Entries for December 2011


This is a guest post from Soren Rundquist, a Source Water and GIS Training Specialist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

There are a number of open source software platforms available online that can be powerful tools for your water system operation. One such platform is a Quantum GIS (QGIS).

Without an annual licensing fee, QGIS serves as a cost effective data management tool for small municipalities to monitor, manipulate, analyze and maintain spatial records. This is one of the reasons the Iowa DNR has tasked Iowa Source Water Protection with organizing a training symposium on the software.

What is Quantum GIS?
Quantum GIS (QGIS) is an open source geographic information system (GIS). This robust software is a free alternative to proprietary GIS software like ESRI products which are oftentimes very expensive.

What’s nice about QGIS is that it incorporates very similar functions and features as its closed source counterparts by using a congruent graphical user interface (GUI). The GUI allows users to display, manipulate and create spatial data. It supports a variety of spatial data file extensions (.shp, .tif, .csv, .img, etc.), and is compatible on Linux, Unix, Mac, and Windows operating systems.

How does Quantum GIS benefit small municipalities?

For years, data has correlated to a specific point in space. American pioneers, for example, used landmarks so they had a reference while traveling. As society progressed, more and more spatial records were turned into digital formats, making paper maps a thing of the past.

Spatial data collection is a fundamental part of many municipal, county, state and federal governments. To better coordinate sharing of those records, millions of dollars have been spent to create and maintain spatial data sets at all governing levels. These are things like delineations of river boundaries, land ownership parcels, and soil type polygons, to name a few.

Most of this data was created in order to visualize data and to better inform the decision making process. QGIS is a powerful tool that enables you to do just that. It uses spatial data to derive a simple solution.

For water operators it serves a variety of core functions:

  • Users can generate accurate maps for internal use or for public dissemination, such as on websites or during public meetings.
  • It serves as a way to track spatial data and its proximity to hazards during emergency situations, such as flooding, leaking underground storage tank, among other things.
  • It gives you the ability to spatially manage growth for geographic areas. For example, it can help you determine the best areas to build houses, lay a pipeline, etc. 

The take home is that municipalities using QGIS are able to monitor, manipulate, analyze and maintain their spatial records at no charge.

Where can I find Quantum GIS?

The QGIS experience is what you make of it. For some users QGIS is simply a viewer for spatial data. For others, it is an enterprise level risk-analysis provider. Often times the difference in function lies solely in the user’s ambition and dedication to learning more about the software.

The basic downloadable QGIS version comes with a solid set of tools and functions. However, since it is built on open source code, programmers from all over the world have written plug-ins or customized tools for a variety of industries. These plug-ins can be found by a simple web search or within QGIS repositories.

To download the latest version of Quantum GIS visit http://www.qgis.org. If you’ve never used QGIS, you may also want to download a users manual to get you started:

Where can I find free U.S. government data?

How to Run your Small Water Supply like a Business
is a weekly series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on most Mondays.

There is only one thing we love more than free webinars and easy access to them: a repository of past webinars ready-for-viewing! We came across two different listings of archived webinars recently:

1. Webinars on Demand from The Groundwater Foundation
Fifteen webinar trainings on relevant groundwater topics. Perfect for newer operators as well as board member training.

2. Past Webcasts from USEPA's Watershed Academy
More that 60 archived webcasts on a broad range of clean water issues.

We know you don't have a ton of extra time, but web-based training is often the next best thing to in person interaction. You can see and hear examples, which makes the information easier to digest and remember. We'll be adding these to our document library so you can always find the training you need, when you need it.


You may have read about pending legislation in Congress that would eliminate the requirement to mail the annual Consumer Confidence Report for public water systems who have no violations. (Instead, in-compliance systems could post the CCR to their website.) The National Rural Water Association is supportive of this potential change, citing unnecessary cost and time burden for small utilities.

I certainly do agree that small communities face unprecendented challenges in maintaining their water and wastewater systems. State and federal funding is harder to come by and when it does, it has more strings attached. With so many operators retiring and so much infrastructure that needs upgrading, we've neared a financial crisis point.

We talk a lot here at SmallWaterSupply.org about the value of water, the need to proactively communicate with customers and how, these items together, can develop an engaged and informed public that can help us find a way out of today's troubles.

On the surface, it seems like a good idea, but I wonder... is eliminating an established line of communication, often the only connection the average citizen has to his water outside of billing, really the best way to look for financial efficiency? Could it do more harm than good and set back the efforts of national public outreach campaigns, state capacity development programs and direct technical assistance?



This is a guest post from one of SmallWaterSupply.org's student staff members, Christina Cornelius.

Billing software plays an important role in successful operation of water systems. As part of an overall accounting approach, billing systems help to provide hidden and lost revenue. Access to robust billing systems may be limited for small water systems that do not have a surplus of funding. Most billing systems cost from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.

I have spent the past month researching available billing systems, but did not find a free or reasonable price for a billing system that serves up to 200 connections. We were able to find a free demo billing system, El Dorado (www.waterbill.com) that serves up to 20 connections. Even though the demo is developed very well and the full program would be a wonderful asset to water systems, the demo would only be useful to the very smallest systems.

We found numerous programs that offered a free demo. Below is a list of these companies and their contact information. If any of our dedicated readers know of any economical AND effective billing software, we would love to hear from you!

Diversified Technology Corporation

Visual Utility Billing


Price: $4500 (All Inclusive) or $120 a month

Donald R. Frey & Company

CUBIC Utility Billing Software


Price: About $2600


Price: $995

Asyst: Utility Billing


Price:  $2500

RVS Software

RVS Mosaics Utility Billing Software


Price: $1648

Water Works

WaterWorks Utility Billing Software


Price: $1495

Redline Data Systems

Rural Billing

Price: $800

TAK Technology
Quik Water


Price $400

These companies also offer billing software, but we were unable to obtain a specific price. These companies perfer to get specific information about the water system, so they can match a software that fits the system's needs.



Core Utilities

Core Utility Billing

Free Trial: Yes


Utilities Management


Free Trial: Yes


Posted in: Asset Management

The American Water Works Association is retiring Streamlines, its biweekly web/email newsletter, with the intent to communicate relevant news even faster to those who want and need it.

In place of the newsletter, AWWA will operate two different RSS feeds: one for breaking news and organization announcements and another for their DrinkTap blog, a source for more general industry news.

RSS is a format that allows news to be pushed to you via an RSS reader, without having to visit multiple websites to retrieve that information. We wrote a post about the value of RSS earlier this year. This is what makes blogs different from regular websites - the ability to keep up in an easier way.

We know that many people prefer to have their news come directly to them by email - our newsletter isn't going anywhere. We'll make sure to bring you the most relevant AWWA news articles, as we have been over the past year. If you do want the very latest though, adding AWWA's feeds to a RSS reader (with SmallWaterSupply.org's feed, of course) will help you do that!

What do you think of this change?

Posted in: AWWAs

Facebook is one of, if not the, easiest ways to develop a web presence for free and in a matter of minutes. No expertise is needed and it is easy to update. Most importantly, Facebook is where your customers already are.

We've written several posts now on using the web to improve your communication with customers, and Facebook in particular. Let's review:

In these posts we've tried to give you all the reasons why starting a Facebook Page is a good idea and even how to do it. We've even offering to build one for you. (That offer still stands, by the way.)

If you haven't started one yet, can you tell us why? Is it because of state regulations on posting board member minutes? Is it because you just don't have time? We're curious about what's stopping you. Any reason is a good one - because it's your reason - and we want to help.

How to Run your Small Water Supply like a Business is a weekly series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on most Mondays.



Earlier this year, we picked free & low cost webinars as one of the things we love here at SmallWaterSupply.org - and we still love 'em. Webinars are web-based training seminars and events that you watch and listen to from your computer.

In fact, so many other organizations love them too. In the face of budget cuts, many training providers are turning to these online training formats to still reach you. So many in fact, we have found the need to do a better job of keeping track of them all for you.

On the front page of SmallWaterSupply.org we've swapped out out around-the-nation style events calendar for a listing of free (and only free) webinars that you can attend wherever you have an internet connection. Just as we did before, we'll keep this listing updated with the events coming up soon. Some of these events offer CEUs!

Do you attend webinars? We've love to know what you think of this format. Please tell us in the comments.