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 and LOR Foundation Introduce National “Rural Homecoming” to Celebrate Local Innovation and Opportunity

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contacts:
Kinsey Brown, RCAP: kbrown@rcap.org, (202) 800-4127
Korenna Wilson, LOR: korenna@lorfoundation.org, (307) 690-0550

WASHINGTON, DC — (September 4, 2019) Rural communities across the country will celebrate the inaugural Rural Homecoming Oct. 18-20 by hosting events and engaging members of their community as part of a national movement that is rooted in local connections.

#RuralHomecoming was created this year to reconnect people to their hometowns and to kickstart a national dialogue on what being rural truly means. This fall, communities will come together to celebrate and give current and former residents a reason to reconnect with their
hometown and the innovation and unique attributes that make their community so special.

Rural Homecoming was developed by the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) in partnership with the LOR Foundation, and today the organizations are launching the program by inviting any rural community across the country to participate, free of charge. Each community will receive a toolkit to inspire and guide communities interested in getting involved, including a social media and communications plan rooted in each community’s plan to participate.

“Rural Homecoming lets each community tell their own story,” said Nathan Ohle, CEO of RCAP. “It provides an opportunity to let communities take back their story and highlight what makes rural America so special by giving communities a reason to open their doors and reconnect people with their hometowns. Rural Homecoming empowers each community to take part in a national partnership with a locally-focused approach.”

“We’re all from somewhere,” said LaMonte Guillory, Chief Communications Officer of the LOR Foundation. “Cities or small towns, coastal or inland, East or West, plains or mountains, the concept of Rural Homecoming allows people to connect with their roots and think about where they came from. It also gives us a chance to talk about the innovation and accomplishments that are happening in rural America right now, of which there are many.”

To access and download the free toolkit, visit https://rcap.org/events/ruralhomecoming/. Follow #RuralHomecoming on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to join the movement. We want to hear from you. What makes your community special?

About RCAP: RCAP is a network of nonprofit organizations working to ensure rural and small communities throughout the United States have increased capacity to drive access to safe drinking water, sanitary wastewater, economic development and disaster recovery that leads to economic prosperity. To learn more about this work visit: rcap.org.

About LOR: LOR is a foundation that works to increase prosperity in the rural Mountain West, while preserving the character that defines these iconic places. Together with communities, they revitalize main streets, protect clean water supplies, preserve agricultural land and open space, and improve access to the outdoors and recreation. lorfoundation.org

Edwin Vazquez-Asencio Named Rookie of the Year

Congratulations to Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist at RCAP Solutions, who received the Outstanding Rookie Award at the RCAP National conference.

Karen A. Koller, CEO; Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist; Juan Campos-Collazo, Community Development Specialist and Josefa Torres-Olivo, District Director at the RCAP National Awards Reception

Karen A. Koller, President and CEO; Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist; Juan Campos-Collazo, Community Development Specialist; and Josefa Torres-Olivo, District Director at the RCAP National Awards Reception.

This award is given to a staff member who has been with the RCAP program for two years or less, but who has made contributions over and above what would be expected for a new staff member. Nominees for this award have adapted to their jobs quickly, have made positive suggestions and contributions for program improvement, and shown outstanding initiative.

Edwin was hired in October 2014 to implement and lead RCAP Solutions Solid Waste Grant activities under National RCAP’s USDA Solid Waste Grant.  Prior to joining RCAP, Edwin had over 10 years of community education and training experience. Edwin has B.B.A. in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing from University of Puerto Rico and an MBA from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico. With Edwin’s background in community outreach, education, and organizing, his education in biology, and his passion for social and environmental justice, and to work directly with communities to address these issues, the selection committee felt that given the extreme degree of the solid waste issues in Puerto Rico, we needed an activist, not a technician.  This instinct paid off with dividends as Edwin has been working to organize community clean ups of illegal dump sites and to develop municipal and school-based recycling programs as well as community education and outreach activities.

In Edwin’s two short years at RCAP Solutions, he has been solely responsible for conducting two major community clean up events.

The first in January, 2015 took place in Manzanillo, a small, poor, rural barrio located on the southern coast of Puerto Rico, where the Jacaguas River meets the Caribbean Sea. In total, over 400 volunteers took part in the event, resulting in 15 truckloads of trash – approximately 100 cubic yards – hauled away. This event was conducted only 4 months after Edwin’s hire.

The second, in February, 2016 took place at the Guayabal Lake, located between the barrios Guayabal in Juana Diaz and Romero in Villalba.  It is one of the most important water reservoirs for agriculture activities from Juana Diaz to Salinas, a large region of four to five towns.  It has been used since 1914; providing enough water to develop the sugar cane industry in the region during the most intense period of development in Puerto Rico. Around 300 volunteers and government employees worked hand in hand to recover the lake from the solid waste under the lead of RCAP team. As a result, over 121,704.5 lbs. ≈ 60.85 tons of solid waste was removed from the lake.

Josefa.Edwin.Juan.Scott

Josefa Torres-Olivo, District Director; Edwin Vazquez-Asencio, Sustainable Materials Management Specialist; Juan Campos-Collazo, Community Development Specialist; and Scott Mueller, Chief Community Services Officer and Director Rural Assistance at the RCAP National Awards Reception.

These events took many months of planning to coordinate. Edwin’s initiative provided a wake-up call and a real movement in the Manzanilla Community. After the success of the Manzanilla clean-up, many communities and agencies turned their attention to RCAP to find solutions in many areas affected by solid waste.  The coordination between federal, state, and municipal agencies and the communities demonstrates the need to establish a more collaborative frame of work to address this situation.

“This is exactly what we need, getting people to work together to protect the environment for future generations,” stated Adrian Alicea, a Park Ranger for the PR Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DRNA), when the Manzanilla report was presented.

Between his start date in October 2014 and January 2015, Edwin planned, organized, conducted trainings, and implemented a volunteer community clean up event in a low income rural coastal community.  The event was a HUGE success.  Over 400 people showed up including local officials, officials from Puerto Rico’s Agricultural Extension Agency, Department of Natural Resources, the state police, the University of Puerto Rico, numerous local Boy Scout troops, church, and school service-learning groups.  NOT TO MENTION the buy-in of the residents of the community itself.  It was so successful that it was reported on by local Puerto Rico radio and television outlets, and served as a cover story for Rural Matters and a National RCAP special video project under production.

In March 2015 – just less than 6 months of his hire – Edwin, provided training, and implemented an event that involved engaging the local schools, getting buy in, training teachers, and planned, organized and ran an event where children were tasked with finding creative uses for items from illegal dumps and litter.

This lead the process to the point where school children are growing seedlings in containers that were or would have entered the waste stream to be used to landscape abandoned areas where the illegal dumping was occurring and an “adopt an island” approach was launched to find local businesses to plant and maintain these areas.

Edwin intrinsically knows that solving problems is one thing and that education, training, and capacity development is quite

Edwin Vazquez-Asencio with Robert Stewart, Director of RCAP, Inc.

Edwin Vazquez-Asencio with Robert Stewart, Director of RCAP, Inc.

another.  He is all about the local empowerment of low income communities and is not satisfied simply achieving his required work load or stay within the confines of his job description.  He is constantly coming up with ideas of how we can better serve the communities he is working with.

Edwin independently developed and delivered training materials that fit the context of the solid waste issues in Puerto Rico and has been assisting on our Puerto Rico Department of Health Sanitary Survey contract.

Edwin has been assisting and in some cases leading resource development efforts to expand our work in Puerto Rico. As a Solid Waste Management Specialist he has developed a collaborative strategic approach with the Government and the communities to deal with the proliferation of illegal dumping sites and the effects of these in the public health. Working as liaison between different agencies including The Natural Resources Department, The PR Solid Waste Authority, the Department of Education, the PR Police, the University of Puerto Rico and other private universities and the municipalities of Juana Díaz and Villaba, he is creating programs and initiatives to create awareness of the problem using cleanups activities to educate and promote long term solutions.

The inclusive approach is considering a multilevel educational effort to address the necessities of students, professionals and government employees.  His design is based in the sustainability of the initiatives considering; reduce, reuse and recycling of the materials that need to be diverted from the landfills. He is the Leader of the Educational Committee of the PR Recycling Partnership for the south of PR; an initiative of the Environmental Protection Agency Region II.

He has been invited to important radio programs in PR such as “La Gente Está Hablando” and “Es con usted la ciestión” on WPAB Radio Station and “La Alternativa Holística” on Radio Casa Pueblo 1020 AM; radio programs related to Social, Political and Environmental Issues affecting the society. In total Mr. Vazquez-Asencio have more than 25 years of experience in administration, outreach and community education, with a strong background in cultural and environmental management.

In addition to this, Edwin has been involved in several volunteer and community projects including:

  • Assisted Dr. Norma Piazza from UPR, Ponce in the study needs for the Federal Department of Education, Title V on the proposal for the development of Spanish study centers using technology
  • Work in the development process of a proposal for Department of Education by the Ponce Art Museum
  • Oriented small farmer from Yauco, Puerto Rico about disposal of vegetal material by using the composting process
  • Founder and developer of literary movement La Peña Literaria
  • Member of Centro Cultural Carmen Solá de Pereira

What folks had to say about Edwin and his contributions:

“Edwin Vazquez-Asencio works with a passion, a virtue that not all Technical Assistance Providers possess. As a small fish in an immense tank of water, Edwin has to dive through the solid waste program with less experience than others with years of experience. He has gone above and beyond, accomplishing more than the tasks assigned under the Solid Waste program and also provides assistance with the drinking water program as well. Edwin has what’s needed to move the Solid Waste program ahead in Puerto Rico; and that is a great heart and the passion to serve people. He has taken giant steps towards positioning RCAP Solutions’ Solid Waste Program in Puerto Rico on the radar, such that local and federal Solid Waste agencies are noticing the work that he has done in such a short time. The Puerto Rico team is very proud to have Edwin on board as someone who assists rural and low income communities and those who live there.” Eng. Josefa Torres, District III Director Puerto Rico & U.S.V.I.

“Edwin is an extraordinary human being that puts the many qualities and skills he owns at the service of the rural communities in need. He has a great capacity for understanding the work along with the communities in helping them to effectively address their problems and improving not only their physical facilities, but also improving their self-esteem. He is an incredibly valuable team member for the RCAP Solutions staff in Puerto Rico.” Eng. Juan Campos, Community Development Specialist, RCAP Solutions Puerto Rico
Comments from volunteers involved in the Manzanillo and Guayabal Lake Clean Up Projects:

 “Manzanillo’s experience was an example of solidarity and empowerment, a reflection on what each one can do for the collective, and a successful learning experience for both the local community and the volunteers involved.” Dr. Sandra Moyá of the University of Puerto Rico’s Department of Biology

“This is exactly what we need, getting people to work together to protect the environment for future generations. This is part of our legacy for them and I’m glad we are a part of it. We patrol the area, try to educate people and prevent illegal dumping, but we need help. We really appreciate RCAP’s initiative to organize and coordinate this event. We need to continue this effort in other places.” Adrian Alicea, a Park Ranger for the Department of Natural Resources

“I have a three year old girl and an eight year old son. When they see people like RCAP Solutions working with us, they will grow up knowing that if we work together, we can get the help we need to have a better life in our community. My son helped clean the river with his dad. It will help the next generation think differently about the community and the environment.” Jayline Olivencia, Manzanillo resident

 “With this effort, we can say, today we made the change! RCAP Solutions was a helping hand, uniting people and creating an understanding about the importance of protecting and maintaining a clean environment, which will lead to a better quality of life and a better future.” Keila Rivera, an environmental science graduate student from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, who assisted with the workshops and researched information about the garbage burning habits promoted in Manzanillo Community.

 “It was an answered prayer, we were looking for the know how to deal with this situation” Eng.  Ruben Estremera, Principal Supervisor Engineer, PREPA South Coast-Juana Diaz Irrigation System. 

National Legislative Update

Legislative update for NLProvided by Ted Stiger, Director of Policy, Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP)

Congress needs to pass a stopgap spending before this current fiscal year ends on September 30. Congress continues to debate a measure that would fund government programs at current levels (fiscal year 2016) until December 9. Senate leaders hope to pass their version of the bill this week to avoid a government shutdown and keep federal agencies funded into FY 2017, which starts on October 1. The House is likely to follow the Senate and adopt the same measure.

 Congressional leaders have not reached a deal yet on emergency Zika virus funding and language restricting funds for Planned Parenthood from the Zika package, which has caused delays in getting the funding measure passed.

Congress will still have to return in a lame-duck session after the elections to complete the full FY 2017 appropriations process.

On September 15, the Senate passed the Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (WRDA)-S. 2848. The legislation identifies $4.5 billion of water-related infrastructure projects and authorizes $4.9 billion for drinking and clean water infrastructure over five years.

The measure also provides $220 million in direct emergency assistance to address drinking water issues in communities such as Flint, MI.

Of interest to RCAP, the bill authorizes a grant program to assist small and disadvantaged communities in complying with the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act. A priority is given to underserved communities without basic drinking water or wastewater services. This section authorizes $230 million for FY 2017, and $300 million for each of fiscal years 2018 through 2021.

Additionally, the bill establishes a technical assistance program for small treatment works, to be carried out by qualified nonprofit technical service providers. Authorizes $15 million a year for five years. A full section by section summary of the bill is attached in the appendices of this report.

Over in the House, legislative efforts are underway to move their WRDA package (H.R. 5303) for floor consideration this week. Should the House pass its WRDA package, a conference committee could work to reconcile the respective Senate and House packages in time for enactment of the final bill during a December Lame Duck session.

Ted Stiger joined RCAP in 2016 as Policy Director and is responsible for the organization’s national policy and legislative efforts as well as RCAP’s USDA grant portfolio.  

RCAP Solutions is the Northeast affiliate of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership. The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) is a national network of nonprofit organizations working to ensure that rural and small communities throughout the United States have access to safe drinking water and sanitary wastewater disposal. The six regional RCAPs  its partners or affiliates provide a variety of programs in their section of the United States to accomplish this goal, such as direct training and technical assistance; leveraging millions of dollars to assist communities develop and improve their water and wastewater systems.

Spring 2014 Watershed to Well

w2wmastheadSpring2014

The Spring Watershed to Well is now available!  

You may access it by clicking here.

If you are not currently on the email distribution list, but would like to be added, please contact Maegen McCaffrey at mmccaffrey@rcapsolutions.org.

 

Community Resources Program Update

water-conserve

Scott Mueller, Director of Community Resources & Chief Rural Affairs Officer

Rural communities across the country are all experiencing challenges with keeping their localities clean, healthy, and economically vibrant.  This past year has certainly shown that the federal and state governments are tightening the purse strings further impacting local communities, but in particular the small rural communities.

RCAP Solutions Community Resources Program focuses on providing technical assistance at the local level to these smaller underserved communities focusing on providing Technical, Managerial, and Financial [TMF] technical assistance to those seeking to build capacity in these areas at the local level.

In particular one area which has shown to be of great benefit to communities is in the area of Water and Wastewater Asset Management Planning [AMP] and Effective Utility Management [EUM].  In order support or bolster any local economy it is important to have the necessary infrastructure to support its existing workforce, businesses, and in many cases tourism economies which demands clean water.

The current trend is to operate and maintain existing systems in a long term and sustainable approach and there are many approaches smaller communities can take towards this end as the monies from the federal and state entities are shrinking.  As such the responsibility for community systems are ultimately lying with the community itself.  This can often be a daunting responsibility and we are here to help communities through this process.

RCAP Solutions is pleased to be able to again this year offer in many cases free technical assistance in these areas to those communities which qualify.  We also provide an array of other Direct Service Contract services to those seeking special and individualized services.

We wish all communities the best in the upcoming year and to find out more information as to our programs and services please contact Scott Mueller, Director of Community Services and Chief Rural affairs officer at 315-482-2756 or email smueller@rcapsolutions.org.

Potable Water Operator Training in Puerto Rico

PR trainingJosefa Torres, District Director

In November, RCAP Solutions provided the first of three Potable Water Operator trainings at Sila María Calderón Foundation in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

This training activity is part of the Puerto Rico Department of Health Technical Assistance Support & Circuit Rider Project, to help 48 small community-owned public water systems work towards becoming compliant with the EPA Safe Drinking Water Act.

23 participants, representing 17 communities attended the EPA-Certified Operator Training Certification classes, coordinated by RCAP Staff members Josefa Torres, District Director and Juan Campos, Community Development Specialist.

PR training2

Upon completion, these water systems will meet the U.S. national standards for safe drinking water, many for the first time in the history of these particular community public water systems.

Practical Implementation of CUPSS R&R Schedule (Not your Dad’s Rest and Relaxation)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArthur Astarita, Maine State Lead 

RCAP Solutions’ experience has shown that developed, small-sized systems (<3300 connections), have a wide-range of documenting capital improvements.  Typically a written sheet is developed showing a list of improvements including costs and is used to plan proposed upgrades.  This “mental list” is generated and updated when events arise that call for a new suggestion or thought but does not contain a comprehensive look at the entire system and financial health.  It is not holistic which is required to assure the system is operated in a long term and responsible manner.

More often is the case that only when equipment fails are capital improvement projects created to address the urgency rather than a planned approach.  Commonly, an engineering firm scopes out this “reactionary” project through the required preliminary engineering report (PER).  The engineering firm usually has a working relationship with the system and retains the “technical knowledge” but the firm does not usually conduct streaming-asset-performance analysis.  In today’s sustainability world, in order for the system to remain solvent and meet regulatory requirements, they must have the tools to document predicted equipment failure, replacement cost estimates and impacts to consumer rates.  Regular system maintenance and observations are necessary for this streaming performance analysis, replacement prediction and financial planning.

The free EPA CUPSS program (www.epa.gov/cupss) affords systems a one-stop shop to document inventory attributes, critical maintenance tasks, revenue/expense finances, mission statements, level of services, system service details along with history and report outputs for analysis.  Supported nationwide, it can become the common, simple routine for all systems to report in standard format.  This standard reporting can lead to building local and regional expertise in a “utility-helping-utility” network, generate detailed grass-roots funding gaps and impress our congressional leaders of their constituents’ needs.

Commonly, operators/superintendents have an ease using CUPSS’ import template; an Excel spreadsheet.  The user can easily copy/paste data from existing records and GIS tables. Conversely, the unique CUPSS output data can join by digitally-indexing to existing record columns and GIS tables. This flexibility allows data capture and enhancement without being repetitive. Technical assistance can be smoothly facilitated by the email exchange of the spreadsheet(s) and phone discussions prior to a site visit for report-output analysis.

Upon completion of the inventory component of the software, CUPSS generates a repair/replacement (R&R) cost schedule.  Here costs for items can be grouped by decade or by logical project task(s).  This report is perhaps the most important and critical step in reaching effective utility management.  This report allows for initial priority and emphasis of improvements along with the cost of those upgrades or maintenance activities.  This R&R cost schedule allows this critical information to be shared in a concise and organized manner with decision makers overseeing the system.

Another aspect of this program and process is that attention may be given to the maintenance budget within CUPSS. By documenting schedule and non-scheduled maintenance costs of critical equipment, a system can understand the funds needed to extend useful life expectancies.  This can reduce budget impacts of capital needed for replacement budgets.

With or without the use of CUPPS it is important to note that systems must provide proper managerial and technical expertise to insure public health.  True sustainability can be approached with the inclusion of an operations and maintenance budget. The creation of and funding in four major reserve accounts is paramount:

  1. Debt Service: 100% funded
  2. Emergency O&M: capped at ~25% of your operations budget
  3. Short-term Assets: All assets <15 year lifespan should be expensed
  4. Long-term Assets: Capital budget schedule and x% of value should be set aside annually

It is the long-term Asset reserve that is financially critical.  As governmental subsidies decline, it is increasingly becoming apparent that utilities must develop a holistic business plan approach which focuses on asset management in order to operate the system in a sustainable manner.