Edwin Vazquez-Asencio Named Rookie of the Year

Congratulations to Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist at RCAP Solutions, who received the Outstanding Rookie Award at the RCAP National conference.

Karen A. Koller, CEO; Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist; Juan Campos-Collazo, Community Development Specialist and Josefa Torres-Olivo, District Director at the RCAP National Awards Reception

Karen A. Koller, President and CEO; Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist; Juan Campos-Collazo, Community Development Specialist; and Josefa Torres-Olivo, District Director at the RCAP National Awards Reception.

This award is given to a staff member who has been with the RCAP program for two years or less, but who has made contributions over and above what would be expected for a new staff member. Nominees for this award have adapted to their jobs quickly, have made positive suggestions and contributions for program improvement, and shown outstanding initiative.

Edwin was hired in October 2014 to implement and lead RCAP Solutions Solid Waste Grant activities under National RCAP’s USDA Solid Waste Grant.  Prior to joining RCAP, Edwin had over 10 years of community education and training experience. Edwin has B.B.A. in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing from University of Puerto Rico and an MBA from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico. With Edwin’s background in community outreach, education, and organizing, his education in biology, and his passion for social and environmental justice, and to work directly with communities to address these issues, the selection committee felt that given the extreme degree of the solid waste issues in Puerto Rico, we needed an activist, not a technician.  This instinct paid off with dividends as Edwin has been working to organize community clean ups of illegal dump sites and to develop municipal and school-based recycling programs as well as community education and outreach activities.

In Edwin’s two short years at RCAP Solutions, he has been solely responsible for conducting two major community clean up events.

The first in January, 2015 took place in Manzanillo, a small, poor, rural barrio located on the southern coast of Puerto Rico, where the Jacaguas River meets the Caribbean Sea. In total, over 400 volunteers took part in the event, resulting in 15 truckloads of trash – approximately 100 cubic yards – hauled away. This event was conducted only 4 months after Edwin’s hire.

The second, in February, 2016 took place at the Guayabal Lake, located between the barrios Guayabal in Juana Diaz and Romero in Villalba.  It is one of the most important water reservoirs for agriculture activities from Juana Diaz to Salinas, a large region of four to five towns.  It has been used since 1914; providing enough water to develop the sugar cane industry in the region during the most intense period of development in Puerto Rico. Around 300 volunteers and government employees worked hand in hand to recover the lake from the solid waste under the lead of RCAP team. As a result, over 121,704.5 lbs. ≈ 60.85 tons of solid waste was removed from the lake.

Josefa.Edwin.Juan.Scott

Josefa Torres-Olivo, District Director; Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist; Juan Campos-Collazo, Community Development Specialist; and Scott Mueller, Chief Community Services Officer and Director Rural Assistance at the RCAP National Awards Reception.

These events took many months of planning to coordinate. Edwin’s initiative provided a wake-up call and a real movement in the Manzanilla Community. After the success of the Manzanilla clean-up, many communities and agencies turned their attention to RCAP to find solutions in many areas affected by solid waste.  The coordination between federal, state, and municipal agencies and the communities demonstrates the need to establish a more collaborative frame of work to address this situation.

“This is exactly what we need, getting people to work together to protect the environment for future generations,” stated Adrian Alicea, a Park Ranger for the PR Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DRNA), when the Manzanilla report was presented.

Between his start date in October 2014 and January 2015, Edwin planned, organized, conducted trainings, and implemented a volunteer community clean up event in a low income rural coastal community.  The event was a HUGE success.  Over 400 people showed up including local officials, officials from Puerto Rico’s Agricultural Extension Agency, Department of Natural Resources, the state police, the University of Puerto Rico, numerous local Boy Scout troops, church, and school service-learning groups.  NOT TO MENTION the buy-in of the residents of the community itself.  It was so successful that it was reported on by local Puerto Rico radio and television outlets, and served as a cover story for Rural Matters and a National RCAP special video project under production.

In March 2015 – just less than 6 months of his hire – Edwin, provided training, and implemented an event that involved engaging the local schools, getting buy in, training teachers, and planned, organized and ran an event where children were tasked with finding creative uses for items from illegal dumps and litter.

This lead the process to the point where school children are growing seedlings in containers that were or would have entered the waste stream to be used to landscape abandoned areas where the illegal dumping was occurring and an “adopt an island” approach was launched to find local businesses to plant and maintain these areas.

Edwin intrinsically knows that solving problems is one thing and that education, training, and capacity development is quite

Edwin Vazquez-Asencio with Robert Stewart, Director of RCAP, Inc.

Edwin Vazquez-Asencio with Robert Stewart, Director of RCAP, Inc.

another.  He is all about the local empowerment of low income communities and is not satisfied simply achieving his required work load or stay within the confines of his job description.  He is constantly coming up with ideas of how we can better serve the communities he is working with.

Edwin independently developed and delivered training materials that fit the context of the solid waste issues in Puerto Rico and has been assisting on our Puerto Rico Department of Health Sanitary Survey contract.

Edwin has been assisting and in some cases leading resource development efforts to expand our work in Puerto Rico. As a Solid Waste Management Specialist he has developed a collaborative strategic approach with the Government and the communities to deal with the proliferation of illegal dumping sites and the effects of these in the public health. Working as liaison between different agencies including The Natural Resources Department, The PR Solid Waste Authority, the Department of Education, the PR Police, the University of Puerto Rico and other private universities and the municipalities of Juana Díaz and Villaba, he is creating programs and initiatives to create awareness of the problem using cleanups activities to educate and promote long term solutions.

The inclusive approach is considering a multilevel educational effort to address the necessities of students, professionals and government employees.  His design is based in the sustainability of the initiatives considering; reduce, reuse and recycling of the materials that need to be diverted from the landfills. He is the Leader of the Educational Committee of the PR Recycling Partnership for the south of PR; an initiative of the Environmental Protection Agency Region II.

He has been invited to important radio programs in PR such as “La Gente Está Hablando” and “Es con usted la ciestión” on WPAB Radio Station and “La Alternativa Holística” on Radio Casa Pueblo 1020 AM; radio programs related to Social, Political and Environmental Issues affecting the society. In total Mr. Vazquez-Asencio have more than 25 years of experience in administration, outreach and community education, with a strong background in cultural and environmental management.

In addition to this, Edwin has been involved in several volunteer and community projects including:

  • Assisted Dr. Norma Piazza from UPR, Ponce in the study needs for the Federal Department of Education, Title V on the proposal for the development of Spanish study centers using technology
  • Work in the development process of a proposal for Department of Education by the Ponce Art Museum
  • Oriented small farmer from Yauco, Puerto Rico about disposal of vegetal material by using the composting process
  • Founder and developer of literary movement La Peña Literaria
  • Member of Centro Cultural Carmen Solá de Pereira

What folks had to say about Edwin and his contributions:

“Edwin Vazquez-Asencio works with a passion, a virtue that not all Technical Assistance Providers possess. As a small fish in an immense tank of water, Edwin has to dive through the solid waste program with less experience than others with years of experience. He has gone above and beyond, accomplishing more than the tasks assigned under the Solid Waste program and also provides assistance with the drinking water program as well. Edwin has what’s needed to move the Solid Waste program ahead in Puerto Rico; and that is a great heart and the passion to serve people. He has taken giant steps towards positioning RCAP Solutions’ Solid Waste Program in Puerto Rico on the radar, such that local and federal Solid Waste agencies are noticing the work that he has done in such a short time. The Puerto Rico team is very proud to have Edwin on board as someone who assists rural and low income communities and those who live there.” Eng. Josefa Torres, District III Director Puerto Rico & U.S.V.I.

“Edwin is an extraordinary human being that puts the many qualities and skills he owns at the service of the rural communities in need. He has a great capacity for understanding the work along with the communities in helping them to effectively address their problems and improving not only their physical facilities, but also improving their self-esteem. He is an incredibly valuable team member for the RCAP Solutions staff in Puerto Rico.” Eng. Juan Campos, Community Development Specialist, RCAP Solutions Puerto Rico
Comments from volunteers involved in the Manzanillo and Guayabal Lake Clean Up Projects:

 “Manzanillo’s experience was an example of solidarity and empowerment, 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.” Dr. Sandra Moyá of the University of Puerto Rico’s Department of Biology

“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.” Adrian Alicea, a Park Ranger for the Department of Natural Resources

“I have a three year old girl and an eight year old son. 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.” Jayline Olivencia, Manzanillo resident

 “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.” 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.

 “It was an answered prayer, we were looking for the know how to deal with this situation” Eng.  Ruben Estremera, Principal Supervisor Engineer, PREPA South Coast-Juana Diaz Irrigation System. 

National Legislative Update

Legislative update for NLProvided by Ted Stiger, Director of Policy, Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP)

Congress needs to pass a stopgap spending before this current fiscal year ends on September 30. Congress continues to debate a measure that would fund government programs at current levels (fiscal year 2016) until December 9. Senate leaders hope to pass their version of the bill this week to avoid a government shutdown and keep federal agencies funded into FY 2017, which starts on October 1. The House is likely to follow the Senate and adopt the same measure.

 Congressional leaders have not reached a deal yet on emergency Zika virus funding and language restricting funds for Planned Parenthood from the Zika package, which has caused delays in getting the funding measure passed.

Congress will still have to return in a lame-duck session after the elections to complete the full FY 2017 appropriations process.

On September 15, the Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA)-S. 2848. The legislation identifies $4.5 billion of water-related infrastructure projects and authorizes $4.9 billion for drinking and clean water infrastructure over five years.

The measure also provides $220 million in direct emergency assistance to address drinking water issues in communities such as Flint, MI.

Of interest to RCAP, the bill authorizes a grant program to assist small and disadvantaged communities in complying with the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act. A priority is given to underserved communities without basic drinking water or wastewater services. This section authorizes $230 million for FY 2017, and $300 million for each of fiscal years 2018 through 2021.

Additionally, the bill establishes a technical assistance program for small treatment works, to be carried out by qualified nonprofit technical service providers. Authorizes $15 million a year for five years. A full section by section summary of the bill is attached in the appendices of this report.

Over in the House, legislative efforts are underway to move their WRDA package (H.R. 5303) for floor consideration this week. Should the House pass its WRDA package, a conference committee could work to reconcile the respective Senate and House packages in time for enactment of the final bill during a December Lame Duck session.

Ted Stiger joined RCAP in 2016 as Policy Director and is responsible for the organization’s national policy and legislative efforts as well as RCAP’s USDA grant portfolio.  

RCAP Solutions is the Northeast affiliate of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership. The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) is a national network of nonprofit organizations working to ensure that rural and small communities throughout the United States have access to safe drinking water and sanitary wastewater disposal. The six regional RCAPs  its partners or affiliates provide a variety of programs in their section of the United States to accomplish this goal, such as direct training and technical assistance; leveraging millions of dollars to assist communities develop and improve their water and wastewater systems.

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.

 

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.

Legislative Update

Legislative update for NLAri Neumann, Director of Policy Development and Applied Research, Rural Community Assistance Partnership

As the 2014 mid-term election nears, Congress has gradually checked off many of the big items on its to-do list. Congress will likely devote most of the rest of this legislative session to passing its annual budget and appropriations bills that fund the federal government. We expect that the spending bills will be wrapped up before Congress heads home for its annual August recess and the election season is in full swing. The budget outlook for rural programs is much the same as last year. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, major changes are unlikely to occur.

One of the big items that Congress recently finished is the reauthorization of the 5-year Farm Bill. It passed both chambers of Congress with bipartisan support and was signed into law by President Obama on February 7. The total bill is complex and multi-faceted and is organized into 12 titles that each address one issue area. The one that most directly impacts RCAP’s work is the Rural Development (RD) Title.

This Farm Bill’s RD Title included a few significant policy changes that will impact rural communities in mostly beneficial ways. It included:

  • Instructions to USDA-RD to streamline the application process for communities applying for loans and grants
  • A requirement that USDA-RD report to Congress regularly on the efficacy of the agency’s programs
  • A pilot program to encourage local and regional planning
  • $150 million in mandatory funding to address the backlog in water/wastewater applications
  • And RCAP’s top legislative priority, authorization for technical assistance for the Essential Community Facilities Program (CF).

The technical assistance authorization for CF is modeled after the successful water and wastewater technical assistance program that currently exists at RD. It sets aside a small percentage of the funds that are appropriated for the program to be used by non-profit entities to help communities adhere to the rules and requirements of the CF program. It helps ensure that projects go smoothly and protects federal investments by ensuring that communities are able to repay any loans they receive from RD. This type of assistance has long been requested by RD state offices, and RCAP looks forward to working with USDA-RD to implement this important policy change.

While the Farm Bill as a whole was not without controversy, the RD Title is a strong title for rural communities that will make many positive changes. We here at RCAP are looking forward to working with USDA to implement the new policies enacted in the bill and ensure that they work to improve the quality of life in rural America.

Fifty Years Ago Today

LBJ1President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the War on Poverty during his State of the Union address.  

The following message was sent out from Robert Stewart, Executive Director of RCAP (Rural Community Assistance Partnership) a national network of nonprofit organizations working to ensure that rural and small communities throughout the United States have access to safe drinking water and sanitary wastewater disposal.  RCAP Solutions is one of the six regional partners within the RCAP network.

LBJ, The Great Society and The Origins of RCAP

January 8, 1964 is perhaps a date in history that you may not be familiar with, but is one of utmost importance to RCAP and much of the work each of you do every day in support of rural communities. It was on this date 50 years ago that President Johnson declared in his State of the Union Address that:

“This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort. It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it.”

While LBJ initiated an incredible number of programs collectively known as the “Great Society”, which I will note later, it was the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, creating the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) that would eventually lead to the organizations that we know today as RCAPs. Under Title III of that Act, “Special Programs to Combat Rural Poverty” were created to provide funding to rural families and communities; this assistance included loans that could be made to purchase land, improve the operation of family farms, allow participation in cooperative ventures, and finance non-agricultural business enterprises, while local cooperatives which served low-income rural families could apply for another category of loans for similar purposes. Community Action Programs were authorized under Title II leading to the creation of Community Action Agencies. Federal money was allocated to States according to their needs for job training, housing, health, and welfare assistance, and the States were then to distribute their shares of the Community Action grants on the basis of proposals from local public or non-profit private groups.

Within two years 1,000 community action agencies (CAA) had been established across America. One of these agencies, Total Action Against Poverty (TAP) out of the Roanoke Valley of Virginia, was chartered the following year. Like other CAAs, TAP was focused on helping poverty stricken individuals and families. However, they realized that to help families out of poverty conditions, community water and wastewater systems were required to provide essential services, protect the health of rural Americans and provide a foundation for economic development. These needs went beyond helping individuals to helping communities and to building community facilities. By 1968 TAP decided to expand its mission throughout the five adjacent counties by creating a new organization for these purposes and asking the OEO for support. Chartered as the Demonstration Water Project (DWP), this non-profit corporation received its first OEO grant in 1969. The success of this approach led DWP to approach OEO in 1971 to broaden its operations resulting in the award of a $6 million grant in 1972 to conduct a national program that then formed the National Demonstration Water Project (NDWP) on March 19, 1973 that included affiliates in five other states.

NDWP developed a program strategy involving field demonstration projects, research and publications, an information clearinghouse, provision of management and technical assistance and through the vehicle of the Commission on Rural Water (an ancillary group established by NDWP) a national alliance of concerned individuals and organizations to bring about needed changes and improvements in rural water and waste disposal services. Such awareness building was necessary since at this time millions of rural families were without community water and wastewater services. Between 1974 and 1978 NDWP spent over $9 million through its affiliates (which had grown by 1978 to 16 statewide affiliates and 35 special program agency partners) to improve or create water and wastewater systems in rural America. At this time NDWP funds were primarily for direct construction related costs.

In 1977 the Community Services Administration (CSA – successor to OEO) provided a grant to NDWP to study and survey the possible role of CAAs in water and sewer development in rural areas. Virtually all of the CAAs indicated a dire need for additional services in this area and over half were already providing these services. Realizing that the extent of the needs required a revised model, NDWP embarked on an initiative to transfer expertise to intermediaries for local development projects. The first two regions identified where interest was strongest and where viable organizations were in place that could be trained to provide assistance in water and sewer matters were RHI in New England (later to become RCAP Solutions) and the Center for Rural Affairs (which later spun off this work to create the Midwest Assistance Program) . These agencies would provide consulting assistance to rural communities and use existing development funding instead of relying on direct project subsidies as was the original NDWP design.

NDWP’s primary funding was transferred to the Economic Development Administration while CSA looked to expand the regional technical assistance model created by NDWP. From 1979 to 1981 CSA designated and funded four additional RCAPs: Virginia Water Project (now the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project); Rural Community Assistance Corporation, Great Lakes Rural Network (now WSOS Community Action Commission) and Community Resource Group along with RHI and MAP. CSA used a six-region geographic division of the country first developed by the Farmers Home Administration and funded these as the Rural Community Assistance Program. In 1981 CSA was abolished and its duties transferred to the Office of Community Services within the Department of Health and Human Service. In 1989 the six RCAP agencies reorganized NDWP as RCAP, Inc. with a new governance structure that survives to this day: a 12 member Board of Directors consisting of one representative from each region and six at-large members.

RCAP is You!

While the path towards the final development of RCAP was not a “short or easy struggle,” it was an endeavor that has resulted in RCAP assisting and continuing to assist thousands of rural communities not only on water and wastewater needs but also in the areas of affordable housing, solid waste and recycling services, economic development initiatives and the creation of revolving loan funds for community development.

All of you who work for an RCAP are an enduring legacy of fifty years of struggle to alleviate rural poverty, to provide essential water and wastewater services, to create opportunities for affordable housing and home ownership, and to promote economic development. There is no more important way that you can dedicate your lives than by helping our fellow inhabitants of this great land in their attempts to provide a better life for themselves, their families and their communities. While your work to improve the living conditions and opportunities of rural Americans may not always be recognized, be assured that my appreciation for your dedication and your endeavors is boundless. RCAP and its employees constitute an organization and a force for good like no other; one that has a long history of success in its chosen field, one that draws its strength from the values, aspirations and resourcefulness of rural America, one that ensures that equal opportunity is paramount, one that is confident in its abilities, and one that is continually looking for ways to improve its range and delivery of services to those in need.

A Brief Digression – The Great Society’s Accomplishments

Not that I am an historian (I am a Texan!) but I wanted to simply remind everyone what one man, albeit the President, and Congress can accomplish. While everyone may not agree with or be supportive of what was accomplished in the five years LBJ was President, there is no denying the importance of this legacy on the United States. It is almost too easy to compare these achievements with that of our current Administration and Congress. I often wonder where our nation would be if the issues faced in those years were being addressed by our current Congress. But enough of all that, it’s easier for the following legislation and programs created from 1964-1968 to speak for themselves and this list is by no mean exhaustive!

• Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968
• Voting Rights Act
• Economic Opportunity Act – which created Head Start and VISTA in addition to what was described earlier
• Medicare
• Medicaid
• Wilderness Protection Act
• Endangered Species Protection Act
• Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
• National Environmental Policy Act
• National Endowment for the Art and the Humanities
• Omnibus Housing Act, Fair Housing Act
• Stronger Air and Water Quality Acts
• Appalachian Regional Commission
• Elementary and Secondary Education Act
• Higher Education Act
• Expansion of Food Stamps
• Child Nutrition Act
• Public Broadcasting Act – Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Public Radio
• Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act
• Creation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Urban Mass Transit Administration

One final note (from this veteran) on LBJ: he was the first member of Congress to volunteer for service in WWII (sworn in on December 9, 1941) and was awarded the Silver Star while serving in the Pacific. While the Vietnam War was his ultimate downfall, I believe it is important to remember all the many accomplishments of LBJ, including those that led to the creation of what are now the RCAPs.

A Vision Fulfilled – An Excerpt from LBJ’s State of the Union Address on January 8, 1964:

Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope–some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.

This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.

It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it. One thousand dollars invested in salvaging an unemployable youth today can return $40,000 or more in his lifetime.

Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support. But this attack, to be effective, must also be organized at the State and the local level and must be supported and directed by State and local efforts.

For the war against poverty will not be won here in Washington. It must be won in the field, in every private home, in every public office, from the courthouse to the White House.

The program I shall propose will emphasize this cooperative approach to help that one-fifth of all American families with incomes too small to even meet their basic needs.

Our chief weapons in a more pinpointed attack will be better schools, and better health, and better homes, and better training, and better job opportunities to help more Americans, especially young Americans, escape from squalor and misery and unemployment rolls where other citizens help to carry them.

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

But whatever the cause, our joint Federal-local effort must pursue poverty, pursue it wherever it exists–in city slums and small towns, in sharecropper shacks or in migrant worker camps, on Indian Reservations, among whites as well as Negroes, among the young as well as the aged, in the boom towns and in the depressed areas.

Our aim is not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it. No single piece of legislation, however, is going to suffice.

We will launch a special effort in the chronically distressed areas of Appalachia.

We must expand our small but our successful area redevelopment program.

We must enact youth employment legislation to put jobless, aimless, hopeless youngsters to work on useful projects.

We must distribute more food to the needy through a broader food stamp program.

We must create a National Service Corps to help the economically handicapped of our own country as the Peace Corps now helps those abroad.

We must modernize our unemployment insurance and establish a high-level commission on automation. If we have the brain power to invent these machines, we have the brain power to make certain that they are a boon and not a bane to humanity.

We must extend the coverage of our minimum wage laws to more than 2 million workers now lacking this basic protection of purchasing power.

We must, by including special school aid funds as part of our education program, improve the quality of teaching, training, and counseling in our hardest hit areas.

We must build more libraries in every area and more hospitals and nursing homes under the Hill-Burton Act, and train more nurses to staff them.

We must provide hospital insurance for our older citizens financed by every worker and his employer under Social Security, contributing no more than $1 a month during the employee’s working career to protect him in his old age in a dignified manner without cost to the Treasury, against the devastating hardship of prolonged or repeated illness.

We must, as a part of a revised housing and urban renewal program, give more help to those displaced by slum clearance, provide more housing for our poor and our elderly, and seek as our ultimate goal in our free enterprise system a decent home for every American family.

We must help obtain more modern mass transit within our communities as well as low-cost transportation between them.

Above all, we must release $11 billion of tax reduction into the private spending stream to create new jobs and new markets in every area of this land.

Federal Funding Outlook

Ari Neumann, RCAP Policy Director

Legislative update for NL

As of press time, the federal funding outlook for the new fiscal year, set to begin October 1, is murky at best. The Senate and the House have each passed Continuing Resolutions that would keep the government open until the end of the year so that they can pass regular appropriations bills. However, the House version contains a ban on funding for the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare”), while the Senate version fully funds the ACA’s implementation.

The two sides are fundamentally opposed, and as of now, it is not clear how the stalemate will be resolved. We expect there to be last-minute negotiations that will hopefully lead to some resolution, but there may well be a government shutdown in early October.

In the event that there is a shutdown, all non-essential government functions will temporarily cease. USDA Rural Development state and area offices will be closed, and EPA, USDA-RD, HUD, and other federal employees will be forced to stay home. So, federal agencies that normally provide funds for rural infrastructure will not be able to process applications for the duration of the shutdown.

Depending on how the funding dispute is resolved—whether the government is shut down or not—we expect to see either a Continuing Resolution or the full slate of appropriations bills passed this fall that will fund the government for Fiscal Year 2014. Then, we will start the budget and appropriations processes again next January for Fiscal Year 2015 (beginning Oct. 1, 2014). Once Congress provides some certainty about spending levels for the next year, agencies will begin to process applications again and proceed with the development of rural infrastructure projects.

Since most infrastructure projects are long-term in nature, we encourage communities to continue the planning process so that you are ready when the fiscal situation is resolved. As federal funds become scarcer, those communities who are best prepared stand the best chance of receiving limited funds. And, as always, we encourage you to look for funding from state and local governments, as well as private sources of capital (where available) to supplement the costs borne by the ratepayers.

The federal funding picture is murky, but regardless of how the current spending debate is resolved, the federal budget as a share of the national economy is almost certain to shrink over the next decade. That will mean less money from the federal government for water infrastructure and an emphasis on direct and guaranteed loans, rather than grants.

Quality Training to Revitalize Communities and Sustain Jobs in the Water Sector

Sukhwindar Singh, Director of Education and Training, RCAP Solutions

SS1

RCAP Solutions is 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 Northeastern United States and Caribbean.  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 years, RCAP personnel have documented the unique challenges that small systems face in providing reliable drinking water and wastewater services that meet federal and state standards.  These challenges can include but are not limited to a lack of financial resources and customer base, aging infrastructure, management limitations, and high staff turnover.  RCAP offers educational outreach to small systems to raise awareness of technical, managerial, and financial issues.  These RCAP tools, resources and methods assist system personnel and their boards to successfully operate and manage the system while addressing some of the barriers mentioned above.

Within the past year or so, RCAP has developed and released the following documents, materials and training programs that support economic and workforce initiatives:

  • An infographic on how Water Infrastructure Creates Jobs is available for free download here.
  • Color Brochures for recruiting new drinking water and wastewater operators to the water sector.  These brochures encourage those who are entering the workforce or those looking for a career change to consider a job in drinking water/wastewater operations.  These brochures highlight the benefits of jobs in the water sector, the education  and training experience needed and are suitable for distribution at high school and college career fairs, community colleges, technical schools and programs that help veterans find work.  These brochures are available at www.rcap.org/opcareers.
  • Wastewater Training Modules for Operators of Small Systems- intended primarily for training contact hours/CEUs or precertification training, there are 12-14 modules newly developed for entry level operators on a variety of topics including Wastewater Chemistry, Overview of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) Program, Energy Efficiency, Overview of Wastewater, Lagoons and Ponds, Preliminary and Primary Treatment, Wastewater Sampling and Preservation, Wastewater Disinfection, Introduction to Wastewater Plant Instrumentation and Monitoring, Wastewater Math for Operators, and a number of other topics.  Learning objectives, exercises, assessment and evaluation are core elements of these modules and characteristic of the RCAP approach. Seven of these modules were developed by RCAP Solutions and its qualified contractor Cotton Environmental.   All the training modules were developed around the most recent findings from the Association of Boards of Certification Need-to Know Critera for Wastewater Treatment Operators. In order to access our operator training materials, we encourage you to sign up for an RCAP Solutions training or contact us about setting up events near you.
  • Our first RCAP Solutions Summer Series Operator Training Tour was a success! Full day workshops were held in South Burlington, Vermont; Rutland, Vermont; Concord, New Hampshire and Worcester, Massachusetts.  The morning trainings consisted of the Clean Water Act & NPDES Program, Overview of Wastewater Treatment and Discharge Monitoring Reports.  The afternoon sessions consisted of the Intro to Chemistry and Wastewater Sampling and Preservation.  In addition, local officials and managers from surrounding municipalities were invited to a sponsored Lunch and Learn to learn more about wastewater characteristics and stream standards so that they are better informed to effectively manage their system.  In all, approximately 40 individuals attended the trainings with representatives from 14 communities with Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWS) and over 21 operators.  A review of pre and post-test scores for the attendees notes an overall improvement in understanding of basic concepts at the conclusion of the event and all attendees noted that the workshops met their expectations, and that class participation was encouraged and that the presenter(s) demonstrated knowledge of the topic and good presentation skills.  Many attendees noted that they would attend RCAP Solutions trainings again and found the material and video demonstrations quite useful.
  • RCAP has also released a new series of wastewater focused videos that highlight wastewater collection systems, small on-site wastewater treatment systems, energy efficiency, and preparing for emergencies for operators.  This compliments a series of videos already produced by RCAP  on wastewater processes for non-operators.  All these videos can be found here:  www.rcap.org/dwwwtreatment and www.rcap.org/newresources .

There are many additional materials and programs that have not been mentioned here.  Our goal was to highlight some newer materials that have recently been developed courtesy of our various funders.  All operator training workshops, modules, and videos were presented and funded as a part of the EPA/RCAP Training and Technical Assistance for Small, Publicly Owned WW Systems, Onsite/Decentralized Wastewater Systems and Private Well Owners to Improve Water Quality Project 2012-2013. Please contact Sukh Singh, Director of Education and Training for information about these materials at ssingh@rcapsolutions.org or 814.861.7072.