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.

RCAP Solutions and Water Mission Join Efforts After Hurricane María to Bring Clean Water to Rural Communities

Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist, Puerto Rico

Mr. Vazquez teaches community members about the importance of water purification.

San Diego is a small community located in the hills of Coamo, Puerto Rico. They have been providing water to community members for a long time, but not under the official status of a public water system. Because of this, the water quality has not been regulated for many years. The PR Department of Health, in coordination with the EPA, referred them to RCAP Solutions to help them to develop an official and reliable system.

The community, with a small donation from the municipal government, drilled a well despite the topography challenges of the area. Their economic restrictions and a lack of technical assistance at the time of construction caused them to place the well between a ditch and a pluvial discharging area. When RCAP Solutions evaluated the situation, RCAP taught the community about the elevated risk of losing the well in its current location and the immediate negative effects that they might face if a heavy rain event occurs.

RCAP helped them chlorinate the water and become compliant with the required test schedules. As the system began making positive changes, the catastrophic hurricanes hit Puerto Rico; and Coamo was devastated, along with most rural areas on the island. Hurricane Irma brought rain and landslides to the area, leaving them without communication and in terrible condition. A week later, Hurricane Maria, considered the worst storm in the history of Puerto Rico, took out what little was left. The community lost their well and part of their distribution system. The well area was covered by three to four feet of rocks, gravel and pebbles.

The island’s main power grid was destroyed, with no electric power in San Diego and the estimated time for recovery is still unknown. The community was able to get the old water system online with a superficial water source, a small storage tank and gravity-fed distribution, but without any kind of filtration, disinfection or water quality testing. This was the only choice they had to continue water service for their residents.

After RCAP’s assessment of the situation, San Diego was instructed to inform the community members about the change of source, the absence of treatment, and the need to boil the water before using it.

In the efforts to provide alternatives to the community, RCAP Solutions contacted Water Mission (WM), a faith-based not for profit organization that seeks to ensure safe drinking water access across the globe. RCAP coordinated a site visit to perform a second assessment, and water samples were taken to determine the kind of treatment needed. This would allow the team to determine the best course of action and decide whether point of use filters were an option for the community.

RCAP coordinated the delivery of a Kohler Clarifier provided by Water Mission, an effective filtration system that can purify drinking water without electricity.

RCAP Solutions coordinated assistance, teaching  the community about the equipment and disinfection. Aquatabs were provided for additional water disinfection after the filtration process, thanks to the Puerto Rico Department of Health.

Water Mission staff has provided meaningful assistance with many RCAP Solutions supported communities, resulting in a very fruitful partnership. After WM’s intervention during the emergency phase, they are counting on RCAP Solutions’ support to follow up and assist with the long-term recovery process of this small public system.  As a result of this collaboration, the residents of San Diego have filtered water and are less vulnerable to diseases related to the consumption of untreated water. 

Surveying the damage after Hurricane Maria, the well area was covered by three to four feet of rocks, gravel and pebbles.

This disaster has presented an opportunity for this community. For many years, the community as a whole has participated minimally in the administration of the water system, but this crisis has forced them to become better educated about their drinking water and will hopefully create a willingness to become more involved in the future.

Most recently, RCAP Solutions  helped the community recover their missing well casing and  the well pump. While their generator cannot carry the electric load of running the system,  RCAP will assist the community in reconstructing their well in a more secure location that should prevent future damage.  San Diego is working hard to recover what was lost and RCAP will help them maximize limited resources and ensure the best possible long-term results.

When is a Bridge an Asset for a Water Utility?

Erick Toledo, Water Specialist, New England and Jenna Day, Community Development Specialist, New England

When is a bridge an asset to be considered in your water system’s financial planning? One small system, the Leino Park Water District, located in Westminster, Massachusetts, is an example of just that. The residents and water board knew they had to do something to replace this crumbling structure that was integral to servicing their community. Its value was always clear to the sixty-five households for whom it was the only right of way, but unfortunately it was not a priority for local or state highway funding. One would not normally categorize this as a water system asset, but out of desperation, ingenuity was born.

Bridge conditions had become treacherous.

After nearly a decade of patching the physical structure and countless meetings with town and state officials, the Leino Park Water District board members were told the sixty-five homes served by the bridge were too few to qualify for traditional road and bridge funding sources. Then the Leino Park Water District Board took matters into their own hands. They secured clear ownership to the bridge and land on which it is built and approached USDA Rural Development (RD) program staff to discuss their options. The had a good relationship with RD, having successfully completed loan repayments on a past water infrastructure project, so they figured they would see if they could apply for funding assistance from federal infrastructure dollars to replace the aged bridge.

Unfortunately, what looked like a promising standard application process that the system had been through before has since become more complicated and ground to a halt. RCAP Solutions received a referral from the MA/CT/RI state RD office in November 2017 to assist in the application process. Under a very tight deadline, RCAP Solutions’ staff completed the required Environmental Assessment (EA) to expedite Leino Park’s application for the replacement of the bridge. RCAP Solutions staff completed this report for free under their USDA Technitrain grant within three months. This service is often something systems pay for out of pocket—but it is an eligible work product under several RCAP’s funding sources. If your system is struggling to find funding for your required EA or Preliminary Engineering Report (PER)—contact your local RCAP and/or RD office. Like in the case of Leino Park, if your local RCAP has the expertise, they could assist and provide these services free of charge. RD also has pre-development planning grants available for low income systems that can cover these application development costs: https://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/water-waste-disposal-predevelopment-planning-grants.

Current bridge conditions.

Another option is the Community Engineering Corps (CEC), the domestic version of Engineers Without Borders. They have a very simple application process—although they mostly provide free engineering services for low income systems—they consider each application one on one to determine need and eligibility: http://www.communityengineeringcorps.org/.

The Board of the Leino Park Water District submitted their USDA RD funding application and though there have been a few setbacks, they are confident that funds will soon be awarded, maybe even this federal fiscal year. RCAP Solutions, the local RD staff and the Leino Park Board worked closely together to accomplish this. The existing bridge, pilings, and concrete abutments will be removed and replaced with a timber structure, designed, engineered, and built on-site that will meet or exceed state/ local specifications. Now that they own the right of way, they can plan to maintain this community/water system asset into the future. Fixing it now will ensure public safety and will allow local municipal and emergency vehicles easy access to the 65 homes if needed that they currently do not have.

Recovery of Hazardous Waste in Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico

Edwin, Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist, Puerto Rico

With the assistance of a few community volunteers from Barrio Collores, Pontifical Catholic University students, and municipal representatives, RCAP Solutions conducted an electronic (e-waste) and Household Hazardous Waste (HHW) collection event in Juana Diaz.

Mr. Vazquez-Asencio (right) at the electronics collection event with Mayor Ramón A. “Ramoncito” Hernández Torres

As part of the solid waste program, RCAP has been educating communities about the negative impacts of household hazardous waste on the environment and public health, as well as looking at ways to promote participation in recycling activities. While many materials can be recycled and taken out of the waste stream, residents don’t know which items or how and where to recycle them.

After evaluating the data from past RCAP cleanup events as well as illegal dumping sites, RCAP discovered the need for education related to e-waste in particular. Interaction with community members and other stakeholders has demonstrated that there is a lack of knowledge on this topic, leading to the creation of illegal dumping sites, and the mixing of these products in the normal waste stream and landfill system.

In an effort to educate residents and make improvements in this area, RCAP organized a small e-waste collection event in December, with the collaboration of the Juana Diaz municipality.

As a result, RCAP collected 2,880 lbs. of electronics which were processed and recycled. Another 10,000 lbs. of non-recyclable HHW were collected and properly disposed of according to the guidance in the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations.

Even though the event only lasted four hours, the amount of e-waste that was diverted from being illegally dumped was considerable.

Non-conforming items are difficult to identify and depend on factors associated with the local recycler, the current market, or the item’s condition. Items like old TV’s are depreciated in the market, and the options for selling their components are only viable in countries with growing economies like India, Indonesia or Malaysia, and it is very expensive to export these large items. Other items like printers containing ink cartridges cannot be accepted because they must be separated and there may not be the means to dispose of them properly as the market for ink cartridges is also limited.

The EPA helped dispose of many of the HHW items that could not be recycled, but ink could not be received for disposal, so as a result, printers could not be accepted.

The materials recovered were treated according to regulations and will not end up in the local municipal landfill, a landfill that is not suitable for these kinds of toxic materials.

Josefa Torres-Olivo, District Director for PR and USVI removes ink cartridges from old printers before recycling.

The success of this event and related activities can be measured in many different ways: it was extremely educational for local residents, students and municipal staff; it served as a kickoff for the recycling industry in the area; it acted as a means to divert materials from the main waste stream and reduce their impact in our limited landfills; and it served as a way to protect the environment and public lands from illegal dumping and ultimately, protect public health.

“This activity is something that I was looking forward to for a long time; I had a huge old TV sitting in my house because I didn’t know what I was going to do with it,” commented Karina Zayas, Host of WPAB Radio 550 AM in Ponce. “I used to remove the batteries from a radio, flash light or remote control and throw them in the trash, as well as light bulbs. After our last radio interview, I put the batteries and bulbs in a Ziploc bag, and take them to the recycling center; now I know not to mix these items with the regular garbage.”

 

A Vermont Village Looks Ahead

By Mark Johnson, Vermont State Lead

It’s late in the evening, and the monthly meeting of the Prudential Committee has been over for hours. Lisa Bowden, treasurer and clerk of the Barnet Fire District #2, is tired and frustrated. She should have been home hours ago, but an issue with the chlorine pump at the well pumphouse is keeping her awake. Lisa is used to sending out bills, balancing the District’s too-thin checkbook, and chasing customers down for delinquent payments; replacing the diaphragm on a chemical feed pump is not in her proverbial toolkit. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a new pump diaphragm in her actual toolkit, either.

A board member points out where a critical water main crosses a river in the village. The pipe has been undermined due to erosion from recent flooding and has become a source of concern for the community.

RCAP Solutions had attended the meeting out of concern that two of the three Prudential Committee members of Barnet Fire District #2 (BFD2), a special district that manages the water system, sidewalks, and the few streetlights in the tiny Vermont village, had thoughts of stepping down. Having worked with the community years before, RCAP Solutions stayed in touch with the system and knew that it was a critical time for the village. Volunteering to attend meetings, make difficult financial decisions, and mind the day to day operation of the water system seemed to be getting old for members of the Prudential Committee. Not the only thing getting old, as Lisa pointed out. “I’d hate to look at the average age in this village,” she said during a recent meeting. “We’re not getting any younger.”

In a village of a few hundred people – the system has just 61 connections – finding the right people to lead the Fire District and figure out how to fund critical infrastructure improvements wasn’t necessarily the issue. The issue was finding anyone at all. Fortunately for the village, they may have finally found the right people. For months, Lisa had pleaded for residents to attend meetings and to get involved with the water system in her regular emails to customers. And there were plenty of emails, because Lisa religiously kept customers up to date on the latest in a long string of water main breaks, boil water advisories, and water usage restrictions. Then, a resident who lives a few doors down from the pumphouse, Jon Carpenter, decided that he’d be willing to step into the role of Chairperson for the Prudential Committee. David Stevenson, a holdover from the previous Committee, agreed to be trained to help monitor the system and record chlorine residuals under the tutelage of the system’s certified water operator. Jay Sprout, a resident and pastor at a local church, decided that he’d be willing to add his voice to the three-person governing body.

Despite recent source water and treatment plant improvements made by BFD2, maintaining regulatory compliance is a real challenge – as it is for many rural communities. The water system, which serves about 205 customers, had been under a boil-water advisory since 2004 due to long-term source water deficiencies. In 2014 members of the community expressed a desire to acquire the system from its private owner, and RCAP Solutions facilitated several steps in the process. The goal of the purchase was to give the community more control over the fate of its water system. As a publicly owned water system, BFD2 would now be able to access federal funding sources for long overdue improvements.

In February of 2017, BFD2 completed a major source water improvement project, financed in part by the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund. This should have marked an important milestone for the community, as they were able to lift the boil water advisory following the improvements and installation of a new disinfection process. It was not the end of infrastructure concerns, however; frequent distribution system failures were crippling the system’s operating budget. Well pumps work overtime, the chlorine supply dwindles, and another tab is opened with the local contractor to start digging. Replacing a few feet of pipe at a time is unsustainable, and the Prudential Committee knows it. The contractor, who has enabled BFD2 to continue providing pressurized, potable water by allowing BFD2 to pay when they can – knows it. Maybe most importantly, the customers are beginning to realize that a long-term solution is needed.

To address the issues in the distribution system, RCAP Solutions provided an action plan to the board. The plan calls for taking advantage of available state resources, such as an asset management grant, to better plan for future needs. In the process, BFD2 could prioritize distribution system improvements – including the replacement of a critical, aging water main crossing a river in the village. Meanwhile, the Prudential Committee is taking advantage of grant-funded leak detection services and is working with RCAP Solutions to increase revenue. In addition to securing a rate adjustment and looking at available planning grants, though, they will need to work on another critical task – gaining the support and trust of the community. For a system this size, taking on more debt – which requires community support in the form of a bond vote – will be a likely scenario considering the lack of reserves and mounting infrastructure concerns. For BFD2, it is the financially prudent approach; annual repairs are comparable to, and occasionally more than, another bond payment. With interest rates on the rise, a project that is “necessary and inevitable”, in the words of a local USDA representative, can’t be started soon enough.

For the Prudential Committee, it is more important than ever that they build on the achievements of the source water improvement project. Unfortunately, operational issues with the new

RCAP Solutions staff gives a thumbs-up after successfully restoring an adequate chlorine residual in the drinking water system.

chlorination system, coupled with the lack of local capacity for diagnosing and resolving those issues, contributed to a violation in late 2017 for failing to maintain adequate microbial treatment. Under the Groundwater Rule, the system is required to maintain a minimum chlorine residual to ensure adequate disinfection. Avoiding an additional violation would be critical; every violation or misstep for the Prudential Committee – especially one that results in another boil-water advisory- reduces the likelihood that they will be able to gain the community’s trust. Without the trust of the customers, it’s unlikely that they will move ahead with the bond vote necessary for future improvements.

Scanning the shelves of the Fire District’s pumphouse, Lisa and RCAP Solutions TAP, Mark Johnson, finally found a rebuild kit that would work for a backup pump. The chlorine residual was re-established, a violation avoided, and Lisa had received her first lesson on rebuilding a chemical metering pump. In the weeks that followed, RCAP Solutions provided practical guidance to the system’s operator and treatment plant engineer on how to improve the chemical feed system. RCAP Solutions has also provided the system’s board members with the knowledge they need to maintain compliance with state and federal regulations.

A former dairy farmer, Jon Carpenter, has brought his dedication and work ethic to help solve some of the Fire District’s most pressing issues. David Stevenson’s watchful eyes have kept the Prudential Committee from having to request a site visit from the certified water operator every time a minor issue pops up, which is helpful. Even though the operator keeps close tabs on the system, she lives over an hour away and BFD2 can’t pay for too many emergency visits. Jay Sprout’s common-sense approach to system management has already started to pay dividends; meetings are run efficiently, and discussion stays on topic.

Lisa Bowden, on the other hand, continues to claim that she’s ready for a break from her duties. Whether it’s trudging up to the storage tank in a snowstorm, communicating critical details about the system to customers, performing her duties as tax collector, or trying to act interested in the intricacies of pump diaphragms, for years Lisa has been a passionate advocate for the village. But Lisa can’t do it much longer. Nor does she want to, as she tells anyone who will listen. “I’m too old for this stuff,” she pointed out as she locked up the pumphouse, ready for a vacation that is long overdue.

 

 

East Branch Water System Upgrade, Town of Hancock, NY

Candace Balmer, New York State Lead

The East Branch water system has been under a Boil Water order from the health department for almost three years. A recently-completed Preliminary Engineering Report suggested that without outside funding assistance, a project to resolve the problem would cost residents upwards of $900 per year per household.

Preferred site for the new East Branch Well: The Town Park.

The Town of Hancock is proposing to take over the water system and provide a new well source; ultimately, they also plan to upgrade the aging distribution system. RCAP Solutions completed an income survey to document income eligibility of the service area to compete for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to pay for the improvements; the system was deemed eligible and the application was funded

The private water company serving 42 homes in the hamlet of East Branch in the Town of Hancock, located in Delaware County, is fed by two deep, low-producing wells and by springs that have been determined to be groundwater under the direct influence of surface water (GWUDI). The system’s infrastructure is also aging, and the Water Board that has been running the system for many years was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the need to upgrade the system and bring it back into compliance. The Town of Hancock offered to take over the water system and commissioned an engineering study to evaluate alternatives and estimated costs. However, the cost of the suggested improvements was projected to triple the existing water rates. On the other hand, having the Town take over the system enabled East Branch to be eligible to compete for CDBG funds to pay for the much-needed upgrade. In order to document financial need, RCAP Solutions assisted the Town to document the % Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) Individuals in the service area through the completion of an income survey.

RCAP Solutions helped the Town to initiate the survey by providing the survey form, a sample cover letter, and survey instructions. RCAP received the completed surveys, processed the data in a specialized database, provided periodic updates, and assisted the Town to achieve the required 95% return rate through follow-up door-to-door canvassing. The survey documented that the percentage of residents served by the system exceeded 51.0% LMI Individuals, the minimum needed to be eligible to compete for CDBG funds. The survey documented that fully 64.8% of the residents were considered low-to-moderate income. RCAP provided the Town with the survey results as well as the methodology and supporting documentation for the CDBG application.

In December 2017, it was announced that the NYS Office of Community Renewal awarded the project $595,500 in CDBG funds. More than two thirds of the project costs are associated with providing the 3,000-foot service line from the site of the new well to the existing system. The Town plans to use the income survey results to support a second CDBG application this year in order to fully replace the distribution system as well. This valuable grant funding will help to keep rates reasonable for this lower income community instead of paying over $900 a year per household, which would have been the case if they had to pay 100% out of pocket for the needed upgrades and interconnection. The project, once complete, will also allow the Boil Water Order to be lifted, so residents will have water in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act flowing from their taps for the first time in nearly three years.

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.