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

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.

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.