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.

RCAP Solutions Hires Residential Loan Fund Manager

RCAP Solutions is pleased to announce the addition of Ashur Gurbuz as Residential Loan Fund Manager, providing Home Modification Loan Program services to residents in the Central Massachusetts region. Mr. Gurbuz comes to RCAP Solutions with a diverse background in lending, banking, real estate, customer service, and management gives him a solid understanding of this critical housing program and the challenges that his clients may face.

Gurbuz served as a Loan Officer for JG Wentworth Home Lending, where he provided a variety of housing loans to his customers, providing step by step guidance and customer service throughout the entire process of the loan. He also has experience as a Realtor with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage, where he assisted customers in buying or selling real estate, acted as a trusted resource for answers about the real estate process and supported customers through the closing process. Prior to this, he was a Branch Manager at Santander Bank where he received the “Top Performer Award” for customer satisfaction, and Assistant Vice President at Bank of America, where he was ranked nationally for his sales and relationship management skills.

The Home Modification Loan Program distributes financing to disabled persons and their families, to make structural and accessibility improvements to homes, allowing individuals to remain safely independent. Funds are delivered through a state-funded loan program of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission in collaboration with the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation (CEDAC). RCAP Solutions is the direct administrator of this program for all of Worcester County and parts of Norfolk and Middlesex Counties.

“Mr. Gurbuz is a great complement to the Home Modification Loan Program,” said Lovette Chislom, RCAP Solutions Director of Housing Counseling & Financial Services. “I believe it is critical for our lending staff to be able to draw on their experience to help ensure the satisfaction of our clients. This program has experienced a high volume of interest this year as caregiving families would like to keep their loved ones at home due to concerns around the pandemic. Ashur’s compassionate and engaging personality will help our clients to feel at ease and supported during this difficult time.”

Ashur Gurbuz earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Assumption College in Worcester. Mr. Gurbuz is a licensed Real Estate Agent, a HUD Certified Housing Counselor, and a holds a Mortgage License, which makes him well qualified to handle a variety of homeownership issues that may arise during the lending and construction phases of the program.

The Home Modification Loan Program is part of The RCAP Solutions Housing Consumer Education Center, the organization’s front door to the public for all housing and emergency assistance programs. This includes financial and economic assistance programs such as Residential Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT), Emergency Rental and Mortgage Assistance (ERMA), and HomeBASE. There are also education and training programs, such as first-time home buyer and financial empowerment classes, and counseling support including pre and post homebuyer services and landlord/tenant assistance.

For additional information about the Home Modification Loan Program, please contact Ashur Gurbuz, Residential Loan Fund Manager at: (978) 630-6725, agurbuz@rcapsolutions.org or visit: http://www.rcapsolutions.org/home-modification-loan-program.

About RCAP Solutions:
RCAP Solutions is a thriving integrated community development corporation working with a multi-faceted suite of services and opportunities. Established in 1969, RCAP Solutions’ mission is to foster personal and public self-reliance and improve the quality of life for individuals, families, and the communities in which they live. For more information, please visit www.rcapsolutions.org.

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Imagine a Day Without Water: Commit to a sustainable water future for all

This year, our country faced an enormous public health crisis from the coronavirus pandemic. Throughout this emergency, water and wastewater systems kept the water flowing in homes, hospitals, and essential businesses. This crisis demonstrated the critical role that water and wastewater systems play in their communities, protecting public health, safeguarding the environment, and making a healthy economy possible. It is easy to imagine how much worse the pandemic would have been without widespread access to water infrastructure. Without reliable drinking water and sanitation, Americans would be unable to stay safe and limit the spread. In communities with inadequate water and wastewater infrastructure, the public health consequences have been dire.

Today, we Imagine a Day Without Water. It’s a day to pause and notice the way that water systems impact our lives and communities, and commit to ensuring a sustainable water future for generations to come. What would your day be like if you couldn’t turn on the tap and get clean drinking water, or if you flushed the toilet and wastewater didn’t go anywhere? What would happen to restaurants, hospitals, firefighters, farms, breweries, or the hundreds of industries that depend on water?

Millions of Americans take water service for granted every day. Turn on the tap, and clean water flows out. Flush the toilet, and dirty water goes away. Washing our hands regularly is one of the most important steps to take to limit the spread of coronavirus, and we usually don’t stop to think about the impressive infrastructure and treatment required to make sure the water comes out when you open the tap, or safely returns water to the environment from your sink. But the truth is, our water and wastewater systems are getting older – some were installed a century ago – and everyone should be concerned with the vulnerability of those systems.

While we continue to enjoy high quality and reliable water service now, maintaining that level of service is going to be harder and harder as America’s water infrastructure continues to deteriorate. Meanwhile, new threats from record rainfalls, flooding, toxic algae, drought and wildfires threaten our critical water systems. There are even communities, especially in many rural places across the country, that have never had access to infrastructure in the first place.

As we look at ways to help lift our economy out of the recession, investing in water infrastructure is a winning solution. Investing in water creates cascading economic benefits, strengthening American competitiveness, raising GDP, creating jobs and increasing wages. Investing in water provides a path to economic recovery. Imagine a Day Without Water is an opportunity for everyone to get educated about our local water systems and raise awareness with our elected leaders. We need leadership at every level to work together to ensure a reliable water future for generations to come. Investing in water is investing in a future where no American will have to imagine a day without water.

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.

Today is Giving Tuesday – Give Today and Build Healthy Communities.

RCAP Solutions is an integrated community development organization with 50 years of experience building strong communities throughout the northeast and Caribbean Islands. Your support helps communities to become economically sustainable.

This includes:

  • Safe and affordable housing and homelessness prevention
  • Clean drinking water, wastewater and infrastructure programs
  • Rural economic and workforce development
  • Disaster preparedness, recovery and relief
  • Education and training programs
  • Access to programs and services that promote individual and community empowerment

Please give.

With your help we can assist individuals and communities in need.

Visit: http://bit.ly/RCAPGiveTue2019

 

P.S. We have added a new option: Give Where You Live!

Choose an optional designation and scroll down to an area of interest including your individual state.

First Time HomeBuyer Certification Workshop Series

RCAP Solutions Housing Consumer Education Center Hosts First Time HomeBuyer Certification Workshop Series

 Curriculum designed to create smart and savvy homebuyers

(Worcester, Mass., November 27, 2019) – RCAP Solutions is pleased to offer a three-day workshop in December to support and educate future homebuyers on purchasing and maintaining a home. The First Time Homebuyer Workshop will take place on December 10, 11 and 12 from 5:30 – 8:30 PM at RCAP’s new headquarters and training center, located at 191 May Street, Worcester.

In this Mass Housing approved, HUD and CHAPA certified workshop, attendees will learn about programs available to assist first time homebuyers; understand the steps in the homebuying process; meet with professionals who will discuss what to look for in a homebuying team; and receive the necessary certification required by many first time homebuyer programs.

Please note, attendance is required at all three days of the workshop per HUD guidelines. The cost to attend this workshop is $100 for the first individual, with an added $35 charge for each additional attendee.

To register please visit: http://bit.ly/FTHBDec19. For additional information, please contact Jonathan Marien, Senior Housing and Consumer Education Manager at FTHB@rcapsolutions.org or call 978.630.6734.

RCAP Solutions’ Housing Consumer Education Center (HCEC) offers answers to a wide range of questions about housing issues. Tenants, landlords, prospective buyers and homeowners can access information designed to maximize housing stability, strengthen investments and minimize disputes. RCAP Solutions is one of nine member agencies in the statewide Regional Housing Network of Massachusetts, offering housing assistance, services, and information to low-and moderate-income residents of Massachusetts.

About RCAP Solutions:
Established in 1969 as Rural Housing Improvement, RCAP Solutions is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to foster personal and public self-reliance and improve the quality of life for individuals, families and the communities in which they live. RCAP Solutions is an integrated community development organization serving the rural northeast, Caribbean, and Worcester county region for housing assistance. RCAP Solutions is the Worcester County affiliate of The Regional Housing Network (RHN) of Massachusetts and the Northeast affiliate of the national Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) Network based in Washington D.C.

More Than 2M Americans Living Without Access to Running Water & Sanitation Services

New Report Reveals More Than 2 Million Americans Living Without Access to Running Water and Sanitation Services
Report by DigDeep and US Water Alliance Unveils America’s Hidden Water Crisis

November 19, 2019 – Washington, DC – Two national non-profit groups, DigDeep and the US Water Alliance, released a new report, “Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States: A National Action Plan,” which included the Rural Community Assistance Partnership’s (RCAP’s) unique perspective from working with small, often disadvantaged, rural communities across the United States and Puerto Rico. While most Americans take reliable access to clean, safe water for granted, this new nationwide study found that more than two million Americans are living without running water, indoor plumbing, or wastewater treatment.

On the Navajo Nation in the Southwest, families drive for hours to haul barrels of water to meet their basic needs. In West Virginia, they drink from polluted streams. In Alabama, parents warn their children not to play outside because their yards are flooded with sewage. Families living in Texas border towns worry because there is no running water to fight fires.

Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States is the most comprehensive national study on the more than two million Americans who lack access to water service. The report fills an important knowledge gap: there is no one entity—whether a federal agency or research institution—that collects comprehensive data on the scope of the United States water access problem.

The report’s authors, with researchers from Michigan State University, examine six areas where the water access gap is particularly acute: the Central Valley of California, border colonias in Texas, rural counties in Mississippi and Alabama, rural West Virginia, the “four corners” area in the Southwest, and Puerto Rico. Researchers spoke to families living without water and captured their stories of poor health and economic hardship. The authors also spoke to local community leaders working to solve the water crisis by distributing water, building community-centered water projects where no infrastructure exists, and advocating for policy change to bring more reliable services to rural and unincorporated communities. Despite these community efforts, data suggests that some communities may be backsliding; six states and Puerto Rico saw recent increases in their populations without water access.

The report contains contributions from Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) network members from across the country, including research and policy perspectives from the national office in Washington, D.C., as well as perspectives on-the-ground from RCAP regional partners including RCAP Solutions (the Northeastern RCAP,) Communities Unlimited (the Southern RCAP,) Great Lakes Community Action Partnership (the Great Lakes RCAP) and Rural Community Assistance Corporation (the Western RCAP).

“Working with rural communities, we see the negative effects families face when their access to clean and safe water is threatened,” said RCAP CEO Nathan Ohle. “As members of the US Water Alliance, we vow to partake in these solutions to help close the water gap in America as quickly as possible, so rural communities can continue to thrive.”

George McGraw, Founder, DigDeep, said: “Over the past few years, DigDeep has brought running water to hundreds of families on the Navajo Nation, but now we’ve learned this hardship is shared by millions of Americans across the country. To live daily without reliable drinking water and with untreated sewage are conditions more frequently associated with impoverished nations, but it’s happening in our own backyards. With all the resources being leveraged to solve the water and sanitation crisis abroad, I have no doubt we can close the water gap in America quickly if we redouble our efforts.”

Radhika Fox, CEO, US Water Alliance, said: “It’s hard to imagine that in America today, people are living without basics like safe and reliable water service. While the challenges are daunting, this report presents a national action plan to close the water access gap in our lifetime. From the Central Valley to the Navajo nation, there are community-centered solutions that are working. Now is the time to build upon these innovations and ensure every American can thrive.”

The report makes several recommendations to help close the water gap in the United States. Recommendations include re-introducing Census questions about whether homes have working taps and toilets, as well as changes to how the federal government funds and regulates water systems to support rural and unincorporated areas. There are also several recommendations for the philanthropic and global WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) sectors to drive community empowerment, deploy innovative technologies, and apply successful WASH models from abroad here in the United States.

Read the full report at closethewatergap.org.
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Media Contact:
Kinsey Brown, RCAP Communications Manager
(202) 800-4127
kbrown@rcap.org
www.rcap.org

Don’t Take Water for Granted on Imagine a Day Without Water

Millions of Americans take water service for granted every day. Turn on the tap, and clean water flows out. Flush the toilet, and dirty water goes away. With reliable water service, people don’t have to think twice about the infrastructure that brings water to their homes, and then safely returns water to the environment – but everyone should be concerned with the fragility of those systems.

On Imagine a Day Without Water, take a moment to think about what would happen if you couldn’t turn on the tap and get clean drinking water, or if you flushed the toilet and wastewater didn’t go anywhere. What would that day be like? What would firefighters do? Could hospitals be sanitary without clean tap water, or without wastewater service? Would restaurants and hotels be able to serve guests? Would famers be able to water their crops or care for their livestock? Would manufacturing plants that require vast amounts of clean water, such as breweries or paper mills, shut down?

We take for granted that we don’t have to ask those questions every day, but America’s water infrastructure is aging and failing. Stories of communities with neglected infrastructure and compromised drinking water bubble up regularly. Record rainfalls in the Midwest this spring flooded the Mississippi River with pollution, and this summer toxic algae bloomed in the Great Lakes – a critical source of drinking water for millions of Americans. In other parts of the country, drought and wildfires threaten critical water supplies for communities and farmers. There are even communities, especially in many rural places across the country, that have never had access to infrastructure in the first place. Americans can’t take their water infrastructure for granted.

Water infrastructure is the lifelines of our community. Our water infrastructure supports every facet of our daily lives, but our water infrastructure is facing challenges.

Water challenges look different to different communities and will require local solutions, but reinvestment in water systems should be a national priority. Strong leadership on water is key to securing America’s future. Imagine a Day Without Water is an opportunity for everyone to get educated about our local water systems and challenges, what organizations are trying to do to solve our big water problems. It is also a day for us to raise awareness with our elected leaders and say, with one voice, that these are big problems that won’t be solved in a silo. We need leadership at every level if we want to secure a better future for the millions of Americans who don’t have reliable water service today, and ensure a reliable water future for generations to come. Investing in water is investing in a future where no American will have to imagine a day without water.

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.