USDA Rural Development Celebrates Earth Day by Supporting Water Quality Projects in 40 States and Puerto Rico

 

Of the USDA projects announced in the following release, RCAP Solutions provided technical assistance on 9 projects in CT, ME, MA, NY, and RI that were awarded funding over the past several years.  This resulted in $34,640,000  in USDA Loans and $59,111,872  in RD and Farm Bill grants for a total of $93,751,872 to small communities for water and wastewater system improvements.  

footer_usda

WASHINGTON, April 22, 2014 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today celebrated Earth Day by announcing record support for 116 projects that will improve water and wastewater services for rural Americans and benefit the environment.

“Having reliable, clean and safe water is essential for any community to thrive and grow,” Vilsack said. “I am proud that USDA helps build rural communities from the ground up by supporting water infrastructure projects like these. I am especially proud that we can help communities that are struggling economically and those that have urgent health and safety concerns due to their failing water systems.”

Today’s announcement is USDA’s largest Earth Day investment in rural water and wastewater systems. Nearly $387 million is being awarded to 116 recipients in 40 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The Department is providing $150 million in grants through the 2014 Farm Bill plus $237 million in loans and grants from USDA’s Water and Environmental Program.

Also noteworthy this year are USDA’s accomplishments to help communities with the greatest needs. Sixteen of the Earth Day projects are in areas of persistent poverty. Twenty-nine are in communities served by USDA’s ” StrikeForce Initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity.” StrikeForce is a USDA initiative to reduce poverty by increasing investments in rural communities through intensive outreach and stronger partnerships with community leaders, businesses, foundations and other groups that are working to combat poverty.

Climate change in particular is putting more stress on municipal water systems. Many areas around the country have seen changes in rainfall, resulting in more floods, droughts, declines in snowpack, intense rain, as well as more frequent and severe heat waves. All of these are placing fiscal strains on communities – causing them to make more frequent (and often more expensive) repairs and upgrades.

Among projects funded this year, the city of McCrory, Ark., is receiving $2.1 million to build a water treatment facility and two water supply wells, and refurbish its two water storage tanks. The improvements will reduce high manganese and iron levels in the water supply to provide safe drinking water to McCrory’s nearly 800 residents. McCrory is in Woodruff County, a persistent poverty area that is part of USDA’s “StrikeForce initiative for Rural Growth and Opportunity.”

Paintsville, Ky., is receiving a $4.9 million loan and $2.1 million grant to rehabilitate its sanitary and stormwater sewer systems. This is one of 10 projects funded by USDA that will improve water infrastructure in rural areas of Kentucky. The Paintsville project will serve nearly 2,300 residents and businesses and protect the ecosystems of Paint Creek and nearby lakes.

The city of San Joaquin, Calif., is receiving a $1 million loan/grant combination to replace a contaminated well. The city had to shut down one of its three wells due to high levels of bacteria. Once completed, this project will ensure San Joaquin residents have safe, clean drinking water.

In Ohio, the Erie County Commissioners will use $3 million in loans and nearly $3 million in grants to replace individual on-site waste treatment systems that discharge into and pollute the Sandusky Bay and surrounding areas. The commissioners also will build a wastewater collection system for the Village of Bay View and the neighboring Bay Bridge area. The Bay View peninsula is a vital ecological and economic area in the Western Basin of Lake Erie.

Earth Day is observed annually on April 22 to raise awareness about the role each person can play to protect vital natural resources and safeguard the environment. Since the first Earth Day celebration in 1970, the event has expanded to include citizens and governments in more than 195 countries.

President Obama’s plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President’s leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America’s economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA’s investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values. President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack are committed to a smarter use of federal resources to foster sustainable economic prosperity and ensure the government is a strong partner for businesses, entrepreneurs and working families in rural communities.

USDA, through its Rural Development mission area, has a portfolio of programs designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers and ranchers and improve the quality of life in rural America.

RCAP Solutions is now registered with AmazonSmile!

Amazon-Smile-300x300

AmazonSmile is a simple  and automatic way for you to support your favorite charitable organization every time you shop, at no cost to you. When you shop at smile.amazon.com, you’ll find the exact same prices, selection and shopping experience as Amazon.com, with the added bonus that Amazon will donate 0.5% of the purchase price to your favorite charitable organization.

Simply go to smile.amazon.com from the web browser on your computer or mobile device. You may also want to add a bookmark to make it even easier to return and start your shopping at AmazonSmile.

You use the same account on Amazon.com and AmazonSmile. Your shopping cart, Wish List, wedding or baby registry, and other account settings are also the same. On your first visit to AmazonSmile, you need to select the charitable organization of your choice (RCAP Solutions) to receive donations from eligible purchases before you begin shopping. Amazon will remember your selection, and then every eligible purchase you make on AmazonSmile will result in a donation.

WaterSense celebrates Fix a Leak Week

L3_leaks_laundry_31114While Fix a leak week may be almost over, it’s always a good practice to check for leaks in your home!

Easy-to-fix household leaks account for more than one trillion gallons of water wasted each year across the United States, equal to the annual household water use of more than 11 million homes. In the race against water waste, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is urging people to fix household water leaks during the sixth annual Fix a Leak Week, March 17 through 23, 2014.

Water leaking from dripping faucets, showerheads and worn toilet flappers in one average American home can account for more than 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year, or the amount of water needed to wash 270 loads of laundry. These types of leaks are often easily correctable, in many cases requiring only a few tools and hardware that can pay for themselves in water savings. Fixing household water leaks can save homeowners about 10 percent on their water bills.

“A household can waste thousands of gallons from leaky plumbing fixtures and sprinkler systems, which is especially bad news if your community is suffering from a drought,” said Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water. “Three simple steps—checking for leaks, twisting and tightening pipe connections, and replacing fixtures where needed can help people conserve water and save money on their utility bills.”

Finding and fixing leaks is simple to do in three easy steps:

  1. Check for leaks: Look for dripping faucets, showerheads and fixture connections. Check toilets for leaks by putting a few drops of food coloring in the tank at the back of the toilet and wait 10 minutes before flushing to see if color shows up in the bowl. If there is color, the toilet flapper likely needs to be replaced, which is an easy repair to make. Check irrigation systems and spigots too.
  2. Twist and tighten pipe connections: If your showerhead is dripping, make sure there is a tight connection between the showerhead and the pipe stem. It may just need a twist to tighten or some pipe tape to secure it.
  3. Replace the fixture if necessary: If you’re in the mood for an upgrade, look for WaterSense-labeled models, which are independently certified to use 20 percent less water and perform as well as or better than standard models.

To learn more about finding and fixing leaks, visit www.epa.gov/watersense/fixaleak.

Spring 2014 Watershed to Well

w2wmastheadSpring2014

The Spring Watershed to Well is now available!  

You may access it by clicking here.

If you are not currently on the email distribution list, but would like to be added, please contact Maegen McCaffrey at mmccaffrey@rcapsolutions.org.

 

Pine Hill Water District always looks forward to RCAP’s assistance

pinehill1

Candace Balmer, Water Resource Specialist

The Town of Shandaken, located in southern New York, was named after the native phrase “land of rapid waters” and is home to Slide Mountain, the highest peak in the Catskill Mountains. Shandaken is also home to The Pine Hill Water District, formed by the Town to take over an abandoned private water company serving over 200 mostly residential properties.

When  the Town initially took over the hamlet’s drinking water system, they had to make some improvements to comply with public health requirements.  This involved rehabilitating their water source, constructing a new storage reservoir, and replacing aging distribution mains.

RCAP Solutions helped the Town secure over $1.5 million in New York State Drinking Water State Revolving Funds and USDA Rural Development monies to upgrade the drinking water system.  RCAP Solutions also provided technical assistance to the Town on such issues as securing engineering and construction services, managing the project budget, providing documentation to funders, conducting a rate structure evaluation, and coordinating with primacy agencies and funders.

Most recently, RCAP Solutions has been assisting the Water District to evaluate the cost and funding options associated with several other system improvements, including remediating one of their wells, recently found to be under the direct influence of surface water (GWUDI); remediating their spring sources; and replacing several hundred feet of undersized distribution main that had not been part of the original upgrade project.

PineHillSpring box w Water Super

RCAP Solutions is also helping them to develop a comprehensive asset management plan as well as a capital reserve strategy to assure funding for ongoing repair and replacement of critical components.

They also appreciate RCAP Solutions.  Mr. Clark said: “The Pine Hill Water District always looks forward to RCAP’s assistance.  With RCAP’s help, we have been able to move the Pine Hill Water District in a forward direction, both in terms of infrastructure and finances.”

Improving the water system has been deeply appreciated by the residents and businesses of this picturesque community, as has the diligence and professionalism of their Water Superintendent, Don Clark.

Photo: Don Clark, Pine Hill Water Superintendent beside the access door to one of the spring collection boxes.

Community Resources Program Update

water-conserve

Scott Mueller, Director of Community Resources & Chief Rural Affairs Officer

Rural communities across the country are all experiencing challenges with keeping their localities clean, healthy, and economically vibrant.  This past year has certainly shown that the federal and state governments are tightening the purse strings further impacting local communities, but in particular the small rural communities.

RCAP Solutions Community Resources Program focuses on providing technical assistance at the local level to these smaller underserved communities focusing on providing Technical, Managerial, and Financial [TMF] technical assistance to those seeking to build capacity in these areas at the local level.

In particular one area which has shown to be of great benefit to communities is in the area of Water and Wastewater Asset Management Planning [AMP] and Effective Utility Management [EUM].  In order support or bolster any local economy it is important to have the necessary infrastructure to support its existing workforce, businesses, and in many cases tourism economies which demands clean water.

The current trend is to operate and maintain existing systems in a long term and sustainable approach and there are many approaches smaller communities can take towards this end as the monies from the federal and state entities are shrinking.  As such the responsibility for community systems are ultimately lying with the community itself.  This can often be a daunting responsibility and we are here to help communities through this process.

RCAP Solutions is pleased to be able to again this year offer in many cases free technical assistance in these areas to those communities which qualify.  We also provide an array of other Direct Service Contract services to those seeking special and individualized services.

We wish all communities the best in the upcoming year and to find out more information as to our programs and services please contact Scott Mueller, Director of Community Services and Chief Rural affairs officer at 315-482-2756 or email smueller@rcapsolutions.org.

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.

PR training2

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.

Practical Implementation of CUPSS R&R Schedule (Not your Dad’s Rest and Relaxation)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArthur Astarita, Maine State Lead 

RCAP Solutions’ experience has shown that developed, small-sized systems (<3300 connections), have a wide-range of documenting capital improvements.  Typically a written sheet is developed showing a list of improvements including costs and is used to plan proposed upgrades.  This “mental list” is generated and updated when events arise that call for a new suggestion or thought but does not contain a comprehensive look at the entire system and financial health.  It is not holistic which is required to assure the system is operated in a long term and responsible manner.

More often is the case that only when equipment fails are capital improvement projects created to address the urgency rather than a planned approach.  Commonly, an engineering firm scopes out this “reactionary” project through the required preliminary engineering report (PER).  The engineering firm usually has a working relationship with the system and retains the “technical knowledge” but the firm does not usually conduct streaming-asset-performance analysis.  In today’s sustainability world, in order for the system to remain solvent and meet regulatory requirements, they must have the tools to document predicted equipment failure, replacement cost estimates and impacts to consumer rates.  Regular system maintenance and observations are necessary for this streaming performance analysis, replacement prediction and financial planning.

The free EPA CUPSS program (www.epa.gov/cupss) affords systems a one-stop shop to document inventory attributes, critical maintenance tasks, revenue/expense finances, mission statements, level of services, system service details along with history and report outputs for analysis.  Supported nationwide, it can become the common, simple routine for all systems to report in standard format.  This standard reporting can lead to building local and regional expertise in a “utility-helping-utility” network, generate detailed grass-roots funding gaps and impress our congressional leaders of their constituents’ needs.

Commonly, operators/superintendents have an ease using CUPSS’ import template; an Excel spreadsheet.  The user can easily copy/paste data from existing records and GIS tables. Conversely, the unique CUPSS output data can join by digitally-indexing to existing record columns and GIS tables. This flexibility allows data capture and enhancement without being repetitive. Technical assistance can be smoothly facilitated by the email exchange of the spreadsheet(s) and phone discussions prior to a site visit for report-output analysis.

Upon completion of the inventory component of the software, CUPSS generates a repair/replacement (R&R) cost schedule.  Here costs for items can be grouped by decade or by logical project task(s).  This report is perhaps the most important and critical step in reaching effective utility management.  This report allows for initial priority and emphasis of improvements along with the cost of those upgrades or maintenance activities.  This R&R cost schedule allows this critical information to be shared in a concise and organized manner with decision makers overseeing the system.

Another aspect of this program and process is that attention may be given to the maintenance budget within CUPSS. By documenting schedule and non-scheduled maintenance costs of critical equipment, a system can understand the funds needed to extend useful life expectancies.  This can reduce budget impacts of capital needed for replacement budgets.

With or without the use of CUPPS it is important to note that systems must provide proper managerial and technical expertise to insure public health.  True sustainability can be approached with the inclusion of an operations and maintenance budget. The creation of and funding in four major reserve accounts is paramount:

  1. Debt Service: 100% funded
  2. Emergency O&M: capped at ~25% of your operations budget
  3. Short-term Assets: All assets <15 year lifespan should be expensed
  4. Long-term Assets: Capital budget schedule and x% of value should be set aside annually

It is the long-term Asset reserve that is financially critical.  As governmental subsidies decline, it is increasingly becoming apparent that utilities must develop a holistic business plan approach which focuses on asset management in order to operate the system in a sustainable manner.

RCAP Focused on Expanding Services

light_bulbBrian Scales, Chief Development & Governmental Affairs Officer

The Development Team is continuing to serve the mission of the organization by continuing to provide the assets necessary to continue to do our work. Currently we are working to increase revenues to expand our technical assistance in drinking and wastewater asset management, launch a geographic information system (GIS) mapping technical assistance program, compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, initiate trainings for private well owners, and increase our small business lending capacity.

Current highlights include:

•Providing financial assistance to over 400 homeless families (HomeBASE and RAFT) and case management services to an additional 145 homeless families per month living in temporary accommodations (Hotels).

•Providing technical assistance to 90 small communities to address their water and wastewater infrastructure needs.

•Helped small communities leverage over $1.2 million to lend to low income residents to repair failing septic systems.

•Made over 20 loans over the past 6 months to help disabled homeowners make modifications to their homes so that they can continue to live at home rather than in an institutional setting.

•Have applied to add additional programs and funds to our business lending portfolio.

Despite the restrictions and cuts experienced over domestic funding cuts, the organization continues to focus on the strategic goals of the organization. The Team will continue to work tirelessly to provide the support necessary so that the organization can continue working with communities and individuals.

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 www.rcap.org.  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.