Blossburg Borough, PA Case Study

By Seth Loht, GIS Specialist

Blossburg is a rural community located in northern Pennsylvania in Tioga County. Blossburg originated as a coal mining town in the early 1800’s and the industry thrived for nearly 150 years. Coal mining has given way to natural gas in recent decades and Blossburg has experienced several ‘boom and bust’ periods from this industry. The population of the borough was 1,538 in 2010, decreasing from 1,956 in 1960. The median household income level was $34,924 in 2010, more than $15,000 lower than the Pennsylvania state median.

Many rural communities in Pennsylvania face significant technical, managerial, and financial issues with their water and wastewater systems. Blossburg Borough is fortunate to have very competent leadership and a capable staff, but often faces issues with aging infrastructure and lack of funding. Additionally, the water and sewer authority needed an updated asset inventory and updated water and wastewater system maps.

In 2014, USDA Rural Community Development Initiative awarded RCAP Solutions a grant to provide GPS and GIS mapping services to a number of rural low income communities including Blossburg. The borough manager and public works department have been very involved and supportive of every aspect of the RCAP project. Over a four week period in spring 2016, RCAP and the Blossburg Borough authority staff completed a comprehensive GPS inventory of the water and wastewater system. This data was then transferred to a GIS mapping system. RCAP Solutions also partnered with the Tioga County GIS Department and Tioga County Source Water Protection Coalition to create an online water and wastewater web application to view the authority’s data.

This project allowed Blossburg Borough to have an accurate, detailed inventory of their assets, as well as access to an online GIS platform to view their system maps. This will help them immensely with the effectiveness of their day to day operational work and will also assist with long term planning. Additionally, RCAP Solutions was able to network and establish important relationships with several Tioga County departments and has become very involved with the Source Water Protection Coalition.

Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI) – A small but important funding source

RCDI is specifically targeted to training and technical assistance for rural low-income communities and affords them opportunities they might not otherwise get access to.  The community must be 80% below the state non-metropolitan median household income and below a maximum population threshold of 50,000.  The communities that have participated in utility mapping and managerial and financial capacity building with RCAP Solutions with this funding would not have been able to afford these valuable services otherwise. 

Many of the communities that RCAP Solutions works with have no maps of their system at all or very outdated and/or incomplete maps.  Full system mapping enables them to: respond quickly to minimize threatened or actual interruption of service; facilitate asset tracking and repair and replacement planning and implementation; provide documentation for system upgrade engineering reports and funding applications; and support emergency planning and response activities.  In the northeast U.S., GPS locating of assets is critical in the winter months when valuable time can be lost finding and uncovering system components. The maps are created in both digital and physical formats for the community and they receive training on how to access and manipulate the digital maps for optimal system operation and management.

Under the RCDI program, RCAP Solutions also conducts additional training to benefit lower-income communities including managerial capacity building. In New York RCDI has also helped RCAP to facilitate training of community Code Enforcement Officers and other residential wastewater professionals on topics related to onsite wastewater treatment systems, including fundamentals, inspection procedures, and technology alternatives.

RCDI is very broad in what it allows a Technical Assistance Provider to do to support low income communities and really concentrates on a number of aspects of a community’s needs to foster self-sufficiency and overall community development.

Click on the map below to expand and see locations of over 30 current and past RCDI projects in New York, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico.