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

RCAP Network Survey Shows Impact of COVID-19 on Rural Water and Wastewater Systems

Our national affiliate, The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), recently released a survey that shows the major impacts of COVID-19 on small and rural systems. The survey received more than 1,100 unique responses from systems in 49 states and Puerto Rico.

The staggering data revealed that under current conditions, 31% of systems cannot sustain current financial losses for more than 6 months. In addition, more than 43% of systems surveyed said they rely on one full-time operator or less to operate their system (many rely on part-time staff, operators or volunteers), and many respondents indicated a concern over the health of their operators in the maintenance of the system. To view the full survey findings, click here.

RCAP also released state-specific data that can be shared with policymakers in each state to advocate for the continued need of future COVID-19 response funding for small water and wastewater systems. Below are the one-pagers for our service areas. More states will continue to be added.

RCAP Network COVID-19 Survey Reveals Small Water and Wastewater Systems’ Financial Outlooks

Registraton for the Pennsylvania Regional Collaboration Summit is now open!

Taking place on March 10 – 11 in State College, Pennsylvania, this event will provide information, tools, and resources for communities to efficiently sustain their water and wastewater systems through regional collaboration, sharing services, or partnering with other organizations for mutual benefit. During this event attendees will hear from a number of speakers from various agencies and organizations and will participate in activities designed to inform and educate.

For more information about the event and to register, click here.

QUESTIONS? CONTACT:
Derik J. Dressler
Pennsylvania Regionalization Specialist
814-571-0727
ddressler@rcapsolutions.org

Save The Date! Pennsylvania Regional Collaboration Summit

This March, RCAP Solutions and the Rural Community Assistance Partnership invite you to attend a Regional Collaboration Summit. This summit will engage many stakeholders, including elected and appointed local government officials, state and federal agency staff, and others that play a role in water and wastewater utility management.

Mark your calendars and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more information in the coming weeks.

RCAP Solutions Welcomes Kathy Rodgers to Maine Team

Kathy Rodgers joined RCAP Solutions as Maine’s newest technical assistance provider.  Ms. Rodgers’ work in the water industry over the last fifteen years has cultivated a solid understanding of small community water and wastewater system challenges and needs.

“Ms. Rodgers is a great compliment to our team of professionals,” said Art Astarita, RCAP Solutions Maine State Lead. “I believe it is critical for our technical assistance providers to be able to draw on their experience to help ensure the success of our region. Kathy’s invaluable skills and expertise will make a difference in communities that need vital assistance with their drinking water and wastewater systems.”

Kathy Rodgers earned a Master of Business Administration and Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL.  Kathy holds water treatment and distribution licenses in multiple states.  She is experienced in root cause analysis and solution development, board trainings, funding applications, strategic planning, and drinking water operations. Kathy’s full bio can be found here.

RCAP Solutions, Inc., Community Resource Division’s committed staff works hand in hand with community leaders and homeowners to incorporate the best tools and resources suited to protect public health and the environment while progressing towards financial sustainability and improved quality of life.   RCAP Solutions Maine field offices are home to a dedicated team of staff members living and working in the Maine communities in which they serve.

About RCAP Solutions:

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.  RCAP Solutions is a comprehensive nonprofit community development corporation that works with communities of all sizes to address a broad range of needs including community resources; real estate services; client resources, advocacy and housing programs; financial services and education and training.  RCAP Solutions is part of a coordinated nationwide network with an integrated, multi-faceted approach to delivering high-quality services customized to each community’s unique requirements.  For more information, please visit www.rcapsolutions.org.

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.

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

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.