Honey Pot Hill Orchards Case Study

We’ve been here 93 years. Why is this suddenly a problem?

Honey Pot Hill Orchards, Stow, Massachusetts

by Mia McDonald, Technical Assistance Provider

Honey Pot Hill Orchards is a family run business located in Stow, Massachusetts, about 30 miles west of Boston. Stow is a small, quiet town of approximately 6,600 residents. When Clifford Martin purchased the 180-acre farm in 1926, he sold apples, pears and peaches both wholesale and retail. His son, Richard, was one of the first in the country to offer pick-your-own apples; and that experience continues with Richard’s son and granddaughter. Andrew and Chelcie Martin are currently the third and fourth generation and run a fully retail operation with pick-your-own apples, peaches and blueberries, as well as a retail and bake shop, a maze and other family-friendly fun and entertainment. These resourceful business owners now operate their thriving family legacy which is currently nominated as one of USA Today’s Best Apple Orchards of 2017.

For the entire history of the business, the farm has utilized one drilled well with no treatment for the labor residence, public bathrooms and operation of the cider press and snack bar. In late 2015, the farm contacted the town health department to inspect a new donut machine in the snack shop. The inspector had recently retired and the town was now utilizing an association of boards who were not familiar with the farm. During the on-site inspection, the farmers were informed that they should be a public water system and that they had already been reported to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MA DEP).

“We’ve been here 93 years. Why is this suddenly a problem?” asked Andrew Martin.

MA DEP had recently discovered many farms and small businesses operating under similar circumstances and all were subject to the same regulations: all were considered small public water systems and were required to take the steps necessary to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act. MA DEP recognized Honey Pot’s well as a transient non-community public drinking water system because it serves more than 25 people more than 60 days per year. Very understandably, the owners were confused at the new designation as they had operated the business without the additional requirements and regulations of being a public water system for generations. They had also heard horror stories from fellow farms who had become public water systems, undergone testing and were now burdened with tens of thousands of dollars in contractor, testing and equipment fees.

As involved and successful farmers in New England, the Martins were already dutifully complying with local, state and federal regulations governing their crops, business and employment practices. They contacted their local Farm Bureau for assistance in resolving this issue without the need to become a public water system. The Martins were hopeful that by reducing connections or usage, they could avoid the designation of a public water system and the additional requirements, fees and costs. They were willing to stop public use of the bathrooms, post signs that stated the water was not potable and only use the water after it had been thoroughly heated. But MA DEP was not open to the proposed changes because of the exposure of the public to the water system.

At this point the Martins contacted their State Representative, Kate Hogan, for assistance in communicating with MA DEP. They were then referred to Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge. The legislative offices were not able to help as the MA DEP falls under the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The Martins met with MA DEP in Boston, then in the Central Regional Office in Worcester on multiple occasions. These attempts at discussion and compromise proved unsuccessful. During this time, the deadlines for compliance passed and the farm received an administrative consent order with possible fines. The situation had reached a stalemate.

An RCAP Solutions Technical Assistance Provider for Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island was working with Tougas Family Farm, a fruit farm in nearby Northborough, Massachusetts, on brainstorming new ideas for water supply during their busy apple-picking season. At a Massachusetts Fruit Growers Association meeting, the Martins were discussing their situation with other farmers. The Tougas family suggested meeting with RCAP to see if they could help. The Martins were reluctant as they feared RCAP worked for MA DEP and had little belief that the situation could be resolved, but they agreed to meet and discuss the situation, regardless.

As with many of the rural locations in which RCAP technical assistance providers (TAPs) get the opportunity to work, it was a beautiful site to visit. Even in early March, the gracefully gnarled apples trees rose and fell with the hills that covered the farm. Father and daughter, Andrew and Chelcie Martin, met with RCAP on a chilly spring morning to talk about what had been happening to this farm in the cozy apartment in which the seasonal laborers were soon to reside again. The Martins were trying to finish pruning the apple trees and were anxiously awaiting the arrival of their seasonal help to assist. They were tired and frustrated. They explained the arduous process of complying with the many labor and health laws under which a family-owned farm is subject. Chelcie Martin recounted the year that the health inspection of the labor housing had found that the silverware needed polishing. The laborers were due any day and she spent hours late into the night shining each piece of silverware in order to not delay their much-awaited arrival. They were responsible and caring business owners; but they had enough on their long lists and did not wish to take on the responsibility of a public water system.

After a thorough review of the thick file the Martins were keeping of their correspondence with MA DEP, RCAP had good news and bad news. The Martins’s farm, Honey Pot Hill Orchard, Inc., had already been assigned a public water system identification number and the lengthy application process was most likely not necessary. The Martins were surprised: “We are already a public water system?” Chelcie Martin asked.

The next step was to review the administrative consent order that had been issued to the water system and make a list of the requirements. Although this designation was unwanted, it did save the already very busy business owners from the application process and allowed them to continue down the list of requirements in the consent order. RCAP Solutions provided an emergency response plan and cross connection survey as required by the order. RCAP also drafted personnel plans, a sampling plan and other forms required by the order and assisted in the submission of all documents to MA DEP. All of this was completed at no cost to the system under grant funding from the Environmental Protection Agency. The corrective action plan was drafted at this first meeting.

Chelcie Martin volunteered to become the certified operator for the system. RCAP assisted in the completion of an emergency certification application for licensure to cover her until she met the requirements to apply for full licensure. She attended the RCAP/AWWA full day training on the Safe Drinking Water Act to gain the knowledge needed to pass the operator exam. Chelcie Martin also took the time from her own busy schedule to study materials provided by RCAP and, due to her diligence, passed the exam on the first try.

The final step was to establish communication with primacy to make sure everyone was on the same page. RCAP attended meetings between the system and primacy just to provide support for any additional requirements. MA DEP was pleased to see the progress on the consent order action items. MA DEP’s comments were received and incorporated into the items to be submitted.

MA DEP had seemed pleased with the progress and all action items had been completed so RCAP Solutions closed the project, but a few months later, it was time for the Martins to submit their first annual report for the water system. The state’s electronic filing system would not recognize Chelcie Martin’s operator designation. After a little probing, it was discovered that her application had never been processed past the emergency designation. It is unclear how this detail had been missed, but whatever the cause, the reports were rejected. The Martins reached out to RCAP again for assistance so with permission from MA DEP, one of RCAP’s certified operators worked with Ms. Martin to review the reports and submitted them under his license. After the reports were successfully submitted, Chelcie Martin was able to apply for and receive full operator status for very small systems.

Utilizing their experience with water systems and their existing relationship with MA DEP, RCAP Solutions was able to work with the business owners to bring their water system into full compliance. Through the entire process both the business owners and the primacy agency were looking for more information, but messages were not getting through and communication was failing. RCAP was able to act as a liaison between the water system and primacy to achieve the goals of both sides: continued provision of clean, safe water. The order was fully resolved and the Martins were ready for their busy season to begin in early August.

“It was a very stressful time,” remarked Chelcie Martin. Even after achieving full compliance, she remains vigilant about the new requirements and responsibilities of being a public water system which include maintaining her licensure, water testing and reporting. They are fortunate that their well produces high quality water that meets all standards. The Martins were appreciative of the knowledge and time that RCAP Solutions was able to provide to help them understand the regulations. They are also thankful that the services provided by RCAP Solutions lightened the financial burden they had originally expected with becoming a public water system.

 

 

Operation and Maintenance Plans: A Blue Print of Your System

Untitled2

 

 

 

 

Thomas W. Essig, Jr., RCAP Solutions Pennsylvania and New Jersey State Lead

Overview:

A system’s Operation and Maintenance Plan (OMP) is a formal document that describes how a water system is to be safely operated on a daily basis. It details how to provide system service while adhering to permit requirements and safeguarding public health. This plan contains a comprehensive description of water sources, treatment processes, storage tank data and distribution system information. It must be prepared in a way that provides accurate depictions of daily routine operational and maintenance procedures. It should include examples of record keeping and emergency response procedures.

The OMP should be prepared completed in a way that it clearly explains to another operator how to run the water system and keep it in compliance with all laws, rules and regulations. This document ensures adequate safe drinking water to the community if current system personnel were unable to operate the system for whatever reason. It provides direction so that all employees are aware of their individual roles and responsibilities for operating the system. Because all waster systems, even those of similar design, are run differently – the template should be customized to each system’s size, source water, treatment techniques and distribution system needs. It should convey a complete and concise understanding of the water system’s operations.

This chart shows the interrelationships of an Operations and Maintenance Plan with other important planning activities of a water system.

This chart shows the interrelationships of an Operations and Maintenance Plan with other important planning activities of a water system.

This critical system document should be reviewed and updated on an annual basis at minimum. If new system infrastructure is expanded or assets are added, they should be included in as much detail as possible to the plan. There should be multiple copies of the plan kept at different locations and it should be distributed to operations staff, management and board members. This is to help ensure that a copy of the plan is available for use should the plant or treatment facility suddenly go out of service due to a natural or man caused emergency such as a flooding event while ensuring that all stakeholders of the water system gain a basic understanding of infrastructure assets, locations and operations.

It is interesting to note that while many state primacy agencies have produced OMP manuals and templates, there is not a standardized OMP document. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a check list of items to be included in an OMP and many states accept a system “SOP” – Standard Operating Procedures document produced by the engineer or operator to serve as an OMP. So it is important for a water system to check in with their regulatory agency to determine what type of document is needed to fulfill the OMP requirement. The various primacy templates also vary in what should be included in an OMP as well as the level of technical sophistication required. Examples of this include latitude and longitude locations for system assets or providing various customer notification forms in English and Spanish. A copy of the completed OMP is typically required to be kept at the system facility and is to be made available upon request from state primacy staff.

Components of an OMP:

This graph demonstrates the benefits of a good preventative maintenance over time. Managed deterioration demonstrated by proper maintenance within the management zone increases the useful life of the asset versus a “no maintenance scenario” of running an asset to failure.

This graph demonstrates the benefits of a good preventative maintenance over time. Managed deterioration demonstrated by proper maintenance within the management zone increases the useful life of the asset versus a “no maintenance scenario” of running an asset to failure.

Most OMPs begin with basic system data such as the system name, public water system identification number, address, contact information, system type, the person preparing the plan and the date completion and any subsequent revision or updates. Additional information can include: system ownership; responsible officials; service area; population served; permit numbers; and listing various operator certifications.

The OMP then often “flows” in a way similar to the way that water processes through the system. This includes records for sources such as wells, springs, purchased water, pumps, booster pumps and master meter information. More detailed information on sources can include:

  • Well location, date drilled, yield, depth, location, static and pumped water levels, pipe diameter and if casing is grouted
  • Well pump information such as type of pump, manufacturer, horse power, booster pumps, whether controls are manual, digital or automatic and if there is a SCADA – remote control system
  • Important master meter records can include location, size, type, if there is chart or digital data recording and the last calibration date

The next topic covered in the OMP defines the system treatment processes and is one of the most important components of an OMP. This section is fairly comprehensive and covers procedures for maximizing operating techniques and preventative maintenance of your facilities and assets. A well-organized OMP helps ensure critical activities are performed by staff on time. A proper maintenance program and schedule will increase the working life of your equipment, thus reducing operating costs over time. Typically system assets are identified, flowed by operation techniques and the maintenance programs. Items to be considered for inclusion in this section are:

  • Disinfection chemical utilized, strength, chemical supplier, chemical feeder type data and design contact time and chlorine residual
  • Descriptions of raw and finished water storage including locations, capacities, specifications and age
  • Distribution information should include pipe material, diameter, cross connection and back flow programs, as well as the number and location of valves, hydrants and meters
  • A distribution system map and treatment system schematic should be provided, as well as water main replacement contact information
  • Spare parts and chemical inventories and location with contact information for the local supplier
  • An equipment manufacturer’s operation and maintenance specifications attachment and local vendor contact information
  • Analytical laboratory contact information with policies and procedures for system monitoring and sampling protocols

The next section of an OMP will typically describe start-up and shut down procedures and should go into as much detail as necessary to conduct these activities. Considering all of the equipment involved in running a water system, this information can be quite detailed and lengthy depending on the size of the system. Items requiring consideration are the location of start-up and shutdown equipment, controls and electrical equipment. A check list should be included for start-up equipment and chemical inspections, as well as pre-shutdown procedures and activities. Additional items here should also include:

  • Tasks such as checking gauges, where and when to check chlorine residuals, visual equipment inspections, valve exercising policy and fire hydrant flushing frequency
  • Routine operations should be described as to who is responsible for performing each task and the frequency – daily, weekly, monthly etc.
  • System emergency flags such as a drop in water pressure and distribution entry point residual or rapidly draining storage tanks should have subsequent emergency operating procedures
  • Contact information and techniques for customer and regulatory official notifications and protocols for emergency response including incident follow-up actions
  • Copies of the annual Consumers Confidence Report and the Sanitary Survey should be attached
  • Emergency mutual aid agreements with local water systems or membership information with a state WARN (Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network) should be included

Conclusions:

The OMP is a dynamic and all-inclusive document that covers critical aspects of properly running a water system.  Research for this article from EPA guidance tools and various state primacy templates has demonstrated that there is a wide variance in plan requirements and complexity. Standardization of OMPs would be of benefit by easing plan preparation, providing better comprehension by new system operators and improving emergency response in large multi-state disaster events.   The RCAP national network of field technical assistance providers can help small systems prepare an OMP and often at no cost to the system.

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.

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.

Case Study – Nitrate Contamination Causes Identification and Abatement

By James P. Starbard M.S., REHS/RS, Program Resource Specialist, RCAP Solutions5538107e1c883.image

RCAP Solutions was contacted by the Property Manager of a U.S. Housing and Urban Development owned property which houses elderly and disabled individuals. The Property Manager had just received a “Do Not Drink Order” from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health due to high nitrate levels and was seeking RCAP Solutions Assistance.

RCAP Solutions Specialists met with the community’s Property Manager and reviewed the Do Not Drink Order and the requirements set forth in it, one being that a Title 5 Inspection (septic system inspection) be performed. The RCAP Solutions Specialist is a licensed Title 5 Inspector and agreed to do the inspection for the community. The initial septic inspection found no visual signs of failure or malfunction including the septic tanks and the leach field area. During this inspection it was also noted that the community had no room to move infrastructure as they did not own their whole Zone 1, the wastewater components including the leach field are in the Zone 1 and many wetland/surface water features surround the community.

Not seeing any issues visually, the investigation of the septic system continued with the pumping of all septic tanks and inspection of them empty. Again, no cracks or voids were witnessed and a cause of the nitrate spikes remained a mystery. Exploring the possibility that the wellhead may be compromised leading to the nitrate spike a camera inspection was performed and showed so issues.

Focusing back on the septic system, all wastewater pipes were inspected using a camera, again no pipe breaks were witnessed. One wastewater pipe of greatest concern ran within 30 ft. of the wellhead and was pressure tested, holding a constant pressure for fifteen minutes indicating no issues.

Spring came to Massachusetts and the snow melted, revealing a sign of septic failure in one of the leach field trenches. The trench in question was already green and all the land around it was still dormant, showing that the trench had failed.

The community hired an Engineer and working with a septic system contractor and the RCAP Solutions Specialist the leach field was uncovered for inspection. It was discovered that the leach field was not installed according to the engineer plans and did not meet Massachusetts codes past or present. As a result, the septic trench showing failure was receiving 80% of the wastewater flow while the other 9 septic trenches received little to none.

The septic system leach field was repaired to meet the specifications of the original as-build plan and tested to ensure equal flow to each of the septic trenches. The failing septic trench was turned off by installing a valve and was given time for the soil to regenerate as planned.

In the coming months the community saw a dramatic drop in nitrate levels in their drinking water from a high of 23.1 mg/l before the septic repairs to a low of 4.9 mg/l leading to a brief lifting of the “Do Not Drink Order” by the MASS DEP. However, at some points the nitrate levels fluctuate almost seasonably and sometimes exceed the 10 mg/l threshold, leading to the “Do Not Drink Order” being re-implemented. The failing septic trench was turned back after a number of months off and is working as designed showing the soil did indeed regenerate itself.

Currently RCAP Solutions Specialists are working with the community on options for either Nitrogen Reduction Treatment retrofitting of the septic system or filtering treatment in the drinking water system to bring nitrate levels permanently below 10 mg/l, as all infrastructure in place appears to be working as designed and relocation of components is not feasible due to land constraints.

Investigation of a drinking water contamination issue like nitrate without a clear cause and effect involves a lot of monitoring and exploration. At no time was any bacteria contamination found during weekly water quality samples despite the evidence that the septic system did have an effect on Nitrate levels. All of this work was done under the oversight and approval of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the local Board of Health.

Regional Ideas for CUPSS’ Repair & Replacement Cost Schedule

Arthur Astarita, Maine State Lead, RCAP Solutions, Inc

RCAP Solutions’ experience has shown that small-sized systems (<3300 connections), have a wide-range of ways to document the need for capital improvements.  Typically, the superintendent has a list showing improvements including costs that is used to plan proposed upgrades.  This “mental list” is generated and updated when events arise but does not contain a comprehensive look at the entire system and its’ financial health.  It is not holistic view which is required to assure the system is operated in a long term and responsible manner.  Conducting a collaborative infrastructure assessment through an asset management planning process produces a thorough document that can be utilized by the utility* and shared with the town or even regional economic development groups.

RCAP Solutions has been conducting asset management processes with five water utilities in Oxford County Maine (Figure 1).  These water utilities are relatively close geographically; the largest towns of Mexico and Rumford are separated by a bridge over the Androscoggin River.  The five towns are part of the nine-town River Valley Region of the Western Maine Economic Development Council (WMEDC-RVR).  The River Valley Region has a population of about 13,250.  “Public” water is delivered to about 12,000 people or 90% of the WMEDC-RVR population.  The drinking water for the residents of the four remaining towns is sourced by private wells.

The hub of this region is Rumford, the largest community and home to the largest employer, Canadian based Catalyst Corporation’s Wood Mill.  At the end of 2014, the mill employed 800 workers; within 5 months they laid off 50 people.  The mill is the critical economic lifeblood of the area.  The Rumford Water District* realizes about 30% of their revenue from the mill whereas the surrounding water utilities have many indirect benefits. A study by the Maine State Office of Policy and Management (OPM) of population trends between 2010 and 2030 predict a population decline of 33% WMEDC-RVR (http://maine.gov/economist/projections/index.shtml). Such estimates should weigh heavily on the regions’ towns and possible coping mechanisms should be activity discussed.

Figure 1:  Oxford County Water Infrastructure Asset Management Project showing the five core towns and the four other towns comprising the River Valley Region of the Western Maine Economic Development Council.

Figure 1: Oxford County Water Infrastructure Asset Management Project showing the five core towns and the four other towns comprising the River Valley Region of the Western Maine Economic Development Council.

RCAP Solutions’ project work for Andover and Canton Water Districts included creating a digital map of each system; the other three systems (Dixfield, Mexico, Rumford) already had digital maps.  The tables from digital map layers provided a raw inventory for critical water equipment such as hydrants, valves, distribution pipe, source, treatment and storage. Individually, each system carried that inventory into a spreadsheet containing questions including name, location, condition, installation date, life expectancy, criticality of failure and replacement cost.  Each utility completed an asset management plan (AMP) using EPA’s CUPSS software.  A quick view of each utility is shown in Table 1.

 

Table 1: Quick View of Utilities in this study (More details can be seen in the respective utility’s asset management plans-not included.  State of Maine MHI is $48,453

Table 1: Quick View of Utilities in this study (More details can be seen in the respective utility’s asset management plans-not included. State of Maine MHI is $48,453

Historically, most of the water utilities’ asset replacements, specifically valves and pipes, are driven by the State Department of Transportation and/or towns’ public works schedules.  If roads, culverts, sidewalks or bridges are on State or Town schedules for repaving, the water utilities are then consulted.  This silo scheduling creates interruptions with the water sectors’ normal replacement plans; it can also lead to replacing assets that have not reached their full useful life expectancy; payment for such pre-spending is the responsibility utility customers or town residents*.

Using the asset management process, the utilities can generate a repair/replacement (R&R) cost schedule.  Here, items can be grouped by decade or by logical project task(s).  This information is perhaps the most important and critical step in reaching effective utility management.  This report initializes priority and emphasis on improvement types along with the cost of those upgrades or maintenance activities.  The R&R cost schedule is critical, concise and organized. The information can be shared with decision makers overseeing the system, town, region and state. This sharing leads to enhancements to planning infrastructure improvements.  Such cooperation will improve cooperation between utilities, towns and state along with sharpening the budget process for everyone.

As Table 1 shows, the median household income (MHI) of the project towns are below the state MHI, thus they qualify for grant assistance from increasingly competitive (and dwindling) federal and state programs.  Historically, each water utility hires an engineering firm to scope the necessary capital improvements.  Individually, they submit funding applications and separately bid-out construction.  Consequently, they compete and are “ranked” against each other at two very important projects stages: funding and construction.  In this project example, the collective utilities total distribution pipe is 76 miles.  The amount of pipe, which generally relates to the amount of total assets, pales when compared to large and very large water systems.  Accordingly, if these small, geographically close utilities are treated as “one system”, economies of scale are visible.  Hiring one engineering firm for design and one construction company enhanced by bulk purchases of similar pipe, hydrants, valves, etc. could create cost savings on total collaboration-wide project.

To demonstrate an example process of collaboration between these five water systems, RCAP Solutions pooled each system’s asset management information into one CUPSS project.  The combined analysis shows 2200 assets worth $76.8M; 727 assets are at high risk. The CUPSS software produces a capital improvement schedule which can be exported for spreadsheet analysis.  A twenty-year improvement plan in five year increments can be presented.  Figure 2 shows the collective twenty-year CIP for the five utilities. These twenty-year expenses represent only 18% of the total collective replacement value.  The first ten years of capital costs by utility are shown in Figures, 3 and 4.

Figure 2: Oxford County Collaborative CIP Study – 20 Year CIP 2014-2034- 18% of the Total Collaborative Value

Figure 2: Oxford County Collaborative CIP Study – 20 Year CIP 2014-2034- 18% of the Total Collaborative Value

 

Granted each system has different scales of improvement costs. Some utilities need to review asset attributes in order to “smooth out” the overly large cost requirements in certain 5-year periods. However, costs to the collaborative are transparency and can be preserved by prorating costs along with factoring the capital expense with each utility’s revenue contribution to the collective.

Figure 3: Oxford County Collaborative CIP Study – 1st Five Years 2014-2019- 8% of the Total Collaborative Value

Figure 3: Oxford County Collaborative CIP Study – 1st Five Years 2014-2019- 8% of the Total Collaborative Value

Figure 4: Oxford County Collaborative CIP Study – 2nd Five Years 2020-2024- <1% of Total Collaborative Value

Figure 4: Oxford County Collaborative CIP Study – 2nd Five Years 2020-2024- <1% of Total Collaborative Value

A financial analysis of all five water utilities shows that perhaps jointly, they could accomplish the needed capital improvements.  The revenue expenses are shown in the following graphics and tables indicates that for the two year period of 2012 and 2013 there was a collective $1.7M surplus.

graphs

After individually funding the necessary utility reserves: emergency (~25% of operation expenses), debt service along with replacement of short-term assets (asset with <15 year life expectancy), a portion of a utility’s surplus could be collective pooled for capital improvements to create an economy of scale.  Of course, what certain projects are good of collaboration versus unique upgrades specific to an particular utility must be crafted.

This collaboration aids the water utilities’ sustainability and helps the economic development of the River Valley Region.  Improved infrastructure attracts businesses.  Using the existing framework of the WMEDC-RVR can help streamline planning amongst utilities, towns and regional groups. Given the OPM’s declining population projections and one pivotal declining employer in the RVR, it is RCAP’s opinion that the utilities and towns needs to 1) prepare for a lower revenue stream, 2) prudently accomplish as much infrastructure repair/replacement as possible, 3) collaborate in purchases and conducting infrastructure projects and 4) consider consolidating administrative operations.

As governmental subsidies decline, it is increasingly becoming apparent that small rural utilities must develop a holistic business plan which focusses on asset management in order to operate the system in a sustainable manner.  It is the long-term asset reserve that is financially critical and challenging.  However, it seems that individually, no one system can save reserves to significantly “buy down debt” of these expensive capital improvements while keeping customer rates reasonable.  If major employers decline, a ripple effect occurs to the revenue available; expenses increase for the ever declining population base.  Collectively working together could be a solution.

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.

 

A Local Leader’s Guide to Generating Legislative Advocacy for Your Project

advocacySukhwindar Singh, Director of Education and Training, RCAP Solutions

A recent conversation with a small wastewater system in southwestern Pennsylvania and then again with a small drinking water system in central Pennsylvania has reminded me of the need to highlight a couple of successful steps that small systems can take to build and develop legislative advocacy for local projects.  In its simplest terms, legislative advocacy means working with individual lawmakers and lawmaking bodies to gain support for your local initiatives and projects.  Such efforts are usually successful over a period of time and thus longer-term infrastructure development or rehab projects can be ideal community projects to highlight for your state and local representatives, even when the funding for the project is far down the road.   While legislative support can take several forms including a bill with funding attached, a bill with wording that supports a particular philosophy or helps to legitimize an issue, a bill with regulations that assist a target population or a local ordinance, it is often the budget advocacy and the political and moral support as well as links to other contacts that persuade most of our RCAP community leaders to improve efforts in this area.

Timing is a critical element in conducting effective legislative advocacy.   While many of our community leaders keep at it as often as they can, deciding when to push can be crucial to success.  Some things to consider on timing of requests are when lawmakers are about to take up something crucial to the issue such as an infrastructure bill, just before and during budget time, when a vote is likely to be very close or a veto is considered or when a bill can be amended, or when an issue in your community is drawing attention.  At the very least, legislative education and outreach should be a part of any community initiative linked to your project.  It is your chance to tell your community story and to identify clearly the local need and generate support for your project.  Secondly, it is important to remember that your legislators want to hear from you or your group directly.  These legislators represent you and a personal approach can be quite effective.  For agencies and organizations, advocates and lobbyists can also be effective in highlighting issues and creating awareness.  However, it should be remembered that nobody becomes effective in this area overnight or by “going it alone.”    It helps to assemble a team of allies that include your county planners, RCAP, local community and business leaders, and ultimately your project engineer.  Lastly, be prepared to discuss the economic impacts of your project in terms of jobs created or retained, local businesses impacts and prospects for local development, most recent income survey data or other median household income data, and highlight what other populations (tourists and recreation enthusiasts, educational, etc) will be attracted to your community after the project is funded and developed.  It also helps to identify and note the local cash and inkind match as this is an indicator of serious local preparation for this project.  With many communities competing for the same sources of funding, those that are often willing to think “outside the box” and prepare early to engage local and state representatives may be more successful at obtaining funding.

At RCAP Solutions, we have the resources and training materials to assist you in this area.  Contact your local technical assistance provider to begin planning your efforts.  Building successful support for your local project with legislators involves the following steps summarized below.  Remember also that you may need to build out from these steps and RCAP is here to assist.

1)      Make sure your local project is well-defined in terms of scope and project description, local need, local support and documentation of issue (compliance, funding, public health, other, etc.) and local match.

2)      Gather project allies, advocates, contacts and develop a coherent communication and coordination structure that provides consistent messaging and required actions of all parties.

3)      Learn about the legislative process at every opportunity and get to know your local and state legislators, county commissioners, and Legislative Director for your congressional district.

4)      Learn to write effective letters and emails to legislators about your project and begin communicating with these individuals in a personal and direct manner as well.

5)      Define and clarify your message as you move forward and remember that at any time you could be explaining the project for the first time to a newly elected legislator.

6)      Define and clarify your request or “ask” of the legislator.

7)      Develop a positive relationship with the media and get comfortable with staging local events such as tours, “meet and greets” and community-get togethers with legislative officials.  Offer to support such events if your legislator is looking for those local opportunities.

8)      Pay attention to the timing of your request or event, but take a longer term approach when it comes to the legislative advocacy process.

9)      Be prepared to discuss economic impacts of your proposed project and local efforts to support this project directly with your legislator.

10)   Do not quit, a solid advocacy effort never ends.

11)   Make sure to invite and include all project allies, contacts and your local legislators in check signing events (when you do eventually get that funding) and thank them for their efforts.

Lastly it may help to remember this.  Many areas that are now regularly discussed and funded by legislative bodies- environmental preservation, adult literacy education, services for the homeless-were unmentioned and, often, unheard of until concerted efforts by advocates brought them to lawmakers’ attention.  RCAP Solutions technical assistance staff advocate for rural communities and small drinking water and wastewater systems.  If your particular project fulfills a larger need or requires closure of a funding gap that similar projects face, then it may be time to make that connection for your legislator.

For web resources on this topic, please visit the Community Tool Box, a public service of the University of Kansas, maintained by the Work Group for Community Health and Development.  The Community Tool Box is a free, online resource that contains more than 7,000 pages of practical information for promoting community health and development, and is a global resource for professionals and grassroots groups.