Fail to Plan; Plan to Fail

By Kathy Rodgers, State Lead Maine

Providing Assistance with No Back-Up Plan Puts Everyone at Risk.

Emphasis must be placed on ensuring staff are cross-trained and appropriate documentation is available for continuity in operations.

A town manager in Maine, who found himself suddenly in charge of a small community water system, had quite the harrowing experience recently. Unfortunately, this avoidable story is not uncommon.  The small town’s water operator had suddenly taken ill and was hospitalized.  The back-up operator had passed away six months ago.  The community was quite remote, and the town manager was in desperate need of an operator who could help keep their two treatment plants operational.  The system had several treatment phases including pre-chlorination, filtration, aeration, and fluoridation that needed to be monitored and maintained.  After several days and several frantic calls later, they were connected to a licensed contract operator who was willing to drive two hours to investigate the situation.

Upon arrival, the contract operator was greeted by a very green public works employee who was set to be cross trained in the water department but had no working knowledge of the plants.  The public works employee confessed the regular operator, now hospitalized, had told him that all the information was “all up here” as he pointed to his temple.  It seemed the hospitalized operator had always felt his job was threatened and closely guarded operational information. That fear, which is often shared by undervalued operators, is unfortunate as it created a stressful situation for everyone left in his wake.

By the end of day one, the contract operator and the public works employee were able to determine where the maintenance logs and the test kits were located.  The seasoned contract operator was successfully able to show the public works employee how to run the daily test and record the meter readings.  Then the contract operator began searching for the operation and maintenance (O&M) manual or any standard operating procedures (SOPs), to figure out how the system worked, but to no avail.  There were no clear procedures found to follow to ensure the system was running properly.   Under stacks of unfiled paperwork, the contract operator was able to find an emergency response plan that hadn’t been updated in 18 years, which is recommended to be updated annually, but it was with very little detail and of little help.  With the assistance of contract operator’s administrative office, they were able to piece together clues as to how the facilities operated through state records and other pieces of information.

The alarms started sounding by day two.  Not that anyone really knew that alarms were sounding, as the hospitalized operator was the only one getting the notifications.  It was upon arrival to the plant that the public work employee observed the chlorine tank had run dry.  The proper ratio to prepare the chlorine solution was unknown.  The fluoride pump appeared to be unplugged.  Who knows why?  The public works employee was untrained in how to properly handle these dangerous chemicals. The contract operator stepped in again to help batch the chemicals and get the chemical feeds pumping.  The contract operator best recourse and advice was to encourage the town manager and the public works employee to reach out to their regular operator, while in the hospital, to get guidance.   Not an ideal situation for anyone.

This emergency could have all been avoided and continuity in service could have easily been maintained by having an O&M manual readily available.  The O&M manual serves not only as a tool for the operating and maintenance of the facilities for the personnel of the plant; but it also serves as road map for those who must step in when the primary operations’ crew is unavailable.   For the manual to be effective, vital information must be easy to find, quickly and efficiently.  The O&M manual is designed to give treatment system personnel and the back-up operator the proper understanding of techniques and references protocols necessary to efficiently operate their facilities.   Having an O&M manual which includes well written SOPs, and an emergency response plan will ensure that operations will be able continue in a situation when new or temporary staff must be trained quickly.

Moving forward the contract operator has been retained as the town’s back-up operator. His crew has already begun planning to assist with development of a functional O&M manual to eliminate this situation in the future.  The grateful town manager is now keenly aware of the need to document and to have a back-up plan in place.

When developing an O&M manual ask yourself:

  • What do I do on a daily and weekly basis to maintain my water or wastewater treatment system?
  • Do these activities or pieces of equipment that need maintenance involve SOPs, manufacturer’s specifications, or record keeping logs?
  • Do I have the right tools?
  • What documents or logs do I need to develop?

“Thank you so much for the help you guys have provided. You have been wonderful to work with. We will certainly be in touch.” – Town Manager of a Little Town, Anywhere, USA

Shared Solutions Bring Small Victories in Regional Collaboration

By Derik Dressler, PA Regionalization Specialist

As a system operator, manager, or board member you can be overwhelmed by the challenges that your small system routinely faces. While large challenges often demand more complex solutions, I would like to offer some small victories in regional collaboration that have proven to ease the challenges small system’s face. RCAP Solutions has assisted with establishing partnerships among several communities in the last number of years to lessen the burden on the system’s responsibilities. In these systems, the operators work with other operators in times of need whether in an urgent situation or a more routine basis. I would like to present a few real-world examples that led to solving some of these challenges. In one case, the new operator of a small system had no previous operating experience. The operator needed significant guidance and help to proficiently operate the system. In working with the system, RCAP was able to find the operator the help they needed from a neighboring system’s operator. This partnership eventually led to an ongoing working relationship that has proved to be very beneficial to the inexperienced operator. In another part of Pennsylvania, a small rural system needed a certified operator for the small filter plant that served their customers. The owners of the system were burdened by this task and did not know how to make this happen. RCAP was able to provide a list of operators in the area that were willing to operate the system and assist in reaching out to the certified operators. Within a few weeks the system obtained the services of a certified operator alleviating the non-compliance of the system. One other small rural system in Pennsylvania was experiencing significant water loss but was unaware of the exact location of the leak.

The system does not have sufficient leak detecting equipment or the experience needed to operate the equipment effectively. In consultation with RCAP, assistance was found from a neighboring system. The leak was located quickly, and the repair was completed within two days of noticing the water loss. All three examples show how regional collaboration can be effective. Even though the examples are a very small scale of what regional collaboration can be it is important to note the significant impact it had on each community. It is difficult to determine exactly how much impact each of these seemingly insignificant or small collaborative measures may have had. If the operator had not reached out to a more experienced operator for advice on important issues, where could they be now? If the second system did not collaborate with a certified operator to operate the system and continue in violation, what would that have meant for the system? If in fact, the system in the third example did not reach out to find help on the major leak could have it dewatered the system or impacted other portions of the system? While often large challenges demand large solutions, the truth is that we often do not fully comprehend the value in the small victories in collaborating with one another.

As a manager, operator, or board member of a small water system, what are some challenges your utility will face this year? How might partnerships help meet these challenges? RCAP offers free training and assistance in regional collaboration and offers partnership tools to help facilitate your regional collaboration efforts. If this sounds interesting to you, please reach out to Derik Dressler, Regional Collaboration Specialist at ddressler@rcapsolutions.org or 814-571-0727.

Door Hangers for COVID-19 Prevention

This spring, approximately 20,000 door hangers were distributed throughout central Massachusetts, with information in English and Spanish on COVID-19 prevention and symptoms, as part of a public health initiative funded by the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts (HFCM).

RCAP Solutions had recently been awarded a five-year Synergy Grant from HFCM, which was just getting off the ground with a focus on private well health in the north central MA area. When COVID-19 hit, the HFCM board reached to identify additional ways they could help with the pandemic response. As a result, supplemental funding of $8,000 was provided to RCAP Solutions to help mitigate the impact of the current coronavirus public health crisis. The funds were intended to enable RCAP to provide communications support to local boards of health in the project’s service area and help strengthen relationships with BOH’s and facilitate the project moving forward with private well testing and regulation in the future.

With a goal of education, RCAP Solutions and north central Boards of Health quickly identified communications to elderly residents through a door hanger to be the best tool to promote public health and safety throughout the community. RCAP partnered with The Wachusett Medical Reserve Corps (WMRC), a local network of public health, medical, safety and other ancillary volunteers organized to improve the health and safety of their communities, who helped to identify what information would be most useful and coordinated the door hanger distribution. A team of roughly 10 volunteers crisscrossed the state from Winchendon to Webster, delivering the hangers to boards of health and housing authorities, schools and summer meal programs, libraries, take out restaurants, community and senior centers, police stations, and homeless shelters. The hangers were also provided to RCAP’s ten senior, disabled and family properties.

“This fits in with our mission to build safe, healthy and prepared communities,” stated Judie O’Donnell, RN MPH, WMRC Director. “I’m a firm believer in public education and promoting good health practices. Information about health has to be simplified and for many it’s not easy to understand. We’re trying to combat health illiteracy, it’s so important to get the word out to as many people as possible. There are so many who have language barriers, it’s important to have images that help to show the message. Door hangers work because people get nervous in difficult situations and this is a quick and creative way for people to know what to do in an emergency. There is a lot of misinformation out there. People need to know when to call 911, and not wait until it’s too late.”

The response to the door hangers has been very positive. “Resident coordinators and property managers were very receptive and were happy to have something to hand out,” said O’Donnell. “Residents were very appreciative and liked that it’s something they can leave on the door and have as a daily reminder.”

 

Virtual Math Training

Rebekah Novak, Water Compliance Specialist for Massachusetts, Online Tech Team Lead

Since COVID-19 hit in the early months of 2020, almost all businesses, schools, and government departments were impacted in a very big way; we could not meet face to face anymore. Every business was affected differently. But the show had to go on for essential workers like highway and construction workers, medical field staff, food industry, drinking water operations and wastewater operations. For many of these fields, people must earn contact hours/credits/education credits for the license they hold by taking classes to stay educated and informed. But with the limitations on in-person meetings, and how many people are allowed in a room, how are these license holders supposed to get the training they need to maintain their licenses? A little leeway was given for those people who had to renew their drivers license, but are Wastewater Operators allowed to to lapse in credits? No. License holders waited to see if they would be given extensions on earning credits but decision makers did not loosen up on the rules. Every person with a Wastewater License in the State of Massachusetts still had to earn 20 Total Contact Hours (TCHs) by the same deadline as before COVID.

For the first few months of the “lock-down” people just figured they had a whole year ahead of them to earn credits, but as the months passed, the clock kept counting down, yet the states did not open up. Luckily, some organizations adapted and learned a new platform: virtual training. RCAP Solutions was one of those organizations that jumped right into virtual training as soon as they saw there was no end it sight to the shutdowns. Wanting to keep their staff members as well as the public safe at home or in the office, RCAP Solutions decided if they couldn’t bring people to their training, they would bring their training to the people, virtually.
Once the virtual platform was learned, the PowerPoint presentations were then altered to a friendlier format for virtual learning. The first session to go online was Basic Math for Operators. This course is intended to help both existing operators brush up on their math skills, (while earning credits) but also to help future operators prepare to pass the exam, by learning about the basic math concepts that are applied every day on the job (and it the exam).

Teaching Math in person is not all that easy but teaching it virtually made for some additional difficulties. RCAP does not typically use webcams because most clients/attendees do not have a strong internet connection and the webcams use too much bandwidth. So how do you know if your attendees are understanding the concepts you are teaching without being able to SEE them? There are several tools to use to make sure the attendees are paying attention and keeping up with you on the other side of that computer screen:

1. PowerPoint/Presentation visuals:
a. use more animation than in person slides to make the slides more interesting. The attendees have little else to look at and many distractions within an arm’s reach.
b. Use less words on each slide. Too much reading on a computer screen is tiresome, so add more pictures to convey the ideas that are discussed.

2. Virtual Interactive tools:
a. Polls: gather information or beliefs about attendees. ASK how the pace of the class is, or if they understand the topic at hand.
b. Tests: quiz attendees on covered topics to keep them engaged, and to get an idea of how well they understand that topic.
c. Virtual hand raising: ask yes/no questions or invite attendees to ask questions
d. Virtual group work: create a sense of community and work together to complete an activity
e. Chat box: ask attendees to answer your questions in the chat box. Ask them to ask questions of their own in the chat box. Get people comfortable with the chat box right away, ask icebreaker questions to get them warmed up to it.
f. Evaluation: break your evaluations down by topic, so they can be rated individually. Ask attendees to rate the platform, or each of the tools separately to see how effective they were. Ask for suggestions to make the training session better.

3. Voice:
a. Inflection: Work on your presentation voice. Try to use inflections, making your voice pitch go up and down to signify important words, grammar, or the end of sentences. Monotone voices are hard to listen to for long periods of time.
b. Quality: Be sure the quality of your audio is good. Use a headset or a microphone so your audience only hears your voice. Tinny or muffled voices are hard to understand.

4. Technical assistance: One of the most important tools to have ready is technical assistance. Some people run into issues and if they have never used online training before, they will need some help to navigate, or else, they will most likely give up and sign off. Have an extra person or two who can help individuals solve their technical issues, like connecting to audio in the beginning of a training.
Are you a License holder looking for more virtual training? Sign up for the email lists of your local associations or memberships. Express your interest in learning about a certain topic to a virtual trainer that puts on multiple sessions a year.

Are you a committee member/government official/association looking to present topics to a certain audience but do not have a way to do so? Talk to someone who recently put on a training to see if they will host your topics. Or see if they know of others who simply “host” presentations on their platform license.

Virtual trainings and presentations can be intimidating, but with the right tools and a little preparation, they can be as effective as a face to face meeting. As an added bonus, they are incredibly attractive for busy people, cut down on travel time and expenses, and promote safe learning and communications during this challenging time.

Case Study: Midland Water and Sewer Authority, PA

By Wanda Rios Martinez, Water Compliance Specialist

Midland is a small town located in Beaver County, PA. The town has their own water and sewer treatment plants. Midland Water Authority stared operations in 1907. Midland mill began operating as a stainless-steel facility the following year. The mill closed in 2016. Today the Authority services Midland Borough, Shippingport Borough and small industries with water and sewer.

The Need and RCAP’s Assistance:
Midland Borough is having financial issues. Since the mill closed operations the plant is oversized in relation to the amount of water it treats. There is concern about depreciation and state of deterioration on the part of Midland Water and Sewer. The borough needs to replace all the electrical wires/panels and bar screen. Also, they wanted to close some dead ends in the distribution system to improve the quality of the water. The maps were very old and hard to read and understand.

RCAP assisted enrolling Midland in the RD Apply system, followed the application process, and provided long distance assistance to the borough. In addition, RCAP provided GIS mapping for the distribution system. Since the borough is going to make updates at the water system and the supervisor is retiring in less than a year it was very important that the system have updated maps. Such maps include a booster of a new section of the distribution system, pump stations and Shippingport line. RCAP was able to verify and confirm the locations of the assets with the operator.

Results:
Midland Water Authority received assistance with USDA application, which should increase the financial and managerial capacity. The borough has new and accurate maps with information about hydrants, hydrants valves, booster house, water feed stations and water valves in the main line. Clear pictures tell a better story of the system status.

See full case study here: Midland Water and Sewer PA

Case Study: Lee Oak Cooperative – Barrington, NH

By Martin Mistretta, Water Compliance Specialist for New Hampshire

The Need for RCAP’s Assistance:

Lee Oak’s water system relies on an old system with several design issues that might compromise operability and water quality. Features include the proximity of the dug well to an active leach field, a very small underground pump house that prohibits adequate maintenance, and a 47-year-old hydro-pneumatic tank with extensive rust. Additionally, leaks in the distribution system are difficult to locate due to very porous soil of the site. These are all significant deficiencies identified by NH Department of Environmental Services (NHDES) that pose a risk to public health and safety.

The project engineer estimated the total project cost, which requires extensive infrastructure replacement from source to distribution, to be approximately $1,800,000. Too costly for a small, low income community. NHDES asked RCAP Solutions to help Lee Oak with funding options and assistance applications.

Results:
Initially, RCAP completed an income survey essential to determine funding eligibility and submitted an SRF loan pre-application. NHDES selected the project as the top priority among all applications state-wide, resulting with the approval of a $1,000,000 SRF loan, expected to be awarded in the spring of 2020. RCAP then submitted a Drinking Water and Groundwater Trust Fund (DWGTF) grant pre-application which might be eligible for $435,000 grant. RCAP coordinated enlisting an engineering firm and a grant administrator to assist with the final applications.

RCAP also helped Lee Oak apply for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), expected to be awarded in 2020, provided on-site training to board members, and helped them complete its Emergency Plan and Vulnerability Assessment. It is expected that the leveraged funding if awarded will cover then entire cost of the project.

See full case study here: Lee Oak NH

Assisting a Small Community with Aging Septic Systems, Great Valley, NY

This photograph was taken by a Cattaraugus County sanitarian following a dye test of a home’s drain plumbing as part of a property transfer inspection. The dye was discovered discharging into a local stream.

Written by Catherine Rees, Water Specialist, NY

Funding Source: HHS OCS

Great Valley is a town in Cattaraugus County, New York. The town has a total area of approximately 50 square miles. Based upon the 2010 census, the population is 1,974, with a Median Household Income of $48,490 with 14% of people living below the poverty level. The town is centrally located in the county, northeast of the City of Salamanca and the Hamlet of Kill Buck is east of Salamanca.

The Cattaraugus County Health Department (CCHD) administers a private septic system program throughout the county and is very familiar with the chronic operational problems and documented sewage discharges that present a public health hazard within the Kill Buck neighborhood.

The primary problems with existing septic systems are the poor drainage characteristics of the native soils, a high-water table, and the small lot sizes, which do not provide enough area for a properly-sized septic system meeting the New York State (NYS) design standards. CCHD sanitarians generally complete a dye test of home plumbing as part of required property transfer inspections. In the case of one Great Valley home with a failing septic system, the dye was discovered discharging into a local stream which means that sewage is seeping directly into that stream. The CCHD also tested the water coming from the storm sewer along nearby NYS Route 417 and confirmed the presence of high levels of fecal coliform bacteria which typically comes from sewage. This documented that some septic systems are illegally tied into storm drains and directly contribute to the contamination of Great Valley Creek and the Allegheny River. The Allegheny River and downstream Reservoir are widely used for boating and swimming recreation throughout the summer months and for community water supplies. This poses another direct route for human exposure and illness.

Since most of the onsite systems are undersized and 50 or more years old, the CCHD expects more systems to fail each year. The lack of a public sewer system is preventing any future economic growth and poses significant health and safety risks.

The engineering study funded by CDBG would evaluate the existing condition of the on-site septic systems in the hamlet from available records, and evaluate several alternatives for improving the collection, treatment and disposal of the hamlet’s wastewater. Preliminary indications are that the construction of a collection system to then convey wastewater to the City of Salamanca for treatment may be the best course of action at this time.

The Town of Great Valley has given full endorsement for the project by authorizing the preparation of the planning grant application by RCAP Solutions. The Town has authorized 5% matching funds for the proposed study. Town officials are committed to meeting with engineering consultants on a regular basis as the plan is developed and will hold public meetings to discuss plan recommendations with relevant stakeholders. With continued assistance from RCAP Solutions, officials will work on securing the necessary funding for the infrastructure improvements recommended by the engineering report once it is completed.

Technical Assistance during a Boil Order

Bolton Country Manor’s wellhead area.

Written by James P. Starbard, Massachusetts State Lead
Funder: EPA1

Bolton Country Manor is located in the rural central Massachusetts town of Bolton. It is a U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) owned low income senior housing facility that also serves as the Town of Bolton’s Senior Center. RCAP Solutions was assisting this system to find a new qualified water operator due to the retirement of their previous water operator. An RCAP Solutions staff member with a water operator certification also assisted with regular operations to ensure the community stayed in compliance with drinking water regulations during the interim period.

During this period, routine water samples were taken monthly, and one set of samples tested positive for Total Coliform. When repeat water samples were taken, per the Revised Total Coliform Rule, one sample tested positive for E Coli bacteria. The positive sample for E coli sets in motion an automatic Boil Order and numerous follow up actions which RCAP Solutions proceeded to assist the community with.

First and foremost, due to the highly susceptible nature of the community’s elderly population, and after consulting with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), RCAP helped to provide information to residents to make sure they boiled their water before use and provided outreach on the proper techniques to do so safely. Also, RCAP helped to arrange for the instillation of an emergency chlorination system on the community’s water system to disinfect the bacteria and make the water safe to drink again. After multiple sampling rounds of the system’s water and ongoing monitoring of the chlorine residual, a few days later the water was declared safe to drink again without boiling and the community’s residents were notified that the Boil Order had been lifted.

After the immediate emergency was resolved, the task of identifying how the bacterial contamination occurred began which included internal inspections, inspections by MassDEP staff as part of a Sanitary Survey, and a level 2 assessment conducted by an outside third-party water operator. Through these inspections, several possible deficiencies were identified and then abated. The system was brought into full compliance with all MassDEP requirements that were identified during these inspections.

With completion of the corrective actions, the emergency chlorination was disconnected from the community’s water system and the water was sampled and analyzed to ensure the bacterial issue did not return. After monitoring for several months, the original task of assisting the community to hire a qualified water operator was fulfilled with the hiring of a certified contract water operator firm through the signing of service contract with the community. RCAP also provided an orientation of the company’s staff to introduce them to the nuances of the water system. Currently water operations are moving smoothly, and the bacterial issue has not reoccurred.

The Importance of Communication in Planning Infrastructure Upgrades and Water User-Rate Adjustments in Rumford and Bridgton Maine

Congress Street Construction, Rumford, ME

Written by Art Astarita, Maine State Lead
Funder: USDA Technitrain and HHS OCS

RUMFORD MAINE – Infrastructure Upgrades
RCAP Solutions was very successful in facilitating this much needed communication between the town of Rumford and the Rumford Water District which serves about 1,700 of the town’s total population of 5,840 people.

RCAP Solutions created an asset management plan for the Rumford Water District and encouraged the superintendent to share the plan with the town planner. Timing of this communication was advantageous as the town was planning a large-scale improvement to the downtown business district. Initially, the town was looking to repave the streets and to replace sidewalks, lighting and other “superficial” improvements. The sewer department and water district represented the “out of sight” infrastructure located under the business district.

The total project cost is estimated at $5 million for the downtown improvements of which the water district will reimburse the town $990,000 for its’ part of the project. Although the vertical asset analysis broadened the scope and cost of the project, the necessary replacement of water, sewer, and storm-water pipes will ensure a final product that will serve residents for many years into the future and help to attract business to a revitalized downtown. The project is expected to be completed in 2019.

BRIDGTON MAINE – Water Rate Adjustments
Normally, water rates are adjusted at a time when the utility is incurring a new debt to fund a capital improvement of the system. The new improvement is frequently planned and based upon an asset management program.

Bridgton Water District, located in western Maine, serves about 2,000 people of the 5,200 residents of the town of Bridgton. In 2017, the town of Bridgton decided to upgrade their sewer system, including reconstructing sidewalks, installing energy efficient lighting and traffic safety measures and providing an appealing streetscape. The project is estimated to cost approximately $22 million when everything is said and done.

RCAP Solutions assisted the town in conducting an income survey of the sewer users to ensure an accurate income is used to determine the system’s optimum loan and grant funding package. During the initial phases of the survey, RCAP Solutions visited the water district to ensure they were aware of the project and asked if any of the water pipes would be impacted. RCAP Solutions suggested they submit households in their impacted area to be included in the income survey. Unfortunately, the water district was not prepared and subsequently not ready to make such decisions. The survey was completed in January 2018 and revealed that the median household income (MHI) of the project area qualifies for at least a 50% grant from the USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS). In November 2018, the town authorized issuing a general obligation bond or note not to exceed $13,528,000 to fund the balance of the project.

In December 2018, the water district had their engineering firm estimate water pipe impacts within the sewer project area. It was estimated that $600,000 of pipe should be replaced during the sewer work. This cast iron pipe replacement is mainly due to age and construction work in immediate proximity. The water district inquired to RCAP Solutions about the survey coverage and if there could be a subset of the survey that covered the water users within the sewer survey. Upon analysis, there were still 22 households requiring response within the 43 water-user household target area. The water district thought it would be best and most efficient to canvas the households themselves. Due to the sensitive nature of the questions (“what is your household income?”), many did not answer. RCAP Solutions recently spoke to RUS and it was determined that the town and water district specifically already qualifies for up to 45% grant funding. Since there is not an imminent health hazard, there is no possibility of a lower rate or additional grant percentage.

The District is working with the engineer to complete the RD-apply application process for the 2020 construction season for this project. Once the application is submitted and approved, the District will realize the funding assistance available and RCAP Solutions can complete the rate adjustment to fund repayment of the new debt.

Operator Training and Community Engagement Workshop, Potluck Style

Kathy Rodgers, NH State Lead and Sarah Buck, Deputy Director, Community Resources

When you think of your typical water operator training for seasoned or prospective operators, you likely would envision a room set up classroom style at a utility, community space or hotel, filled with men and women in work boots, all on call, coffee in hand, trying to sit as close to the back of the room as possible, there to get the required continuing education hours needed to maintain their operation license. The word potluck would not even come to mind, but if done right, that promise of shared food, can bring together seasoned operators to assist a community concerned about their distribution system and water quality. This concept was successfully piloted at the Pepperidge Woods water system in Barrington, NH in November 2017, entitled: Distribution System & Community Engagement Workshop.

An animated exchange of information was had by all participants.

Small community public water systems are often run by volunteer operation committees within homeowners’ associations, Co-ops, small Village Districts, etc. Operation committees are a great way to keep costs down and retain institutional knowledge. However, when water quality diminishes, the community may need to seek outside resources to help identify and tackle their issues. That was the impetus for this unique and successful potluck training. Experienced operators would have an opportunity to earn continuing education units while utilizing their expertise to assist a community that, in this case, was experiencing low pressure and brown water.

This idea of an educational potluck with operators, community & board members, and TA providers may not work everywhere, but, in the places that it might, there are a few best practices to keep in mind to ensure a successful experience. First of all, you need a community sparkplug that will draw community residents to the event.   That sparkplug is someone who understands the needs of the community and is willing to partner with you to accomplish a specific goal.

In this case, Jane Astley, a member of the finance committee for Pepperidge Woods, worked with the board, the operation committee, neighboring system leaders, and residents to bring in RCAP to lead a training to educate them on their water quality and effective distribution maintenance methods. It was Jane’s idea to host a potluck. Jane understood the importance of an evening shared over food. Both community members and operators took ownership of the workshop by contributing home cooked food–good food, too. RCAP’s staff learned that NH water operators really know how to cook and can make a mean chowdah!

Bear in mind, if the workshop is offered to address a problem, then there will naturally be grievances that residents will want to express. To keep the workshop productive, create a very structured agenda and follow it closely. Revisit the agenda after each section and abide the times to keep things moving along. Assure the group that you will address their individual concerns and leave ample time for open discussion during the “practical” portion of the workshop. Start out with the basic training to enable a baseline of understanding for the general audience.

Research the community prior to the workshop. It is important to have a good grasp on the community needs to tailor the content. For the NH potluck, the RCAP trainer utilized the Area 1 RCAP/AWWA Distribution training materials. The primary audience was Pepperidge Woods’ operational committee and board members, which had limited to no hands-on operational experience. Knowing the distribution system components, water quality issues, and applied treatment enabled the slide deck and examples to be geared towards the host community, Pepperidge Woods.  Water quality topics such as hydrants and nitrification were brushed to the side as it didn’t pertain to them—only the topics most relevant to this system were covered during the workshop.

Another good practice is to establish a group agreement on productive conversation or a set of “ground rules” to avoid conflict and promote a more synergistic workshop. The recommendations provided in the agreement can include:

  • Share “air time.”
  • If you disagree, consider asking a question rather than arguing to prove your point.
  • It’s okay to disagree, but don’t personalize it. Stick to the issue, not the person who is disagreeing with you.
  • Speak up if the process doesn’t seem fair.
  • Speak for yourself, not for others and not for an entire group (use “I” statements).
  • Personal stories stay in the group unless we all agree we can share them outside of the group.
  • We all share responsibility for making the group productive.
  • Be respectful and use respectful language.
  • Respect the facilitator’s role.
  • Listen first

 

Allow the community to break into small groups with the seasoned operators in attendance to help identify issues that they have encountered. Bring the group back together to report out and post the identified problems. In this case, brown water and low pressure were the predominant concerns. Then break back into small groups to discuss what could be causing the problem. Again, bring the group back together to outline potential root causes.

Community members listen and share ideas.

During the workshop, the experienced operators were eager to share several potential reasons that could contribute to the brown water and low-pressure issues. A lot of these reasons had not been previously discussed. After further trainer led discussion, the group was able to agree on the most probable root causes and discussed how to address those concerns moving forward.

The community was delighted to have new perspectives and ideas on how to work through their existing and any future issues.  The operators were more than happy to help and the whole group was so entrenched in the process that nobody was in a hurry to leave. Conversations and expressions of appreciation were still going on at least 15 minutes after the workshop’s close.  Ideally, you want to make sure that all attendees feel welcomed, are engaged, and are able to get something valuable out of the experience. The NH workshop evaluations confirmed that both the operators and community enjoyed this fresh style of training and found great value in the experience. The NH RCAP trainer is now working to develop a workshop using the same operator and community engagement potluck approach to introduce digital mapping to another small system.