but also donated prepared snacks, drinks, and home cooked meals to volunteers throughout the course of the cleanup. Following the event, state police officers dressed in clown costumes, set up bounce houses, and provided face painting and other entertainment for the local children.

Adrian Alicea, a Park Ranger for the Department of Natural Resources, said, “This is exactly what we need, getting people to work together to protect the environment for future generations. This is part of our legacy for them and I’m glad we are a part of it. We patrol the area, try to educate people and prevent illegal dumping, but we need help. We really appreciate RCAP’s initiative to organize and coordinate this event. We need to continue this effort in other places.”

“I have a three year old girl and an eight year old son,” said Manzanillo resident, Jayline Olivencia. “When they see people like RCAP Solutions working with us, they will grow up knowing that if we work together, we can get the help we need to have a better life in our community. My son helped clean the river with his dad. It will help the next generation think differently about the community and the environment.”

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Volunteers fill trash bags during the clean up.

Following up on the success of the event, in March, RCAP Solutions offered a workshop focused on the creative re-use of recyclable and found objects, such as repurposing plastic containers were as pots for vegetables and using toilet paper and paper towel rolls as seed pots for plants in community gardens. School children and their parents raised the plants with their parents, and the plants were targeted for use in the restoration of the problem areas.

Additional support was provided by Keila Rivera, an environmental science graduate student from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, who assisted with the workshops and researched information about the garbage burning habits promoted in Manzanillo Community. She said, “With this effort, we can say, today we made the change! RCAP Solutions was a helping hand, uniting people and creating an understanding about the importance of protecting and maintaining a clean environment, which will lead to a better quality of life and a better future.”

RCAP Solutions is continuing to research additional strategies that will add value to the areas that were cleaned and recovered from illegal dumping. These include the creation of a land adoption program, where local businesses and community groups take ownership of the landscaping and continued maintenance of public area.

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Volunteers proudly pose on the clean beach, post clean-up.

Cleaning an area like Manzanillo is a just a first step toward solving the significant solid waste issue in Puerto Rico. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the problem has reached crisis levels. The island generates more waste per person than the mainland and anywhere else in the Caribbean.

Although 55% of Puerto Rico’s waste stream is considered recyclable, current recycling rates are between 7-10%, well below the island’s official goal of 35%, and largely limited to urban areas. There are very few drop-off locations, which makes recycling, even for the highly motivated, quite difficult. There is also no “bottle bill” in Puerto Rico. Illegal dumping is common, and littering is endemic.

Most of the landfills on the island are non-compliant. Most rural communities have “transfer sites” which consist of unenclosed dumpsters located on the dirt shoulders of major roads. These sites allow leachates into the aquifers and major rivers that run parallel to the roads and serve as water sources for downstream communities.

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Trucks are loaded withn trash, to be hauled away.

Large items, such as tires and refrigerators, act as reservoirs for rainwater and provide a breeding ground for disease vectors like mosquitoes and rats. An outbreak of Dengue Hemorrhagic Fever in 1994 and 1995, resulting in 4,660 hospitalizations and 40 deaths, was largely attributed poor waste management practices, insufficient infrastructure, illegal dumping, and polluted cisterns.

More recently, Chikungunya, a mosquito transmitted disease causing fever and intense joint pain, has been spreading throughout the Caribbean. The virus alone is seldom fatal, but the symptoms can be severe and disabling. Chikungunya is common in Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and Southeast Asia, but recent outbreaks have spread the disease over a wider range. In December 2013, Chikungunya was confirmed on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, and as of October 2014 there have been 18,109 suspected cases of Chikungunya in Puerto Rico, according to the Puerto Rico Department of Health.

Puerto Rico also faces numerous barriers that make it difficult for communities and the government to implement solid waste reduction initiatives. These include a lack of infrastructure, economics, startup costs, cultural issues, and a lack of capacity.

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The youngest members of the community learn about water and wildlife conservation.

From an economic perspective, low income rural communities do not have the resources to experiment with solid waste reduction systems, and most citizens see municipal solid waste services as a “free service.” There is little utilization of unit-based pricing to incentivize waste reduction/recycling and the infrastructure is not yet in place to provide for these types of systems.

The only current economic mechanisms in place that could incentivize citizens to recycle are the tipping fees at the landfills. However, the fees across the island are low and do not reflect the true cost of landfill disposal. In Puerto Rico, tipping fees average $30/ton, whereas in the Northeastern part of the United States tipping fees average over $70/ton. Also, many believe that increasing tipping fees and initiating unit-based pricing schemes will result in an increase in illegal dumping.

The only other economic incentives for communities are noncompliance fees. However, most communities, if fined, do not have any means of paying the fines. In lieu of payment, the EPA has instead been requiring communities to develop and implement improvement plans.

These communities have limited technical staff available for waste reduction, as well as for operator training, and there is a significant level of need to increase the technical assistance capacity. There is a significant need to provide training and technical assistance for planning, financing, managing, and conducting the community education necessary to develop and operate a successful waste reduction program.

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RCAP Solutions staff members: Juan Campos-Collazo, Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Josefa Torres-Olivo, and John Linehan.

RCAP Solutions has stepped in to try to address many of these issues with a grant from USDA Rural Development that began in October of 2014. Specifically, the goals are to promote reduction, re-use, and recycling through community recycling programs; plan and implement waste reduction programming; promote the elimination/reduction of illegal dumping sites; and promote collaborative and regionalized approaches that can help address cost barriers and achieve economies of scale in solid waste reduction efforts.

According to Josefa Torres, RCAP Solutions District Director for Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, “There are many ways to solve the solid waste problem in Puerto Rico with the 3R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. However, I strongly believe the educational component is necessary for the achievement and success of this important initiative.”

While Puerto Rico faces a daunting task in tackling its solid waste issues, the problem must be met at the community level. Manzanillo was an example of what can be done when a community has the leadership and cooperation needed to succeed.

“Manzanillo’ s experience was an example of solidarity and empowerment,” said Dr. Sandra Moyá of the University of Puerto Rico’s Department of Biology, “a reflection on what each one can do for the collective, and a successful learning experience for both the local community and the volunteers involved.”

Private Water Well Training in Puerto Rico

waterglassRCAP Solutions will provide a free training (in Spanish) on proper management of private water wells on July 22, at Juana Diaz municipality in Puerto Rico. The workshop is geared for those who have private wells for drinking water (business, residence, farmers, ranchers, etc.) or anyone who may want to gain knowledge on this topic.

This training is aimed at providing guidance on individual water wells. It will be an excellent opportunity to engage the panel of experts on: wells for drinking water, proper management and water quality guidelines, conservation and potential sources of contamination.

Sponsored by US EPA. For additional information see the links below.  To register, contact Edwin Vazquez : evazquez-asencio@rcapsolutions.org or (787) 725-6523.

3 Registro Introducción al Cuidado de Pozo Individuales

1 Invitación Introducción al Cuidado de Pozos Individuales

Potable Water Operator Training in Puerto Rico

PR trainingJosefa Torres, District Director

In November, RCAP Solutions provided the first of three Potable Water Operator trainings at Sila María Calderón Foundation in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

This training activity is part of the Puerto Rico Department of Health Technical Assistance Support & Circuit Rider Project, to help 48 small community-owned public water systems work towards becoming compliant with the EPA Safe Drinking Water Act.

23 participants, representing 17 communities attended the EPA-Certified Operator Training Certification classes, coordinated by RCAP Staff members Josefa Torres, District Director and Juan Campos, Community Development Specialist.

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Upon completion, these water systems will meet the U.S. national standards for safe drinking water, many for the first time in the history of these particular community public water systems.