Entries for 'Steve Wilson'

21
Today, a co-worker who I have known for over 20 years, came into my office and asked about SmallWaterSupply.org. He doesn't work with communities much, mostly does groundwater-related research looking at water quality or evaluating groundwater resources. But today, he wanted to find out more about the career of a water operator. He has a son who isn't sure what he wants to do, but he is mechanically inclined and likes working with his hands.
 
I Had Just The Information He Needed
We sat down and went through the careers page on SmallWaterSupply.org. I explained what resources are available, showed him our video, and suggested he sit down and go through the resources with his son. We also looked at the operator schools list and I mentioned that Illinois is fortunate to have one of the best in the country, the Environmental Resources Training Center at SIU-Edwardsville. I suggested he visit them and take a tour; it has a built in water and wastewater plant, two wet labs, and is a very hands-on program that I think his son will love.
 
Today, It Hit Home
I gotta say, I'm writing this blog post because it felt so good to know that the work we are doing and the resources we provide might help a young man I have known his entire life. Today, it hit home and it was a great feeling to be able to show off our careers page and know that we have put a lot of great resources together. It also makes the effort and initiative we took to partner with AWWA and WEF through Workforwater.org feel that much more justified and worth it.
 
Who do you know that might be looking for a career direction? 
26
When you sign up for our Tribal Utility News newsletter, you're asked what challenges tribal water and wastewater systems face, specifically what challenges that are different from other small systems. We've been listening closely to the responses. Here is a summary:
 
Who Responded
We have had about 60 responses to our survey. Though we don't know who said what, the folks who signed up for the newsletter include tribal operators, various technical assistance providers, and staff from several federal agencies that serve tribal interests. Based on the responses, it seems that everyone in those groups provided at least a little input.
 
There Are A Lot Of Similarities
First of all, tribal systems are facing many of the same challenges that non-tribal small systems are facing all over the country.  The responses mirror many of the things we hear all the time from small systems.  We'll provide some of that information in a different post, however.
 
There Are Definately Additional Challenges/Issues For Tribal Systems
Tribal systems face unique challenges related to their sovereignty, government, federal support, and tribal issues/attitude. Remember, we are here to be impartial, share what others have said, and hopefully move forward the dialogue on how to support tribal water and wastewater operators and the systems they serve. Below is the list we have so far. We welcome comments, suggestions, and most importantly, positive ideas for solving the challenges tribal water and wastewater systems face:
 
Remoteness and Isolation
- Cooperation and compromise with nearby non-tribal systems
- Seclusion from non-tribal resources (state and county)
- Ability to work with state entities (want to be able to)
 
Support From Tribal Government
- understanding the need for qualified operators
- tribal council involvement can be low
- lack of interest in water and wastewater issues
- need for a water board to make fair decisions (need independence)
- using system for political patronage
 
Dependence On Federal Entities
- need to take ownership of systems (attitude)
- dependence on slow moving federal bureaucracy/assistance
 
Tribal Issues/Attitudes
- high unemployment, new operators leave for better job
- cooperation and compromise with non-tribal systems
- non-tribal operators may not be able to stay on reservation
- tribal politics
- reluctance to work with outside entities to deal with problems, repairs
 
 
What's The Point?
There was one comment, only mentioned once, that makes the point that everyone involved with water and wastewater needs to remember. They said: "lack of emphasis on compliance for health and safety of citizens." When we all look at why we are involved with this profession and specifically involved in supporting tribal water and wastewater folks, isn't providing safe drinking water and clean discharge to the environment the only thing that really matters? Would some of these issues go away if we just made that the focus everyday, instead of some of the issues mentioned above?
 
Please Comment
We welcome comments, so please either post a comment on this blog post of send an email to info@smallwatersupply.org.
 
 
 

 

09
I was at an asset management workshop recently that included a number of state regulators. The theme was asset management and certification, but O & M and the tie-in to understanding your assets kept coming up.

O & M Is Tied To Asset Management
I realize the title of this blog post is about SCADA systems, and many small communities don't even have them, but whether you use SCADA or not, the principles behind good O & M are important for all systems. It's all about understanding your system, the equipment, infrastructure, and treatment, as well as the process of running the plant (O & M). I know everyone hears about the importance of testing generators monthly and servicing pumps when recommended, but many times these things are low priority. Weeks turn into months and months turn into years. I was at a plant this summer that was using a federal grant to get a new generator for their water plant. I had just been in the wastewater plant for this same community this last fall where there was a perfectly good generator that would serve the purpose. I brought this up to the consultant managing the grant, but he said it wouldn't work. Unfortunately, the community had no warranty on the generator because they didn't follow the maintenance schedule. It had sat in a garage for number of years and not been ran. As a taxpayer, that's frustrating, but as a small systems advocate, it gives us all a black eye.    

So On To Best Practices
At the workshop, someone from Michigan mentioned that one of their larger communities was planning to shut down their SCADA system for a week. This wasn't being done to allow upgrades or changes to the system, this was being done because the Water Supt. wanted to make sure his staff knew how to run the plant. This system is being proactive, both from an emergency standpoint, and also from an operations standpoint. We all rely on technology and automatic this or that for so many things these days, but to really "know" your plant, to be able to troubleshoot and tell when something isn't quite running right, you really have to have a comprehensive understanding of how your system works. 
   
I Know, You Already Know Your Plant That Well
You are thinking, I already have that level of understanding of my plant, I know when something doesn't sound right, look right, or even feel right. Thats great, but what about the next level of support? What happens when you are not there? Do you ever take vacation or have to be out of town for a day or two? Is the person left in charge of your plant as familiar with your system as you are?  Do they know your plant well enough to troubleshoot when a problem pops up? They need to have that level of understanding, or have something they can turn to that has those details.
 
That brings us back to one of those O & M things that are a pain, take time, and because you know the plant so well, keep putting off or don't see a need for. You should have an O & M manual for your plant. No one else can write it, and its only as useful as the information you put into it. It comes down to being prepared and taking full responsibility for the operation of the plant. That also means being prepared in case you can't be there for some reason.    

Getting Started 
First of all, develop an emergency response plan. There are templates available from a number of sources. You can contact a TA provider you work with, they will be able to get you started. If you want to look at some of the better ones, type in "emergency response plan" in our document keyword search, and use "type = templates". But, for those of you that already have an ERP, take the next step, develop an O & M plan for your plant. Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Florida require O & M plans, I'm sure there are others. New Jersey has an O & M template that operators can use to help them develop their O & M plan, as do Florida, Louisiana, and Vermont. Georgia has a guidance manual as well. It was also brought up at the workshop that Colorado is developing an O & M and training manual geeared toward walking you through developing an O & M plan for your facility. It sounds like it will be a great resource. Once the Colorado document is available, we'll post an update and provide those details. Lastly, if you need some help, email or call us. We can either help you directly or find someone in your area who can help you get started.
23
WIFIA stands for Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Authority. AWWA, WEF and AMWA are supporting a new bill to establish this Authority as a funding mechanism for large water and wastewater infrastructure projects. When you read the summary they have put together that explains what WIFIA will be able to do, it seems like a cost effective approach for helping systems deal with their infrastructure needs.  You can read the summary here.
 
But, And There Is Always A But...
WIFIA could end up being a problem for the current DW and CW SRF programs. WIFIA is meant to be a more open access sort of loan program whereby large projects can get low interest loans that save the utility and their customers money. It doesn't specify that the loans go to the systems with the greatest needs or those that are out of compliance. Thus, in some cases the funding could go for expansion projects that benefit the utility, rather than the intended use of dealing with the massive infrastructure problems being predicted for this country. On the other hand, SRF funds are directed toward those projects with the greatest need, with the goal being to protect public health and maintain compliance with the SDWA and CWA. This difference is important, especially in some states that have many small, rural systems.
 
Another difference between WIFIA and SRF are the use of cross-cutter rules. SRF requires utilities receiving money to meet certain federal requirements that limit how the funds can be used and requires the utilities to meet certain standards. The framers of WIFIA would prefer that the program not require many of those rules, which would make it easier for the utilities to receive funding, but reduce the oversight to ensure that the funding is being used for its intended purpose.
 
Lastly, SRF programs include set-aside monies that provide funding for the states to administer their programs and provide for state-managed activities that include things like technical assistance to small systems. WIFIA doesn't provide for these state resources. 
 
Some Possible Advantages
The WIFIA summary points to lower overall costs for consumers, based on current rates, as compared to the bond market. It also points out that there are 27 states that currently leverage their SRF funds on the bond market and this would allow them to borrow from WIFIA instead with potentially 16% savings long term. I've also heard that because private companies can't get SRF funds in some states, WIFIA would be an option over corporate bonds that would lower overall costs for customers at these systems.
 
Some Possible Disadvantages
The biggest concern with WIFIA is how it will affect the SRF programs. The SRFs are successful programs with a strong track record that provide funding for water and wastewater system projects. SRF programs are managed at the state level by the agencies that regulate the utilities, work with them to stay in compliance,  and know them best. States use the SRF programs to increase compliance and to protect public and environmental health. WIFIA would be a national program, managed at the national level that has the intended purpose of reducing the overall cost for infrastructure projects. Will national rules affect loan approval? Will the states be involved in decisions or the process for the WIFIA program? What about the small struggling system that doesn't have the ability to raise capital for infrastructure projects and is too small for a WIFIA loan?
 
When you read the SRF example in the summary, you might ask yourself why even have SRFs if WIFIA funding is available. The example basically says that the state financing authority could apply for WIFIA funding instead to fund its program, and indicates the cost savings over leveraging bonds instead. SRF costs the federal government about $2 billion dollars each year. WIFIA is being promoted as potentially having no long term cost to the federal government, so why would Congress want to keep both programs? That's the unintended consequence that many are worried about, and the reality that we could soon be faced with if a WIFIA bill doesn't have provisions to maintain the SRF program.
 
Loans For Small Systems
AWWA just released an infrastructure report that says funding for small system projects is going to cost much more per capita compared to larger systems that have the customer base to spread out infrastructure upgrade costs. Because WIFIA funds are meant for large projects, small systems would often not be eligible for WIFIA funding themselves. Asking small systems to bundle their projects, or asking the state to bundle the projects for them, also creates some questions. What if a loan is bundled for 5 projects and one of the projects defaults? What does that mean for the other 4 systems and what does that mean for the state if they applied for the loan? Will the state have to cover the defaulted loan?
 
If WIFIA replaces SRF, will the states be provided funds for staff to help small systems develop applications? Small systems often lack the managerial capacity to develop applications and instead use engineering firms and planning grants to get that task accomplished. Will those options still be available? They must be or some small systems will be left coming up with those funds themselves. What about states with very few, if any, systems that would qualify for WIFIA funding? If SRF goes away, what will they do to find funding for projects? Could they be out of luck until enough projects could be bundled to meet the WIFIA requirements?
 
What Needs To Happen
WIFIA is a great concept for dealing with the huge anticipated costs we expect to see for infrastructure upgrades in the next 25 years. As currently proposed, it will make it easy for large systems to get cheaper funding, even though those systems currently have more options available to them already. However, it could potentially have the unintended consequence of reducing or eliminating the SRF programs that support compliance and help small systems that might not have other options. Losing SRF funding would also reduce a state's ability to manage their SDWA and CWA programs because the states rely on the SRF set-asides for part of their program implementation. The SRF's are necessary and must be maintained - and, we would hope, at least at current funding levels. 
 
Recently, AWWA sent out an email asking its members to support WIFIA, encouraging utilities to contact their senators and representatives to seek their support in co-sponsoring the WIFIA bill. If you are so inclined to get involved, be sure to stress the importance and differences between the SRF programs and WIFIA, and that any reduction in SRF will lead to unintended consequences that include reduced compliance and public health protection for small systems, and could leave many small systems with no options for dealing with their infrastructure needs. Make it clear that you only support a WIFIA bill that leaves the SRF programs intact and fully supported.
27
I was at the Alabama Rural Water Association Conference a few weeks ago and there was a really interesting talk by a lawyer for an Alabama utility.  The utility is being sued by a few of their customers for poor water quality even though their water meets all health standards.  If a water supply provides water that meets all of the health standards and their operation meets all of the regulatory requirements, should their customers be able to sue them if they percieve there are water quality problems? Thats a tricky question for sure.
 
Safe Harbor
A safe harbor law basically protects someone from civil suit if they are meeting all of the legal and professional requirements for the services they provide.  For instance, a prosecutor in a district attorney's office has immunity from civil action, even if they help put an innocent man in jail.  For a water system, this type of law would mean that your customers cannot sue you for percieved water quality problems if you are meeting all of the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and your state regulations.  Alabama currently does not have such a law.
 
What's Happening In Alabama
Because of the lawsuit currently going on in Alabama, there is a push to pass a "safe harbor" law as an amendment to the Alabama SDWA. It's going through their state legislature now and appears to have alot of support.  In the ongoing lawsuit, 10 homeowners that are spread throughout a 53 home subdivision, claim their water has oil and grease in it.  Testing by the utility and extensive testing by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management show there are only normal, background levels in the water (a trip blank even had similar levels in it).  I don't want to get into the details, but 3000 customers use water from the same main, and some of the allegations (like their water catches fire), are hard to understand if the water is meeting all of the SDWA standards. 
 
What It Means
I'm not a judge or jury, but I do believe that if a utility is meeting its legal obligations and works with their customers fairly and openly, there should be some reasonable expectation that the utility met its obligation and has their customers best interests at heart. As the speaker said, without this legislation, any customer could sue any utility and that could lead to a jury setting water standards in that state, "regulation by litigation" is the term he used.  Can water systems afford litigation because of unhappy customers? 
 
How about you?  Does your state have "Safe Harbor" legislation attached to its SDWA rules?  Do you think it's a good idea?

 

24
These aren't new words. In fact, it seems like everyone is coming out with a bigger estimate of the future cost of infrastructure every few weeks and because the numbers are so big, they all seem irrelevant for small systems.  Not so.  This new report by AWWA definately puts some perspective on the issue for small systems.
 
Buried No Longer
AWWA has released a report entitled "Buried No Longer: Confronting America's Water Infrastructure Challenge".  Recently, there have been snippets on the news about $1 trillion dollars over the next 25 years and other details that certainly catch your eye.  But I encourage you to take a look at the report.  
 
What It Says
The report is short and to the point.  It's only 16 pages and a good portion of that is made up of pictures and figures. But the information provided is sobering.  It points out in Figures 7 and 8 that the estimated costs per household for infrastructure replacement are about $100 annually for large systems, but $400-$800+ per household for small systems. 
 
Small systems are a widespread concern. According to AWWA, 84.5% of all public water supplies serve less than 3,300 people. The main findings are that for most systems, water bills will have to go up.  More importantly, the time is now to start planning for future upgrades. The report also looks at geographic area and how populations are changing (going up in the south and west, no so much in the Northeast and Midwest).  This has implications for how your town might grow in the future. 
 
Pipe Matters
The report lists the estimated service life for all of the major kinds of pipe.  You can find that on page 8 in Figure 5.  Basically, you have ductile iron and PVC on the low end of about 60 years, and cast iron on the high end of about 120 years. The take home message is this, "...most of our buried drinking water infrastructure was built 50 or more years ago..." (p.4) and "Because pipe assets last a long time, water systems that were built in the latter part of the 19th century and throughout the 20th century have, for the most part, never experienced the need for pipe replacement on a large scale." (p.14) How long has your pipe been in the ground?
 
What It Means
Most people living in your small community have never seen the pipes that bring them their water daily.  They have no understanding of the costs of replacement, nor are they willing to pay more for their water today to plan for infrastructure replacement in the future.  It's time to educate your customers and begin putting money in the bank today. Failure to do so may result in even higher costs in the future, or worse, create an unsolvable situation in your community that can only be dealt with by consolidation or reduction in service.  The days of government bailout for systems that can't sustain themselves are coming to an end, so you need to ask yourself, how important is your way of life today and how important is it for the future.
 
Next Steps
Becoming sustainable requires planning and financial management.  Is your system putting money in the bank for future infrastructure needs?  Do your rates reflect the true costs of providing water?  Is there "extra" in your rates for replacement costs?  Do you review your financial situation and consider rate changes on a regular basis?  Does your community have a long-term plan for the sustainability of its water (and wastewater) system?  All of these answers should be "Yes".  If they aren't, its time to get some help from your TA providers on what you can do to start down this path.
06
by Jeremiah Corbin, Source Water Protection Specialist at South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems
 
 
Put up signs
Post signs along the border of your source water protection area to notify people that
any pollution in that area can affect the quality of local drinking water.

Use and dispose of harmful materials properly
Don’t dump them on the ground! Hazardous waste that is dumped or buried can contaminate the soil and move down into the ground water, or be carried into nearby surface waters by runoff during rainstorms. You might be surprised to learn that a number of products you use at home contain hazardous or toxic substances. Products like motor oil, pesticides, leftover paints or paint cans, mothballs, flea collars, weed killers, household cleaners and even a number of medicines contain materials that can be harmful to surface water and ground water.

Don’t overuse pesticides or fertilizers
You might apply fertilizers to make your grass thick and green, your flowers colorful and your vegetable crop abundant. You also might use pesticides to keep bugs from ruining what the fertilizers have helped to produce. What you might not know is that many of these fertilizers and pesticides contain hazardous chemicals that can travel through the soil and contaminate ground water. If you feel you must use these chemicals, use them in moderation.

Volunteer in your community
Find a watershed or wellhead protection organization in your community and volunteer to help. If there are no active groups, consider starting one. Use EPA’s “Adopt Your Watershed” to locate groups in your community, or visit the Watershed Information Network’s “How to Start a Watershed Team”. These tools can be located by searching epa.gov.
 
Identify ways you can help prevent runoff pollution from your home, business or farm
Check out Give Water a Hand (for students) or the National Farm*A*Syst/ Home*A*Syst Voluntary Assessment Programs (for farmers and homeowners) to find out how you can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
 
Join in a beach, stream or wetland cleanup
You can make new friends while you help protect source water.

Prepare a presentation about your watershed for a school or civic organization
Discuss water quality threats, including polluted runoff and habitat loss. Highlight things people can do to protect water quality, including limiting fertilizer use and eliminating the use of herbicides and pesticides. Research your presentation using EPA’s Nonpoint Source Program.

Organize a storm drain stenciling project
Stencil a message next to the street drain reminding people “Dump No Waste - Drains to River” with the image of a fish. Stencils are also available for lakes, streams, bays, ground water and oceans, as well as the simple “Protect Your Water” logo with the image of a glass and faucet. Produce and distribute a flyer for households to remind residents that storm drains dump directly into your local water body.
 
This article was originally published in the January-February issue of ServiceLine, a publication of the South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems.
 
SmallWaterSupply.org Comment: This information would make a great handout for your customers, in addition to reminding you about the importance of source water protection for your community.  Contact us if you have any questions.

 

16
Technical assistance providers and federal agencies that serve and support tribal water and wastewater systems have developed a unifying and comprehensive strategy to coordinate services.  This approach has given everyone involved a better understanding of the roles they each play in supporting tribal systems and has resulted in improved working relationships that are paying dividends for the tribes they serve.
 
Tribal Technical Assistance Workgroup
A national workgroup was formed to look at the technical services being offered to tribal water and wastewater systems.  The group included tribes; those providing tribal services including rural water associations, regional RCAP affiliates, tribal organizations; as well as the federal partners also serving tribes, IHS, USEPA, and USDA.  The IHS found that about 12% of American Indian and Alaskan Native Village homes do not have safe water and/or basic sanitation facilities, compared to 0.6% of non-native homes in the US.  The committment was made to try and reduce the number of tribal homes without access by 50% by 2015.
 
In evaluating services, they found that service was inconsistent across Indian Country, in some areas there was coordination among service providers, but in many some areas there was not. Lack of coordination and communication has lead to confusion, conflict, or inefficient use of limited resources. The workgroups objective was to maximize the benefits that coordination and communication would provide to create a higher level of service for all tribal systems, while minimizing the duplicate services and conflicts that were barriers to service and wasting resources. The result of their efforts was the Tribal Access Workgroup Report that describes their efforts, and provides recommendations on how to move forward to develop better coordination and communication among tribal service providers.
 
The Recommendations
The workgroup came up with 9 recommendations to improve coordination that revolved around two specific action items.  One was development of an online tool that should be maintained to allow service providers and recipients to easily identify their respective TA partners.  The other action item was to hold semi-annual technical assistance coordination meetings, and in the report, the structure, format, protocol, and justification are all provided in detail.
 
Outcomes
The online tool is the Tribal Contact Manager database, found under "Tribal Resources" on SmallWaterSupply.org.  If you are a provider or tribe interested in knowing who your partners are, you can search the database for a list by organization, then click on the specific office to get to their contact information.
 
The technical assistance provider (TAP) meetings are ongoing.  I have been fortunate enough to participate in these meetings, so far, in Arizona and Nevada, and its clear that this approach is providing the service providers with a new, improved paradigm with which to develop services. Region 5 is holding its next TAP meeting next week, we are already seeing the providers sharing information in advance of that meeting.
 
Communication and coordination are always crucial pieces of any service program.  Formalizing an approach that takes advantage of everyone's strengths is already providing dividends for the providers. We are excited to see the long-term value of these coordination meetings come to light as tribal services become more consistent, efficient, and effective.
03
 Now that the Tribal Resources page is active, we thought it would be a good time to go through some of the best ways to search our site for tribal events and training.
 
The Tribal Difference
Tribal water and wastewater operators have a different process for certification.  They follow the certification requirements for the National Tribal Operator Certification program.  Because this certification doesn't follow any state boundaries, a tribal operator can't easily find training nearby using the "State" search in our event calendar, even though one of the options is "National Tribal Operator Certification"  If you select State=National Tribal Operator Certification, your results will include tribal events from all over the country. 
 
How The 'State' Criteria Works In the Event Search
Our database and search program uses both the location of the event and the state offering CEU's as criteria when you search by state.  So, if you search by State=Arizona, then all events in Arizona, including tribal events, will be displayed.  Any training in a different state that is accepted by Arizona for CEU credit will also be displayed. 
 
Our System Narrows It Down For You
The best approach for finding tribal events near you is to use a series of conditions.  For instance, if you are in Arizona, then first select, 'State=Arizona", then use the 2nd filter select button to choose 'Category=Tribal'.  You could also put 'tribal' in the key word filter, or if you were searching for training from a specific organization, like the Indian Health Service, you could use the 2nd filter select button to choose, 'Sponsor=Indian Health Service', and only IHS events in Arizona would be displayed.
 
Be Creative
Searching for information is all about the words you use.  If you are looking for a specific training, say about arsenic, you can use the 3rd filter select button to narrow the search down even further to only those tribal events in Arizona that have a component of the training dealing with arsenic.  Or you could select 'State=National Tribal Operator Certification', and then 'Category=Arsenic' in the 2nd filter. Most of the time you won't need to get that specific, there aren't so many events on the calendar that you have to use the 3rd filter, but sometimes it can happen.   
 
Here's a what a search would look like after applying all three filters:
 
 
 
Most importantly, if you have any trouble finding events, or documents of interest for that matter, call or email us.  We will gladly assist you in searching for information, or even walking through a short tutorial over the phone to answer your questions and help you find what you are looking for.
 
28
This is the 3rd post covering the communication toolbox, a new tool available from CDC on how to prepare, deal with, and learn from situations where you need to (precautionary) or have to (mandatory) communicate with your customers to advise them of a drinking water situation in your community.  The 1st blog post provided an overview of the toolbox, the 2nd blog post discussed the introduction section of the toolbox, which explained some of the basics about when and why you should communicate with the public. Today, we'll provide you with some suggestions they provide for small systems.
 
For Small Systems Using the Toolbox
The toolbox was written for water systems, both large and small.  But, it was developed with both in mind.  We've already mentioned that we think the toolbox is one of the most complete tools available to help you with communicating with the public during an emergency, and on page 13, they offer some suggestions for small systems, recognizing that sometimes small systems may not have the capacity to implement all of the suggestions listed in the toolbox.  Basically, these are the things every small system should do to be prepared, regardless of the emergency.
 
1. Identify and prioritize specific tools or sections in the toolbox to use.  The toolbox is worth going through, cover to cover, to really understand what it means to communicate with your customers and to be prepared in an emergency.  In doing so, you will find many great ideas that will help you prepare, act, and recover from an emergency situation.  Pick and choose what you think will work for your specific situation and within the capacity of your system and community.
 
2. Incorporate water advisory protocol planning into regular activities, such as sanitary surveys and updating emergency response plans.  I'm sure some of you think this is "beyond" what you can do, and may not even have an emergency response plan in place for your system.  That is a great place to start and there are some great templates available from RCAP and Rural Water that walk you through development of a plan.  Do that first, and you will understand why its important to be prepared and think ahead, rather than react to an emergency. (call or email us, we can help, as can your local TA providers.  See the links to the templates below).
 
3. Build water advisory protocols into regular communication, such as customer updates.  Again, some of you may look at this and say, I never send stuff to my customers.  Why not?  When operators tell me their customers want "free" water, and don't value what they do, I tell them to start marketing to their customers, help them understand what a service you provide, how important safe water is to your community. Operators can't just do the technical stuff anymore, they have to engage their communities to understand the need and importance of safe water.  Along with that is the importance of dealing with emergency situations.
 
4. Partner with local public health and neighboring water systems. Planning for an emergency means working with others outside your community.  When a real disaster happens, you need to know what to do, who you can call, who you can rely on for help.  You need to ask yourself, what does your community deserve? Doing it all on your own usually ends up hurting your community when a disaster occurs. It's the responsible thing to do, and best for your system and customers.  This would also be a good time to mention your state's WARN program.  Look into it, consider how it might benefit your community.
 
Getting Started
Remember these suggestions as you go through the toolbox.  Find the pieces that you think will work for you.  It states that many of the actions you can consider taking, as described in the toolbox, shouldn't require outside support from consultants or others.  It also says building a network of partners and organizations to work with in an emergency is the key to success.  We agree.
 
Should you have any questions, let us know. We will gladly help you navigate through the material and find resources that you can use with your customers for both emergency response and just for marketing the value of your water system.
 
Below are links to some of the resources mentioned above:
 
Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP)
 
National Rural Water Association (NRWA)
 
Water & Wastewater Agency Response Networks (WARN)
(click on the "WARN Regions" tab to find your state WARN program)

 

How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Monday.

 

07

Last week, I gave a talk at an operator meeting about how to make the internet work for you. One of the things I brought up is that you can use the web and social media to connect with customers. It generated quite a bit of discussion, from "no one looks at that stuff" to how the open meeting act laws have made it too time consuming for most small towns to have webpages (in Illinois).

Anyway, my point was that in many rural communities, both the residents and the town boards take their water for granted and don’t value water or their operator the way they should. I believe that the operator is the best person to try and change that attitude, we’ve seen a number of national campaigns about the value of water, but nothing on the rural community, or small community level seems to change from those efforts. Some of the operators looked at me like I was crazy, to make a long story short.

Afterward, several people came up to talk to me about SmallWaterSupply.org and were grateful to have it available as a resource. This is always great to hear, it really helps motivate both me and my staff when we know there are small system operators getting real benefit from our efforts. But, I wanted to share something that was said during that small group discussion. We were talking about small town politics, how things have changed in small towns and how boards really don’t function they way they used to.

He said that 40 years ago, small town “fathers” were businessmen. They ran the grocery store and hardware store, they understood business and cared about making the town a thriving place because they had a vested interest in it. Today, none or very few of those businesses even exist and being on the board is something residents typically do reluctantly or because they have a particular issue they want the town to address, very seldom water or wastewater.

As I thought about that, it hit me how true that is. When I was a kid, I grew up on a farm near my hometown of 600 people. We had a hardware store, a barber shop, a grocery store, a bank, a electronics repair shop, a restaurant, a gas station, and a tavern. We also had a railroad track and an elevator. Today, there are two taverns and a bank. The elevator is still there, but the tracks have been gone for 25 years or more. Everything else has closed.

The people who live there are mostly older and have always lived there, or are their kids and they all have jobs outside of the town. Many stay because they still have a grade school and junior high, and it’s a great place to raise your kids. But its not a thriving community anymore, it’s a barely-maintaining-itself community.

My point is that this is a typical small town today. In order to make any change in perception of the value of water and water service, we have to convince the boards and residents that it’s worth maintaining properly and has more value than they realize. The more I work in this field, the more it becomes clear that its going to have to be done at the community level. And operators, whether they like it or not, are going to have to step up and put in the legwork to change public perception.

How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Mondays.

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This special Monday edition of "Stuff We Love" is dedicated to the staff at SmallWaterSupply.org. They work hard to find free documents available on the web that will help you, as operators, to learn more about every aspect of what you do. They visit nearly 800 websites on a regular basis to update the calendar of classes, trainings, conferences, and workshops, so that you only have to look in one place. They take your calls and help you find solutions. I can't say enough about what a great team we have. Kacie, Reese, Christina, James, Brittany, Jeannine, Greg, and Jennifer, thanks for all you do. Below, some of our staff prepare "ghosts" for the halloween walk taking place this afternoon at our office. 
 
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Both in June and recently, we wrote blog posts about the results of an operator survey published by the North Carolina Environmental Finance Center.  This is another piece from their report dealing with operators suggestions for retention ideas.
 
Better Pay, Benefits Top The List
Below are the suggestions from operators as to what a utility could do to better recognize and retain them, as listed in the NCEFC survey results report.
 
  • Higher Pay
  • Increase Pay with Certification Level
  • Improve/Include Benefits
  • Pay for and Allow Attendance at Seminars/Workshops/Classes
  • Cost of Living Increase
  • Merit-Based Pay Increases
  • Provide Incentives
  • Certificate of Appreciation
  • Hire More Staff
  • Public Acknowledgement
  • Pat on the Back
  • Realize the Importance of Our Jobs
  • Training of Board Members
  • Increase Communication Between Board and Employees
  • Become More Involved with Day-to-Day Operations
I want to talk about the last 4.  Honestly, if community leaders did these 4 things, some of the salary and benefit issues would likely be more understandable to them, and the community as a whole would be more likely to develop sustainable practices.
 
They All Fit Together
To get the mayor and/or board to realize the importance of the operator's job, they need to communicate with the operator, become more involved in daily operations, and be trained on the issues and responsibilities they face.  Maybe we have been going about this all wrong.  Instead of just requiring training for board members, as some states now do, board members should also meet with the operator on a regular basis, say every other week on a weekday morning for breakfast.  The operator can give an update on what has been happening, what issues he has been dealing with, what things he plans to ask the board to do and why.
 
In addition, each board member should spend a day each quarter working with the operator.  They could help collect samples, help read meters, see how a backwash cycle is completed, order chemical, and anything else that would help them understand what goes into the operation of a water plant.  I hear all the time that the problem with training board members is that they serve their two years, then someone new takes over.  If a community had this sort of program in place, how long would it be before the list of supporters for the system grew well beyond the current board?
10
Back in June I wrote a post about perceptions of operators, boards, and customers based on work completed by the North Carolina Environmental Finance Center.  They surveyed 300 operators in North Carolina on a number of topics. The post in June discussed how customers and town boards value or don't value their operators. Today, I wanted to highlight a little more from their report dealing with operator satisfaction.
 
Study Purpose
According to the report, one of the main reasons for completing the study was that so many small towns complain about their operators leaving.  Turnover is high, and in this study they wanted to look at why.  Here are some reasons they found:
  • 32 left their last job for more money
  • 32 left for more possibility of advancement
  • 19 left for better benefits
  • 12 retired
The other top 10 reasons given included plant closed/downsized; laid off; management/board issues; closer to home; career change; and better shifts.  It's a common problem for small towns across the country that small town operators, move on to better paying jobs with benefits once they have the experience to be eligible for those jobs.
 
Common Problem
Last week I heard two different stories about operator retention that highlight the problems for small systems.  A community of about 1000 hired a new operator to run their water and wastewater plants.  He left 6 months later to take a meter reader position in a large community that paid more ($26/hr) and gave him the opportunity to get into operations after 2 years making ($30/hr).  So he could not only make more, but he had a chance for advancement.
 
In the 2nd case, a trainer told the story of a large community that offers him free space to hold CEU classes for small town operators in the area.  The community provides the space because they use the training events to recruit operators/workers for their system.
 
You Get What You Pay For
There is really one issue here, and that is how valuable is a safe, dependable water supply to your community.  It all starts with your operator, who understands your system and has experience working with it. Without that person, the community can't sustain their water system.  Small communities are fiercely independent and want to be left alone, but at the same time don't understand the costs required to stay that way. 
 
What Can Be Done?
I don't believe there is a lot a small community can do to change this trend.  The facts are simple: to retain an operator long term, they will need a competitive salary with benefits and a supportive work environment.  Too many small communities don't value their water, so it follows that they don't understand the value of their operator.  It is that understanding, by the community and its leaders, that will change things, nothing else.
 
That said, in our next post we will share some ideas for improving operator retention.
07
A little over a month ago, we let you know about a new tool available from CDC on how to prepare, deal with, and learn from situations where you need to (precautionary) or have to (mandatory) communicate with your customers to advise them of a drinking water situation in your community.  In that blog post, we said we would provide more information about how this tool can help you. Today, we are going to cover some of the basics about when and why you should communicate with the public.
 
Why Send Out Advisories
You all know when its required, legally, to send out an advisory, most commonly a boil order, but there are a range of things that could result in an advisory, and more importantly, would be good business practice to do so.  The thing you need to take away from this blog post is that you can use advisories for your benefit, to educate your customers and to engage them to take ownership of their water system.
 
Advisories are many times required, necessary, and bad news; they can also help you by helping your customers understand what is going on with your water system. The toolbox says there are 4 reasons to issue an advisory:
  • to provide information,
  • to encourage preparedness,
  • to recommend action, and 
  • to meet public notification requirements. 
Using Advisories For Your Benefit
Do you send out advisories to provide information?  These are the advisories that don't require any customer action, but let them know that something is going on.  The example the toolbox mentions (on page 10) is to let customers know about seasonal changes in taste.  How many of you let customers know when you are flushing lines, or dosing chlorine, or when a large storm affects your influent water quality and taste or color?  Or even when you are going to be working on a water main that might shut down a road in town?  Or when you are drilling a new well? Some of you may not see the need to let your community know about all of these things, they would rather deal with the few phone calls they get.  What you are missing is an opportunity to teach your community more about what you do. 
 
Changing Public Opinion
Most of us would agree that in small towns, people tend to take their water for granted.  Many pay very little for clean, safe water, but the public tends to view their water as a right, not a privilege.  You, as the operator, understand this is not the case.  You, as the operator, are also in the best position to change that public perception.  Advisories are one way to do that.  When you are drilling a new well, send out an advisory letting the community know they will be getting a new resource that will benefit them.  Include the cost, why its necessary, what it will mean to the town.  When chlorine is going to be an issue, send out an advisory.  Let them know why its necessary, how it protects them from bacterial contamination, and offer them additional resources to learn more about it.
 
Be Proactive
It can't be stressed enough that the operator is the front line person for educating the public about their water system and why water costs what it does.  The public needs to understand that though water itself is free, delivering clean, safe water to every home, park and building has a cost both in delivery and to maintain. You are the person who should be explaining those costs, every chance you get.
 
If You Need Help
If this is all new to you and you need help, let us know.  We would be glad to find free materials for you to use with customers.  We can also contact your local/regional technical assistance providers to get their suggestions and support of your efforts.  If you really want to get serious about keeping your community in the loop, you could even start a Facebook page and post information regularly on different aspects of your system.  We can help you set that up too (for free).
04
As you may or may not realize, some of the Federal programs that support operator training and technical assistance for small systems were not funded this fiscal year (starting Oct 1).  This will affect many states as training providers look at charging for training that has been free in the past, and technical assistance providers struggle to maintain staff levels.
 
Small System Technical Assistance
The programs I am referring to are for the state Rural Water Assocations and the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) affiliates.  Here in Illinois, the message from the most recent Illinois Rural Water Association newsletter is that training will no longer be free.  We have seen the same from several other state Rural Water Associations, as some have eliminated part of their training programs or lost staff altogether. It's the same for the RCAP affiliates and their state programs.  Many are losing staff and that will mean fewer services provided. Its a frustrating time as we watch the organizations operators have come to rely on struggle with funding issues. It's also a worry that the expertise these folks provide may not come back, and thats everyone's loss.
 
Understanding Value
As a small system operator, now is the time to realize that this may be the new normal for the forseeable future.  Free or not, you still have to maintain your CEU's.  That means you need to budget for training, some of you for the first time in a number of years.  What it also means, I hope, is that any operator who has taken advantage of the free training opportunities in the past realizes how valuable a service it has been.
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The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released a new document, the Drinking Water Advisory Communication Toolbox.  This 162 page document was a collaborative effort among 6 organizations that all work in the drinking water and environmental health fields.
 
What Is It?
The Toolbox provides protocols for communicating with stakeholders and the public about water advisories and has practical information on how to plan for, develop, implement, and evaluate drinking water advisories.
 
How is this document different?
It is to date, the most far reaching effort to help prepare and assist drinking water systems in dealing with drinking water advisories to their customers that we have seen. The document recognizes the degrees of severity where advisories might be needed, from a drop in pressure,to a hurricane, and everything in between. It has practical solutions that affect the types of tools, planning, and communication needed for specific situations.
 
More importantly, it was developed by consensus among a tremendous number of stakeholders, industry folks, water systems, and technical assistance providers.  The list of acknowledgements is over 3 pages long and includes over 50 water systems.  They really did their research, compiling over 500 documents related to advisories, and conducting over 100 interviews.
 
What does that mean for me?
It means it will be a useful tool that you can use when you need to prepare a drinking water advisory. It also means the document is well thought out, organized, practical, and useful.  
 
That's a lot to read!
We agree, the problem is that it is 162 pages long.  We hope to help with that aspect by breaking the toolbox down in subsequent blog posts and highlighting the things we feel are most relevant for small systems.  Stay tuned for more, but if you get the chance, take a look.  You can find the report here.   
19
 
When I first got involved in this business, my view of the small community operator was that of an older operator who possibly grew up in the town he was working for.  As I got more involved, I realized that contract operations is commonplace, and in some cases big business.
 
In Illinois, there are currently about 1750 community water supplies, and those supplies are being managed by about 1180 operators.  That means that at least 1/3 of the community water supplies in Illinois are being managed by a contract operator, who operates more than one system.  That doesn't even consider those who are contracted that only have one system.  Wow, thats many more than I realized.
 
Is It Getting Out Of Hand?
I was at the USEPA Capacity Development Workshop last fall where most of the state programs were represented.  In a large group discussion about contract operations, it was brought up by one state that they had an operator request to be the operator in charge of over 300 systems.  That was the extreme case, but it points out how a contract operator can take advantage of a small communities needs and lack of adequate funding for a full time operator to create a better income for themselves.
 
Am I Naive?
My impression of a contract operator, based on the few I know, is that its an operator who is in charge of a decent sized system, which is his permanent position, who takes on one or a couple of small systems that are between operators or that is close enough and simple enough that they can juggle the added effort needed.  Now I am beginning to wonder.
 
Interesting Call
I got a call from an operator who was asking about job possibilities and if we knew of any available operator jobs that might be available.  I wasn't able to help him, but in talking to him, he is an operator with 20 years experience who is trying to contract himself out. He just lost out on a job to an operator with 37 years experience who was applying for the same position.  That's not that surprising, but then he said it was for  a contact operator job for a small mobile home park and that there were well over 50 applicants for the job.  
 
Doesn't That Seem Backward?
If we are having an operator shortage, how can there be so many operators applying for a part-time position like that.  I talked to a technical assistance provider who had been an operator early in their career and she suggested that being a contract operator can be a lucretive business, earning well over $1000 a facility per month.  It wouldn't take too many of these facilitiies to make a decent living for sure.
 
So What Is Really Going On?
I don't claim to know what is going on, and I imagine it is different in different states.  Some states have strict rules for their operators.  Either they have to spend a certain number of hours at their facilities or they limit the number of facilities they can be responsible for.  Others, I suspect, may not have such rules in place.  So, the real question is what does this mean for the future?  Is there really a shortage, or has the profession found a way to reduce the number of operators necessary by allowing them to operate multiple facilities?  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this issue. 
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One Of Our Users Asked
We felt this was a pretty relevant topic for many of you so we are posting the following question and response from our operator forum:
 
"A Diatomaceous Earth plant is experiencing a high Raw and Finish water pH of 8.5 and greater. The source water is near a major road and I am certain road salt is a contributing factor ( I do not have an alkalinity reading yet). Acid dosing of the clear well or filter outlet seems to be in order. I have never used acid to reduce pH in a water pant and am looking for recommendations or reference material to get this process going."
 
Getting You Answers
When we need answers to technical questions we are lucky to have experts nearby that we can count on.  We are fortunate in Illinois that our rural water training specialist, Wayne Nelson, has seen and done it all. I certainly rely on his expertise when a technical issue comes up. I sent this question to Wayne, and here is his response:

Based on the information given, the addition of an acid in the treatment process could be used to lower finished water pH. I would first recommend finding the exact source of the problem. If the problem is caused by road salt other problems can occur such as high sodium levels causing possible health problems in immuno-compromised persons (hypertension) as well as the addition of chorides to the drinking water. While there is no MCL for sodium levels in drinking water (only a recommended level) high levels can also adversely affect the taste of drinking water in elevated levels.

The most common type of acid used in lowering pH is 23% sulfuric acid fed either straight or in solution with water. I can't address its use in other states from a regulatory standpoint but if an Illinois public water supply plans to feed the acid, it first needs to obtain a construction permit/then operating permit from the IEPA Permit Section before the treatment is implemented. This recommendation applies to the continued use of the acid. A simple one time treatment of the clearwell would most likely not solve the problem since sodium levels in the surface water source could remain constant and also could rise again every time rainfall or snowmelt occurs in the watershed. I hope that this provides some direction for the operator.

Wayne Nelson
Training Specialist
Illinois Rural Water Assn.
 
Check The Forum Out
Take a look at our forum and let us know what you think.  It will only be as useful as you make it, so join in with questions, or to answer some of the questions we have posted. You do need to register on the site to be able to post to the forum, but its free and pretty painless.  If you have any questions about registering or logging in, check out our help videos on the front page that walk you through the process.
25
I was at AWWA's Annual Conference June 12-16 and attended several of the small systems sessions.  As has been the case over the last few years, one of the prominent topics revolving around capacity development is the potential shortage of operators.
 
We All Have To Get Involved
It's not enough to take care of your system and just go about your business.  All of us, operators, TA providers, vendors, educators, and state/federal authorities, need to get involved in promoting jobs in water/waste water.  Most of us know of an operator who is over 70, who's community/system has no idea what they are going to do when that person moves on/retires.
 
What You Can Do
There are a number of things you can do.  One is to contact your state's operator schools and offer to host an intern.  Many of the operator training programs are desperate for on-the job opportunities for their students.  Talk to your state folks and TA providers and find out what intern opportunities might be available in your state and offer to help. 
 
It's Time To Open Up Your Plant
After 9/11 many plants closed their doors to schools, youth groups, and other civic organizations.  I understand the worry and the need to take safety seriously, but its time to start plant tours again.  It was one of the best ways to inform the public, and more importantly, the next generation of potential operators, about the need, benefit, and importance of water and waste water treatment.  If we want an informed public, we have to let them in and show them what we do.  We have to publicize ourselves, toot our own horns, be proud of what we do, and look ahead to what our systems are going to do when its our turn to pass the responsibility down to the next generation.
 
How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Mondays
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In June, we announced the kick-off of our internship pilot program. Over the next several months, we'll be documenting the progress, challenges and lessons learned in this experience.
 
Two Communities So Far
We have found two communities, so far, that we will be working with this summer. They will be utilizing our intern to assist them in developing tools and information that they can use to help run their systems more effectively. Each community is in a different place, and has unique issues they want help with. 
 
Our idea, when we started this program, was to find a few communities interested in developing ERP's, asset management plans, and long range plans, and have our intern, who is a Class C water and Class D wastewater operator in Illinois, provide some of the man power necessary to develop the inventories, look up information, etc. 
 
Every System Is Unique
Boy is this an understatement. Neither community fit the model we envisioned for this project. Community A, for lack a better name, is actually in really good shape. Their operator and village president are on the same page, they have an idea of where they want to go, they have an ERP (with help from ILRWA), and they have a little money in the bank. It's a community of only 800 people, and they are doing a great job managing their system. They actually contacted us, after seeing the article in our newsletter, and asked for specific help with asset management.
 
The best way to describe the situation in Community A is they are doing well and are being proactive and moving further forward. They are in a classic situation where succession planning needs to be a part of the picture - with the village president and operator on the verge of retiring in 5 years or less. They have the CUPSS software from USEPA and were a little intimidated with trying to work with it, so Nate's main job for them is going to be to get CUPSS set up for them. We are also using the new "AM Kan Work" manual from NMEFC, and plan to have Nate develop both sets of tools for each of the communities that ask for our help.
 
Community #2
This community was suggested to us by Illinois RCAP, and we are grateful for their help and support.  Community #2 is a community that is starting from scratch. We haven't talked to them yet, our first meeting is tomorrow, but the information we do have suggests that it is a community that has had significant problems in the past, and are now stepping up with new managment and village officers to try and get a handle on their water and wastewater systems. They first need an evaluation of where their systems stand, so Nate will be conducting a Vulnerability Assessment for them. Based on those results we will move forward. Illinois RCAP is also assisting this community, and will be advising Nate as we work with the community. 
 
Working Out Better Than We Had Hoped
The goal of the program is to expose Nate to a variety of community situations that will better prepare him for managing his own system, while providing a measureable benefit to each of the communities that participates. We are already seeing that Nate's exposure to even these two communities, is going to go along way in preparing him for his first head operator position. And for the communities, we are developing plans with Nate that will really help them move forward and meet their needs.
 
Note #1: We are still looking for 1-2 communities of under 1000 people within an hour of St Louis, that would be interested in participating in this program.
 
How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Mondays
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At the AWWA annual conference, I sat in on several of the small systems sessions. At one of those, Dr. Joy Barrett with the Rural Coomunity Assistance Partnership (RCAP), gave a presentation about Communications Best Practices. The message was about what operators need to do to facilitate and institutionalize those practices to run their systems in the best way possible
 
Are Your Ducks In A Row?
Joy's presentation covered a number of things, including the challenges facing small systems, typcial problems small system operators have, and board topics and the challenges operators face working with what are many times volunteer boards.  But the main message I took away from the presentation is that in order to expect your board to work with you, or your customers to understand your issues, you really need to have your ducks in a row, and be managing your system in a way that allows you to demonstrate to others your priorities, wants, and needs.
 
Good Management Is The Key
Joy presented a list of indicators of good management which really hit home the issues facing small systems.  To manage your system well, you have to create a business sense about your system and do the things necessary to show others that you are doing all you can do to make your system sustainable.  Here are the indicators Joy presented that a well managed system should have/do:
 
Managerial
  • Operations and Maintenance Manual
  • Standard Operating Procedures (SOP's)
  • Vulnerability Assessment (VA) & Emergency Response Plan (ERP)
  • Asset Management Plan
  • Personnel Policies
  • Procedures for using Professional Services
Technical
  • Certified and Properly Trained Operator
  • Monitoring/ Reporting Plans
  • Using a Preventive Maintenance Schedule
Financial
  • Utilize Capital Improvement Planning
  • Conduct Rate Studies and Follow Rate Plan
 
It's Time To Get Started
This list might look a little daunting to someone who has none of it completed as part of their system, but don't worry, they are all very doable tasks if you will just get started. The other part of her message is that good management is a team effort.  Communication with your board is key, as is using other resources available to you.  Call your technical assistance providers and ask them how to get started.  Not sure who to ask?  Call us, we can help.  We will provide you with free resources and examples to show you what you need to get these things done and introduce you to the technical assistance providers in your area that are there to assist.
 
How To Run Your System Like A Business is a series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on Mondays 
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The North Carolina Environmental Finance Center(NCEFC), with funding from the SE-TAC at Mississippi State, conducted a survey of about 300 operators in North Carolina as part of a project looking at how to better retain operators and to recognize them for the work they do.  North Carolina Rural Water Association was also a partner on the project. This is the 1st of several blog posts that will highlight the study results. Today, I want to focus on the perceptions of operators and of the operator profession.
 
Small Systems
Small systems, especially, have higher turnover rates and this project provides some insights into why that is the case and offers suggestions on what can be done.  The project report can be found here.
 
Perceptions
I have heard many times that a town board doesn't respect or trust their operator and that they are unwilling to make changes based on the operators recommendations, etc.  It's also commonly said that water customers don't know what their operator does or understand the value of their operator and drinking water.  I agree these are real and common problems.  The real issue is changing perception and its a responsibility every operator, technical assistance provider, and legal authority should take seriously.
 
Survey Results
The NCEFC survey asked operators if their if they felt their management, boards, and customers recognized their value.  64% said managment DID recognize their value, while 55% said boards DID NOT and 58% said customers DID NOT recognize their value.  Actually, I'm surprised the customer statistic isn't higher.  I find that to be a common problem with most operators I talk to.
 
What To Do
I have jokingly suggested at a few meetings that we should have a national "turn off the pumps" day, where every water system in the country stops providing water to their customers.  Though I don't seriously advocate such measures, consider what it would do to highlight the value of drinking water. 
 
What you can do, as an operator, is be a cheerleader for both your system and your profession.  Use available resources to share what you do with your board and customers.  If you would like information that you can pass out to customers, let us know, we can direct you to alot of good stuff.  If you are a very small system with no budget for such things, call us, we might be able to help.  Most importantly, be involved in your community and schools to help educate those you serve.
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Membership Has It's Privaledges
Operator associations offer many benefits to their members.  They are a resource you can call on when you have questions.  They know and understand the rules in your state and can help you evaluate how you are doing.  They also are there to support you.  They fight for you in Washington as well as your state capital.  They keep up with all of the political happenings and can provide you guidance on how to act on those things when they arise.  They develop supportive legislation and lobby for its passage. Their staffs have years of experience that you can call on when questions arise.  They organize meetings and conferences that provide you with opportunities to gain CEU's.  They organize training events.  Their efforts lead to networking opportunities for your neighbors and peers.
 
In addition, they provide resources through newsletters and magazines that provide you with both assistance and knowledge that you can use to develop your own skills and careers.  Many associations also have specialized services that you can request.  Some of those services include leak detection, loaning of equipment, specialized training trailors, and business services for things like determining rates and developing business plans. I also believe that being part of your peer organizations helps you just by meeting other members and getting to know them.
 
But Being A Member Isn't Enough
We are all busy, but being active in an association is an important part of becoming a better operator.  By getting involved, even if a little out of your comfort zone, you will have the opportunity to work with others and see how others deal with situations that you might not have had to deal with.  For instance, being on a committee, you get closer to the association staff as well as the other committee members.  This leads to new supportive relationships that will pay benefits for you down the road.  It builds "community" among you and your peers and helps you to learn more about others, their issues, and creates a support network.  Ask anyone on an association board or committee about their service and what it has meant to them, and most, if not all, will say it has taught them more than they ever imagined, and provided them with some of their closest professional friendships.
 
For Water Operators
The two largest associations for water operators are the National Rural Water Association (NRWA) and the American Water Works Association (AWWA).  To join either, you do so through their state affiliate association.  In Illinois, I am a member of the Illinois Rural Water Association and of the Illinois Section of the American Water Works Association.  Both organizations are a great resource for their operators and offer a variety of benefits, from reduced fees for training, to providing leak detection services, to assisting communities with compliance problems in their dealings with their state primacy agency, to meeting with a town board to explain to them why their system needs an upgrade.  To find out more about what your state association offers, check out their websites.
 
For Wastewater Operators
The largest wastewater operator association is the Water Environment Federation (WEF).  The Federation is made up of state affiliate associations, and in Illinois that is the Illinois Water Environment Assocation.  I am ashamed to say that I have not joined our state wastewater association yet, but I do plan to. They also offer many of the same services I have already mentioned, just for the wastewater side of things. Your state rural water association also has wastewater staff and resources that you can call on. Their approach to technical assistance looks at the whole of the community and takes into account that for smaller systems, many times the water and wastewater operator might be the same person.
 
That's It?
Actually, no, thats not it.  In many states, distance issues or geographic issues, like mountains, make it necessary to create regional groups that allow operators to stay closer to home.  Some of these smaller associations are affiliated with the state organizations and some are totally independent.  What they offer, however, is a chance to get to know the operators in your immediate area, or with more like interests.  As an example, here is a list of the Indiana Associations that provide wastewater training (From IDEM): Alliance of Indiana Rural Water (the state RW affiliate), Indiana Section of AWWA, Indiana Industrial Operators Association, Indiana Rural Water Association, Central Indiana Operators Assocation, Indiana Water Environment Association, Northern Indiana Operators Association, and the Southern Indiana Operators Association.  There are a lot of opportunities out there for you to network and get involved, so check out whats available in your state.  You'll be glad you did.
 
The Big System-Small System Issue
I don't know any simple way to address this, but the perception is out there that for water operators, small systems typically belong to the state rural water association and the large systems typically belong to the state AWWA section.  Maybe thats typical in your state, maybe not.  As the manager of SmallWaterSupply.org, I see benefits to belonging to both, no matter what your system size is.  I have come to rely on both of my state associations for advice and support.  There are differences in services, sometimes signifiant ones, but that doesn't mean they don't compliment each other.  For instance, I get the IRWA newsletter and magazine, and both have information that helps me do my job.  I also get the ISAWWA magazine and the AWWA magazines (Opflow and Journal), all of which provide timely information on operator topics and other relevant information.
 
How Did I Do?
Our motive is simple, to use SmallWaterSupply.org to support small system water and wastewater operators, and so far, I haven't ran across anyone who doesn't see what we are doing as beneficial.  Being involved in my state associations is one way I am able to stay engaged.  I suggest you look at what groups are available to you and find the best fit. I realize that services and associations vary from state to state, so please send us an email if you want us to highlight a special feature of an association you belong to.  I know I haven't done justice to these groups in this post and each probably deserve their own, so please speak up.
06
Problems With Public Notification
Recently, I attended the Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems (WARWS) Spring Conference and I heard a talk that was really interesting and new to me.  Every system has public notification requirements and the requirements for reporting to your customers can sometimes seem a little outdated in todays technology filled world.  In Wyoming, there are areas where there is no local television station, so there is no one to provide a report to.  In those areas, many people have satellite television with no local news or info.  Also, sending press releases to newspapers can be ineffective, especially today when fewer and fewer homes take the paper anymore.  In a time crucial emergency, such as a boil order, operators are left with putting out hang tags or contacting every customer individually.  This can be expensive, time consuming, and worst of all, hang tags can be ineffective, should they be thrown away without being read or blow off in the wind.
 
Where Things Are Headed
This was all brought up during a talk by a company that sells public notification services, Swiftreach Networks.  Never heard of these services? Neither had I, or at least I didn’t realize what it was.  What these services do is provide you with a way to contact every customer electronically through cell phone, home phone, email, SMS text, and even twitter and facebook.  These systems are very robust and surprisingly affordable, but what they really offer is a way to be sure that your customers receive your message.  The way they explained it, the system allows you, the operator, to set up a message tailored to your needs, and when you use the system, it sends that message out to every one of your customers.  The system keeps track of who answers, who listens to the whole message, and provides detailed reporting of the status of whether each customer was reached.  It can even require that the customer press “1” to acknowledge that they received the message.  Regardless of availability of other media, having a record of who was contacted is a great feature for your peace of mind.
 
Why They Are Better
The really special thing about these sorts of applications is that they can be shared by all of your community personnel and emergency responders.  The examples they gave were many, from informing a community to stop drinking their water because of a train derailment and spill, to reminding your community to set out your recycling, to having elderly folks in home environments press 1 to confirm that they are ok each night.  Here at the University of Illinois, they have implemented a similar system for staff and students. It came about because of some of the campus shootings that have occurred across the country, but it is also used to provide timely non-emergency information to the campus community.  It can be used to inform about road closings, upcoming meetings, just about anything you can think of that would be relevant to your customers and community. 
 
Roxbury Example
Swiftreach Networks gave me a great example of how their system was used to support a community water supply.  Roxbury Water Company had an isolated E. Coli outbreak that only affected a small number of homes, but the news media picked up the story and incorrectly identified the outbreak as system wide.  It caused an immediate scare in the community and the city personnel were faced with how to deal with notifying all of their customers with the correct information.  In addition, they started getting calls from scared customers that were flooding their system.  Using their Swift911 system, the community was able to send out telephone notifications correctly describing the situation right away, which allowed them to reach everyone quickly and also saved their staff tons of time on the phone with concerned customers.  What’s unique about these systems is that your customers can provide multiple phone numbers, numbers for text messaging, and email addresses, so that they are more likely to receive your message.
 
Our Disclaimer
Swiftreach Networks is one of several companies that provide these types of services.  We at SmallWaterSupply.org don’t endorse any individual company, and we recommend you do your own research to find out which system might best serve your needs.  That said, we greatly appreciate the time Swiftreach Networks gave us to learn more about how these systems work and their track record with small systems is impressive.  Whether you contact them or another company, these services are remarkable and its worth your time to find out how a system like this might benefit your community.
 
 
01
I was at a meeting last week with an operator who has 35+years of experience. He was talking about the trouble some of the really small communities in Illinois were having finding someone to take over as their water operator.  We all know there are workforce issues, the average operator is in his 50’s, there aren’t a lot of young people getting into the profession, guys leave for better jobs, etc.  But from his perspective, what he said was something I hadn’t really thought about. 
 
It’s A Different World
I’m not quoting word for word, but he basically said that 40 years ago, a man was glad to have a job at all, and proud to have a job where he worked hard, helped the public good, earned an honest wage, all of those things.  But today, a kid can get a job at a fast food restaurant, make as much or more money as a small town pays their operator, and get benefits on top of that.  Think about that.  It’s so true, I know of communities that pay a contract operator a few hundred dollars a month to be the operator in charge, and pay an assistant another couple hundred dollars a month to be there every day, flipping switches and testing chlorine residual.  No benefits and pay that isn’t close to providing a liveable income. 
 
It Always Comes Back To This
Rural America has it ingrained in their heads that water is a right.  They don’t want to pay for it, they don’t really care about the process of getting it, they just expect it.  That’s the problem.  The public, in general but especially in small towns, has little understanding of how things have changed with water supplies in the past 40 years, before there was an EPA or a Safe Drinking Water Act.  Rural America generally wants the government to just leave them alone; I know I grew up there too. Pipes have been in the ground since before they were born, so they have no idea of the manpower and costs associated with putting water or wastewater infrastructure in place. They only care that their water rates don’t go up.  Some people say they can’t afford their water rates, but they can afford cell phones with data plans and cable television with premium channels.  The problem is really one of public understanding of the value of their water, they have always had it, nothing has changed for them, so why should it cost more. 
 
The Public Needs a Dose of Reality
I have jokingly said to several colleagues around the country that what we really need to do is have a national turn off the pump day.  Every water plant in the country should shut down for a day.  Let's see what people think of their water then.  Of course, I don’t really think this would be a good idea, but the point is how do we get the general public, especially in communities where the operator and the value of water are totally undervalued, to realize how much safe water means to them?  That’s where we need to focus our efforts.  Instead of being frustrated when someone complains about their $20 water bill, give them the example of Walkerton where 7 people died and hundreds got sick because the operator chose to not follow the rules.  Here in Illinois, a community chose to lie to the state about using an emergency well, which they were using illegally because they were trying to save money, only to find out later that the well was contaminated with a carcinogen.  The operator and mayor are in jail; the potential liability for the community is staggering.
 
The Solution Is Not So Simple
Water and wastewater services are undervalued in many small communities.  That has to change.  That’s not news; we all know that’s the case.  The hard part is how to go about it.  Rural communities are close knit and they resist change.  They are also fiercely independent, which many times eliminates the one good solution some small communities have, consolidating resources with their neighbors.  The bottom line is that times have already changed, and small communities can either change with the times, or find themselves without a viable water system or operator.  Our job is to find a way to get through to them and help them realize how valuable their water and wastewater services are.
 
What do you think? What are you seeing in small communities?
11
If you get our newsletter, you already know that on Tuesday we mentioned our new YouTube site.  On it we have not only our 4 help videos, but we have linked to many other YouTube videos we have found related to water and wastewater operations that we feel will provide some benefit to water and wastewater operators.  Our YouTube Channel, SmallWaterSupply.org, will continue to grow, both with videos and operator interviews from us, and with links to other favorites we find.  More and more organizations and TA providers are posting videos on YouTube, and some are definately worth a look. 
 
The Power of One
One of those sites is CAWastewater.com.  I found their videos on YouTube, but this young wastewater operator also has a website devoted to helping other wastewater operators prepare for the California wastewater exams, specifically the math problems.  His website has 4 videos for the Class 1 exam, 6 for the class 2 exam, and 6 for the Class 3 exam.  His YouTube Channel has all of those, and in addition, 2 videos with math problems related to the Class 4 & 5 exam.
 
But There is More to this Story
The site is managed by a very young wastewater operator who has been working in wastewater since he was a 16 year old intern (about 6 years!).  He loves what he does, is involved with his WEA section, and understands the need for more qualified operators.  So, he created these videos solely to help others and all are free to use.  It's really great to see a site like this, one guy who just wants to help, that is really making a difference.  And by making a difference, I mean his Class 1 videos already have thousands of views, which tells me they are really filling a need.
 
I encourage you to take a look at YouTube, and give it a chance.  Take a look at CAWastewater.com and SmallWaterSupply.org's YouTube Channels and let us know what you think.  If you have any ideas for helpful videos, for instance one of the agency's was considering developing videos for things like jar testing, please let us know. As always, if you have comments, questions, or problems finding information, please contact us, and we will be glad to assist you and do the legwork for you.
 
Stuff We Love is posted most Fridays and includes favorite documents, links and other resources for small water and wastewater systems. We'll find the cream of the crop so you don't have to.
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I attended the ABC annual conference last week, which is hosted by the organization that does the certification testing for operators in a little over 30 states.  In attendence were many of the state operator certification staffs and they were there to learn about how different states run their programs, as well as to hear from technical assistance providers about new ideas and information, the status of certification, and the challenges our industry is going to be facing related to certification.  I was lucky enough to give a presentation on SmallWaterSupply.org.
 
The First Thing I Learned About Asset Management
Heather Himmelberger, from the New Mexico Environmental Finance Center, gave a presentation about her work with the state of Kansas to develop a new asset management handbook for operators.  It sounds like its a no nonsense, practical guide that anyone can use to get started in asset managment and it is supposed to be available after this March.  Thanks to the State of Kansas for funding its development. (We'll let you know when its available.)  But what I wanted to share today is something Heather said.  It makes alot of sense and it is an important first step.  "Go to your board or mayor and get permission to develop an asset management plan".
 
This seems simple enough, but given that in some communities, the board doesn't see the value of their operator, or is the reason that more business practices haven't been implemented, this could be a major problem.  However, its critical to get buy in from your board and to let them know what you want to do as well as why you want to do it.  If you need support, there is help out there, either in the form of a TA provider who can come to your board meeting to speak on your behalf, or board training manuals and CD's that will help your board understand the value of using business practices in operating your system.  If you are interested and need some help, call us, we will get you in touch with someone in your state that would be glad to help you.
 
The Second Thing...
When you start an asset management plan, the first thing you do is list your assets, the plant, the pumps, etc., all of the things of value that are needed to run and maintain your system.  It was brought up in one of the talks that the most important assets in MANY small systems are the human assets.  The operator and any additional staff have both site specific knowledge and expertise that would be difficult to replace and should be valued accordingly.  Those making business decisions need to realize what it would take to replace everyone working with that system, especially when some things, like the experience you have working with that system, may be irreplaceable.
 
How to Run your Small Water Supply like a Business is a weekly series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on most Mondays.
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How Many Of You Use ABC For Certification Testing?
ABC is the Association of Boards of Certification and they develop operator certification tests for 20 or so States and Canadian Provinces.  I thought this was a good opportunity to both talk about what ABC does, as well as talk about how they influence operator certification around the country.  Their annual meeting is next week, and I am lucky enough to get to be there to both give a talk about SmallWaterSupply.org, and to find out whats going on related to operator certification nationwide.
 
Who Is ABC?
If you are in a state that uses ABC testing services for certification, you know who they are.  They are a national organization, made up of state and provincial operator certification staffs that develop standardized, quality certification exams.  They have committees that review the exams, develop new questions, discuss best practices for running operator certification programs, as well as many other things.  For you, the small system operator, one handy thing they provide is a reference guide that you can download that explains what types of questions are on certification exams and why.  You can find it here.
 
Where Things Are Headed
Business management and planning have been the most talked about issues at meetings I have attended this past year.  There is fairly unanimous agreement in the water and wastewater industry that even where small and very small systems have the technical expertise, many times they fail or struggle because they lack the knowledge and skills necessary to manage the business end of their systems.  That's one of the reasons we started this blog series, in hopes of raising awareness and getting you all thinking about these issues. 
 
So Who Is Talking About It?
Well, today I took a look at the list of presentations at the ABC conference next week, and business and financial management are common topics. There are talks on asset management as a training necessity, utility managment competency as a requirement for state certification, and partnering with community colleges for developing more prepared operators. There are also talks about other essential certification topics, like adding more safety training and effective program enforcement.
 
Why Is This Important To You?
The folks who attend ABC are the state operator certification staffs.  They are the people in your state who administer exams, approve CEU's, and regulate operator licensure.  They get together every year, listen to presentations from their peers in other states about how they manage their programs, and then come home and use what they have learned to try and make their programs better.  When 90% of the violations for water supplies are from small and very small systems, those in charge are going to look closely at what might be the cause and they are going to try and do something about it.  Poor planning and financial management play a role in why many violations occur, whether because there aren't funds to fix the problem, or whether the public refuses to pay the true cost of water. The days of operating without a budget and not having necessary planning in place are about over with.
 
What Can You Do?
If you are a system without money in the bank for emergencies, or if you have no idea what you would do should a pump fail and you will need to replace it, then ask for help.  You can call us and we will find a TA provider in your state that will work with you, explain to your water board or mayor exactly why running your system as a business has to be done, and how to start down that path.  
 
How to Run your Small Water Supply like a Business is a weekly series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on most Mondays.
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There Is Still Funding Available
The money in the Recovery Act for funding drinking water and wastewater infrastructure might be finished, but the "regular" funding available from the states and USDA annually is still available.  There has been some talk out there that because ARRA is over, you might have missed out on grant and loan opportunities, but be sure to ask the funders in your state what might be available.
 
Who Are the Funders?
There is this really helpful, but not well known, website that lists all of the funders in each state, as well as their contact information.  The Small Community Water Infrastructure Exchange is a website of water infrastructure funding officials from across the country.  Click on "contacts by state" and you will find a list of people who can help you with various grant and loan programs in your state.  You can also contact your State Rural Water Association or State RCAP Affiliate and they can direct you to the right resources and answer some of your questions.
 
Is The Paperwork Overwhelming?
Filling out all of the application forms can be really intimidating, and I'm sure in some cases its at least slowed down a community's efforts to seek funding, if not stop it all together.  Using consultants to develop and complete application forms can be expensive, and for some of you, beyond your current financial capabilities.  Again, you should contact your technical assistance providers for assistance.  Your State Rural Water Association and State RCAP Affiliate both recieve funding from USDA just so that they can help you with grant and loan applications and development.  There are even grants available to do the initial design and planning for your project.
 
Half The Battle Is Knowing Where To Get Information
If you are having trouble with the forms, application process, or even knowing who it is you should be talking to, contact Rural Water or RCAP in your state.  If you don't know who at those groups to talk to, call us, we will make the initial call for you, find out who can help you get started, and get that information to you.  We are here to help!
 
How to Run your Small Water Supply like a Business is a weekly series at SmallWaterSupply.org, appearing on most Mondays.
19
This fall we've added 4 new members to our team.  As they all head home for Thanksgiving break, I thought I would mention a little bit about that. 
 
Located At The University Of Illinois
Being at the University of Illinois gives us a chance to hire students that are truly outstanding individuals.  We have been lucky with the team we have, everyone does a great job and we all work well together.  We have a wide range of backgrounds, including science, engineering, communication, and even architecture. 
 
Learning About Drinking Water and Wastewater
When someone starts working for us, the first thing they do is take the Operator Basics training put out by the Montana Water Center.  That way, they are getting a solid start in understanding both what we expect them to know, and some understanding of the basics an operator has to know to do their job.  From there, we bring them along with help from the rest of the team.  It's worked really well, and as they read and evaluate water and wastewater documents and enter information about training, they learn more and more as they go.
 
So, Who Are These People?
We have a staff page, and I encourage you to take a look.  They all work hard at providing you the most complete and accurate information possible.  So, please welcome Genevieve, Kacie, Christina, and James, and on our staff page you can put a face with the name.
16
We Are Building A Community
The goal here is to build a community of operators who are interested in sharing their experiences and have some clever ideas on how to solve specific problems.  When we pool our collective knowledge for everyone's benefit, it makes us all better off.
 
Really, It's About The Forum
The forum we've provided is a place for operators to ask and answer questions they might have about any water or wastewater topic.  If you have a question, it's likely there are a bunch of other operators out there who have the same question.  The forum is a way to share your question or answer to the benefit of everyone.  Plus, our staff are monitoring the forum and will try to find answers to questions from TA Providers and technical experts. We are helping you find the answers you need.
 
So Why Register?
We ask that anyone who wants to ask or answer questions in the forum or post relevant information be registered so that we can be sure only operators, TA Providers, and industry professionals have access to the site.  The forum isn't a place to advertise your business, or to sell products, its a place to get answers and learn more about water and wastewater issues. The forum can be viewed without registering, and we encourage you to take a look by clicking on the "Forums" tab at the top of the webpage.
 
Registering Is Simple
The registration tab is in the upper right corner of the homepage.  Click on it, and you will be directed to a page where you can enter your registration information.  We share no personal information with anyone, and the questions we ask about your system and experience are so that other operators can see what your situation is and maybe ask you a question when your experience is with a topic they are not familiar with.
 
It's Worth 3 Minutes
We've created a video tutorial on how to register on the website.  It's really worth the 3 minutes it takes to see someone go through the process and explain what the registration is about.  You can view the video here. 
09
If you are looking information on decentralized wastewater (septic or on-site systems), there are a growing number of resources on the web that can help you learn more about them, find ways to manage and operate them better, and understand the regulatory issues related to them.
 
Did You Know?
The USEPA put out a fact sheet a few years ago about decentralized wastewater treatment that has some interesting information. 20% of households use decentalized treatment, thats 26 million homes.  50% of those are in rural areas, 47% are in suburbs, and 3% are inner city.  Wow!
 
Finding The Facts
The Water Environment Federation (WEF) and their affiliated research organization, the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF), are the national association for wastewater operators and industry professionals, along with their state affiliated associations (WEA's).  They provide a tremendous amount of information on a number of wastewater issues, including Biosolids, Decentralized Systems, Nutrients, Stormwater, Water Reuse, as well as other wastewater-related topics. Some of their research and support information are free, and some have a charge, but many of the basic, helpful documents they produce are now being made available on the web.
 
Where To Find Decentralized Wastewater Information
WERF maintains the Decentralized Water Resources Collaborative webpage.  It's development was funded by USEPA, and the collaborative is made up of 6 partnering organizations.  The collaborative provides free information about all things related to individual and neighborhood wastewater treatment systems and provides down-to-earth guidance on what they are, responsibilities of owners and operators, what it means to be a part of one of these systems.  Their decentralized systems page is here
 
Are You An RME?
A Responsible Management Entity is the term used for any organization, business, or association that is legally responsible for a wastewater system.  The term was coined by USEPA and is so generic because of the wide variety of rules and regulations governing these systems across the country.  But, the RME webpage at WERF is a great place to start in trying to understand all there is to know about decentralized systems. At the bottom of the page are a series of fact sheets that are easy to understand, have comprehensive explanations, and cover everything you need to get started.  Also, within each factsheet are links to additional information, like the EPA Handbook for managing Decentralized Systems and their Voluntary National Guidelines, and a glossary of terms.  They are full of examples of successes from across the country and provide the framework for understanding this complex topic. 
 
If you have questions or can't find what you are looking for, please let us know and we will try to find it for you. 
05
Were you subscribed to On Tap Magazine from the National Environmental Services Center?  Do you think its a useful magazine? Did you read it regularly?  Were the Tech Briefs helpful?  Have you noticed that you haven't been receiving it? 
 
Here's What's Going On
On Tap is an expensive magazine to publish and distribute, with over 24,000 subscribers last year.  And, as you know, it cost you nothing to receive.  But, because NESC relies on federal grants for much of the FREE, VALUABLE information they provide the drinking water and wastewater industry, when those funds aren't available or get cut, something has to give.  So, NESC is only planning to publish On Tap online for now, and depending on future funding, the status of On Tap is up in the air.
 
We Took It For Granted
For the better part of a year, NESC asked its On Tap readers for feedback on whether they liked On Tap, whether it was useful and helpful, if it was being read, and if people still wanted to receive it.  And guess what, they got very little feedback.  That's on all of us. 
 
I attend alot of operator meetings and usually have a display set up with free materials and information useful to water and wastewater operators.  I have a few copies of On Tap out, and I get a ton of operators who recognize it and comment about how handy it is, especially the tech briefs.  I totally agree, it's a valuable resource for all of us.  So, its frustrating to me that now its not being sent out, but NESC really had no feedback to help make that decision.  That's really unfortunate.
 
So Now What
First, if you like On Tap, you can still get a PDF version online at NESC's website.  On Tap is located here.  Second, you can go to their webpage here, and sign up for their drinking water listserv which will send you an email when any new documents or magazines from NESC are available.  To leave NESC a comment about what you think of On Tap, email Mark Kemp at mkemp@mail.wvu.edu or you can comment on our blog below.  Your feedback is critical to helping NESC decide what programs are useful and helpful.  But more importantly, you need to let them know that you appreciate their efforts in putting out such a helpful resource and that its sorely missed.
 
 
 
Posted in: TA Providers, NESC
15
Today Is Blog Action Day
Blog Action Day is an annual event held October 15 that gets bloggers worldwide to post about one topic, all on the same day.  This year, the topic that was chosen is "water" and so we decided to participate as well.  This is no small event, looking at their website this morning, there are over 4500 blogs participating from 135 countries with a readership of over 35 million.  Wow, thats impressive.
 
But What Does That Mean To Us?
Well, as a small water or wastewater operator, it means that today there will be more of a chance that your water board, mayor, and customers will have water on their mind.  I imagine there will be a mention on the news tonight, so I see this as an opportunity for you to provide some information to your constituents.
 
There Are Water Issues In Our Own Backyard
Many of the blogs out there are going to write today about global water issues, the fact that there are estimates of 1 billion people who don't have safe drinking water, and issues related to pollution, etc.  But there are water issues in many small communities in the US as well, many stemming from the general public's lack of understanding of the value of having safe, dependable water, and an understanding of what the real cost of providing that water is.
 
I was at a meeting in 2006 with a group of small communities that weren't going to meet the new Arsenic standard.  One of the mayors came up to me at the break and said that they were going to need a new treatment plant and he wouldn't be re-elected because he would be the first mayor in 20 years to raise water rates.  It amazes me that the people in that community have no understanding of the value of their water supply.  They will pay $80 a month for cable television, but complain about a $30 water bill.
 
So What Should We Do?
We should begin to focus on informing the public.  There are pamphlets, brochures, and handouts from a number of organizations around the US that talk about the value of water, explain what an operator does, and what it takes to maintain and sustain a community water system.  You can search for some of those resources right here on our website, and below are links to some of the resources we suggest you take a look at.
 
Should you be interested in any of these resources, we would be glad to get them for you, or print them for you, and send them to you for free.  Just call us, let us know what you want and how many (up to 1000).
 
I've attended several national meetings recently that included state drinking water folks and small systems issues are always a big part of the discussion.  Things like proper rates and understanding what it takes to be sustainable are always mentioned as problems for small systems.  Usually, its not the operator that doesn't understand, its the mayor, water board, or the community members themselves that are unwilling to operate their community supply this way because they just don't understand the real costs of running a system.  Today, start sending the message.
 
Some Resources To Consider
These resources cover a number of topics, from factsheets about water issues, to understanding treatment systems, to what a wastewater system is.  Hopefully, you will find some of these useful for your situation.  One thing I realized is that I couldn't find a great resource (that isn't a book) that fully describes the issues small systems face and describes the information every consumer should know to better understand how to properly maintain and run a sustainable system. If you know of a resource I missed, please share it in the comments. USEPA has some great information on their webpages about small systems (water) and small communities (wastewater) too.
 
 
http://www.epa.gov/safewater/sdwa/pdfs/fs_30ann_waterfacts_web.pdf - Good handout for customers, has facts, info, talks about how to get involved.
 
http://www.nwbiosolids.org/pubs/Wastwaterweb.pdf - Describes basic wastewater treatment.
 
http://water.epa.gov/aboutow/ogwdw/upload/2001_11_15_consumer_hist.pdf - history of water treatment, includes diagram of a typical system
 
http://www.epa.gov/safewater/sdwa/pdfs/fs_30ann_monitoring_web.pdf - drinking water monitoring, compliance and enforcement information
 
http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/sdwa/upload/2009_08_28_sdwa_fs_30ann_publicinvolve_web.pdf - public access to information and public involvement.  If you want to engage your customers, then show them where to look for information on your water supply. 
 
http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/dw/Publications/331-084_6-30-03_Owning-and_Managing_a_Drinking_Water_System.pdf - For someone interested in starting a water system, this brochure outlines all of the responsibilities of a water system owner.  It is a great resource for explaining what it takes to run a system.
 
http://www.calmis.ca.gov/file/occguide/waterop.pdf - occupational guide for water and wastewater operators from California.  Does a great job of describing the skills needed, duties, and occupational information.  Salary info is obviously for large systems!
 

 

08
Next Wednesday, from 1-3pm eastern time, there will be a lead and copper control webinar that will cover all of the basics of lead and copper speciation, solubility and treatment.  It's a free webinar, you just need to sign up in advance.
 
Topics Covered
The webinar will cover the following topics:   
  • Oxidizing power of disinfectants
  • Copper speciation and solubility
  • Lead speciation and solubility
  • pH adjustment and phosphate treatment
  • Stagnation behavior of lead versus copper
  • Sequential sampling and contributions of different plumbing materials
  • Effects of different metal deposits
 
How To Sign Up
To reserve your "seat" at the webinar, sign up here.  After registering, you will get a confirmation email with information for joining the webinar.  Seating is limited, so don't delay.  This is the registration page, click to sign up!
 
 
 
 

 

05
We launched an operator forum that allows operators and TA providers to ask and answer questions on any topics related to water and wastewater.  We just made it viewable to the public, but to ask or answer questions, you need to register.
 
Operators Helping Operators
The idea here is to get a group of operators together who have experience with different aspects of treatment, operation, maintenance, etc, so that when someone has a problem or question about an issue, they can ask and get an answer from someone who has already dealt with that issue.  Our hope is that operators, trainers, and technical assistance providers, who all have an operator background, will use the forum to share experiences that will make it easier on someone dealing with the same issue down the road.
 
Why Do I Have To Register
Registering is to make sure that those who are participating in the forum are operators, technical assistance providers, trainers, and industry professionals. This forum is for you to talk among your peers to find answers and ask questions of other operators. When you register, you can pick a username that keeps your identity protected if you like, but it's really up to you. Registering allows you to describe yourself in terms of the size of your system, your experience, and the type of system you run.  If you want more information about what registering means, please feel free to contact us directly using the website email or phone number.  We can answer any questions you might have.
 
So Take A Look
Click on "Forums" at the top of the page and look through the posts that have gotten started.  There isn't any advertising or selling of products on the forum and anyone who does will get booted off.  There are a growing number of operators participating, and we hope you will decide to join the discussion.  It's all free and truly a safe place to ask questions and find answers.  Soon we will have a short tutorial video that describes how to use the forum, similar to the two videos at the bottom of the home page that describe the document and calendar tabs.  But in the mean time, if you have questions about how to use the forum, once you have registered, please contact us.
 
 
 

 

 
 
01
A New "Liquid Assets"
When I heard CNBC was going to air Liquid Assets, I assumed it was the Penn State documenatary from 2008, and that's the information I gave out on Wednesday's blog post.  Well, if you watched the CNBC video last night, it was a different documentary that highlighted water use, saving water, bottled water, etc., but really carries the same message: its up to everyone to understand how important water is to our lives.  The correct link for information about the CNBC documentary is here, if you want to follow up.  You can tell them what you thought of the show, take a quiz testing your knowledge of bottled water, or view a slideshow that talks about the water footprint of various consumer foods and products.
 
But What About The Penn State Documentary
We are going to get a copy of the Penn State Liquid Assets Documentary and will loan it to any community that is interested. (I'm looking into who might have more copies to distribute to communities.) If you look on their webpage though, I encourage you to look at their impacts tab.  There you will see how many public television stations have already broadcast it, how many videos have been distributed, and how many communities have gotten involved.  If you haven't gotten involved yet, you definately should.
 
Honest Mistakes
Sorry again for the mixup regarding the two videos, but maybe its a good thing, its really worthwhile to watch them both.
29
It's on CNBC this Thursday night, September 30, at 8pm Central Time.
 
What Is It?
Liquid Assets - The Story Of Our Water Infrastructure is a documentary that talks about the history, engineering, and upcoming issues facing water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastucture in the United States.  It is meant to engage the public in local discussion about these issues and start the dialogue for communities so they can understand that everyone needs to be involved and engaged in protecting their water supplies and water/wastewater systems.  There are many political and economic realities facing communities in the near future, and this film provides a starting point for communities to begin planning for their futures.  You can view a summary of the documentary here.
 
Do You Want To Remain An Independent, Local Water System?
If you do, then this film is a wake up call.  There are going to be way more infrastructure needs in the future than there will be monies to pay for it, so now is the time to start planning and working at a community level to develop a sustainable system.  You, as an operator, need to engage your customers, get them involved, and begin working together to address your sustainability issues.  If you don't take care of yourselves, at some point, when you need major infrastructure upgrades, there might not be anywhere to turn for the resources, and that could mean losing the ability to run your system on your own.  
 
The Government Will Give Us A Grant.......
This attitude has been the downfall of many a small system.  Now days, because funding is more scarce, and because there are obvious economies of scale for consolidated systems, you might not be able to get the loan or grant you need unless you are willing to combine your system with a neighbor. In many cases, this may actually be the best solution for both communities, but its still difficult to take when you aren't making those decisions on your own terms. 
 
That Won't Happen To Us
In 1990, there were about a 1000 water systems in Kentucky and today there are less than 400.  Most of those system that were lost needed to consolidate because they were not sustainable on their own for a variety of reasons. But there were also some that could have become sustainable if they just would have realized that maintaining a good water and wastewater system is one of the most important things a community can do for itself.  It's not a short term issue that can fix itself, its a continual responsibility that requires long-range planning and community buy in so that 40 years from now, the community is still able to take care of themselves.  You need to ask yourself how important your small community is to you. Without a safe, reliable water supply, what do you really have?  I wonder how many of the systems in Kentucky thought they would be consolidated today?  Probably not very many.
 
So Tell Everyone To Watch Tomorrow Night
At a minimum, call your board members, mayor, co-workers, friends, etc., let them know its showing, ask them to watch it.  If possible, let everyone in your community know about it, it will open their eyes, and might even make your job easier.  One of the biggest hurdles to having a viable water system is the community members themselves who don't see the value in having a good water system or a skilled operator.  The video talks about it being undervalued because its out of site and out of mind.  This is one way to help with that.
21
This Saturday, Sept 25th, at over 1700 sites around the country, you can bring in unused, unwanted, extra, or expired drugs (controlled substances) and prescription medicines for free anonymous disposal.  This is an opportunity for the public to do their part in participating in source water protection nationwide.
 
How Is This Source Water Protection?
So many prescription drugs end up being thrown away or flushed down the toilet that they can end up coming out of a wastewater treatment plant and discharged into the nations river system (80% have traces, according to P2D2).  Or, where small communities/villages have no centralized treatment, these drugs can end up in your septic systems, and eventually find their way into the groundwaters that may be your drinking water supply as well.  The best way to eliminate that threat is to properly dispose of drugs and medicines.
 
How Can I Alert My Customers?
If you are serious about source water protection, take action today.  Create flyer's and put them up in town letting people know where they can take their medications.  If you have a website or facebook page for your community or water system, put up a link to the program site.  Get involved, its an opportunity to let your customers know how important source water protection is and how they can do their part to protect their drinking water supply.
 
For More Information.....
The website for the event is here.  On the site, you can find the nearest location in your area where you can take your medicines in.  It also describes what things are not eligible for this program (illegal drugs, liquids, needles, etc).
 
P2D2
Have you heard of the P2D2 program started at Pontiac High School in Illinois a number of years ago?  If not, check out their website here.  Started by a teacher and his students, this program is a testiment to the power of public good.  Today P2D2 reaches across the country and also educates both students and the public about the need for proper disposal of pharmaceuticals.  There are a lot of interesting facts on their website about what scientists are finding in our water supplies, why medicines are a risk to our water supplies, and why Americans need to be more aware of these risks, so be sure to take a look.
10
The Montana Technical Assistance Center
The Montana Water Center at Montana State University is home to the Montana Technical Assistance Center, one of 8 technical assistance centers around the country that provide assistance to small water systems.  The Montana TAC is well known for the training materials they have developed, specializing in CD training courses such as Operator Basics, Water Quality Expedition, Virtual System Explorer, and Small Utility Board Training, just to name a few.  You can see a complete list of their training materials here.
 
 Newest CD - Saving Water & Energy in Small Water Systems
On September 1, the Montana Technical Assistance Center released their newest CD, Saving Water & Energy in Small Water Systems.  Their press release details the CD as having four 45-minute training modules covering customer conservatrion programs, energy management, alternative energy sources, and water accounting.  Each module includes case studies highlighting the experiences of small systems.
 
For more details, check out the Saving Water & Energy website.
CD's are being distributed to states and technical assistance organizations, and additional CD's will be available from the National Environmental Services Center (product #DWCDTR29).  The modules and resource files can also be downloaded at the CD's website.
 
 
We don't have any copies yet, but will soon.  If you are at a Conference or workshop and see our exhibit, there will be a signup for all of Montana's materials, we will gladly get you a copy and send it to you completely free of charge.  You can also call or email us.
04
I Was At ERWoW This Week
I attended the Evergreen Rural Water of Washington Fall Conference this week in Vancouver WA.  The opening session speaker was Denise Clifford from the Washington Department of Health, and as it so happens, the current President of ASDWA.  Here is the gist of what she had to say to the operators in attendance.
 
Things Are Going To Change
Apparently, Washington State has major budget issues.  I can understand that, coming from Illinois (second only to California in state debt).  On top of that problem, they have an unusually large number of water systems, with 3975 regulated community water supplies with less than 1000 connections (Wow!)  Because of the number of systems they have, compliance and the ability to oversee their compliance program is really going to be a struggle.  So, they have sat down and looked at what needs to change, and how they need to approach compliance issues, so that they can maintain state supervision of their drinking water program.
 
Two Big Changes
The first change is going to be in their approach to compliance.  We've been talking about capacity development for years, and helping water supplies become sustainable, but in Washington State, its going to become an active program aimed at helping those systems succeed at staying in business. Many small community systems in Washington, and everywhere else for that matter, still think the government is going to pay for their upgrades, and they can keep running business as usual.  Those systems are going to find themselves in a real hole, because there just isn't going to be the money available to expect government help, systems are going to have to find a way to make it on their own, and that means being financially responsible for their own upgrades.
 
The second change that Washington is planning is a shift in the fees that water supplies pay to the state.  Fee's haven't been raised in nearly 20 years, and because of state budget cuts, to really have an active program aimed at helping systems have the capacity to succeed, they are going to put the funding for their program on those that are receiving their services, the water supplies in Washington.  The reality is this, water supplies can help pay to keep the compliance program with the state of Washington, or the state can give up their primacy and the federal government can come in and run it for the state.
 
Capacity Development Program
The way DOH is approaching their program changes is to look at systems having the financial, managerial, and technical capacity to succeed.  Denise said that the technical capacity and the technical ability of their operators is already there, its the managerial and financial capacity that they plan to focus on.  I think they've hit the nail right on the head.  The problems that keep coming up all over the country are small systems that either have decision makers (boards, mayors, etc) that aren't willing to support their operator financially because they don't really understand the value of their water system and refuse to raise rates, or those same decision makers just not understanding how to run a system or manage the issues that are necessary to be successful.  I think Washington is going to end up leading many other states down the same path.
 
Putting Compliance On The Backs Of The Systems
The rate structure they are considering calls for a small increase in the flat system fee, then an additional fee based on the number of connections you have, around $1.50 per connection, capped at $100,000 for the big systems. Everyone's first thought about higher fees and fees based on size of system is that its the state taking more money to do the same work.  I think that isn't seeing the big picture.  DOH wants to create a program that is sustainable so that they can count on resources being there to maintain their programs to really support their systems and operators.  In the past, budget cuts forced them to stop doing direct trainings and workshops with operators. Thats one example of a direct service that provides benefits, and something that every state should do that Washington had to cut. 
 
A program based on user fees is much more stable, and also gives the systems more leverage, if you will, because they are buying into the program. They are asking for input from systems, and are doing a survey to do just that.  It's your chance to get involved and have a say.
 
Times are a changin', as they say, and you can either change with it or have someone come in and do it for you. 
 
27
On Wednesday, we sent out our first newsletter.  If you weren't on the recipient list, you should be, and luckily, you can still take a look here.
 
Signing Up
There is a signup for our newsletter on both the homepage of our website and on our facebook page.  It's simple and confidential.  As I've said many many times in the past, we are here as a free service to operators, we aren't buying, selling or advertising anything. 
 
Did You Say Facebook Page?
That's right we started a Facebook Fan Page for SmallWaterSupply.org.  If you are wondering why, let me explain.  In Illinois, 67% of the operators of systems with less than 500 connections are over 50 years old.  On the other side, only 8% of the operators of systems under 500 connections are less than 40 years old.  We've all heard about the potential for an operator shortage, and many industry groups are already working on campaigns to target young people to consider the operator profession. 
 
We totally agree that we need to do a better job of marketing the benefits and strengths of being an operator.  We are starting to get involved by providing a few internships to high school students and working with Rural Water to job shadow with circuit riders.  That, in addition to using the web and social media sites like Facebook, all help promote the operator profession.  We feel that having a Facebook page makes the profession more visible to the younger generation that have grown up using Facebook.
 
More On Careers
It's not ready yet, but hopefully soon we will launch a careers page with links to a lot of great information for anyone considering this field.  It will also have interviews with operators who can talk first hand about why they love what they do and interviews with some of the interns who can describe what their experiences were like. 
 
So, check out our Facebook page if you like, all you have to do is click on the facebook icon on our homepage.  We will be promoting events we plan to be at, and giving others a chance to start sharing ideas.  More importantly though, if you have any ideas or suggestions on how to get more young people interested in becoming operators, or how to better market the operator profession, please share them with us.
25
Continuing with some of the information I learned at the Non-Transient, Non-Community Recertification Workshop in Illinois a few weeks ago, one of the things that really stuck with me was, "Always ask why". You really need to know how it works and what the consequences are of any task you perform with your system.
 
Operators Are An Independent Bunch
By the nature of their jobs and responsibilities, operators are independent and are used to solving problems by themselves or in non-traditional ways.  They do what they need to, to keep things running and do so typically with limited resources.  Sometimes though, that personality can also lead to situations where they "learn the hard way", or "learn by experience".  The problem with doing that when running a water system is that learning the hard way can affect your customers, cause health problems, or put you at a safety risk.
 
There's Also Murphy's Law To Deal With
Wayne (the instructor) asked the attendees to think about when problems generally occur with their systems.   Is it on a Monday morning when everyone is at work ready to go, or is it on a holiday, or the day after you've left for vacation and left the system in the hands of your young, new operator-in-training?  Everyone nodded, understanding his point, and everyone could think to a situation where some problem had occurred at a really bad time.  Which is exactly why you and your staff always need to ask why.
 
Knowledge Is King
It's not enough to know the basic tasks involved with running your water system, "Bob said to add a gallon to the tank after every backwash cycle and I wouldn't have to worry about anything else."  You need to know why you are adding that chemical, what it does, what will happen if you don't, and what will happen if you spill it.  Everyone who might be assisting you needs to understand your system as well as you do, so that if something goes wrong, or a valve sticks, or a pump fails, or the line gets pinched, it won't become a major event that risks the health of your customers or the safety of you and your staff.  Taking shortcuts leads to losing your understanding of both the system and why the guidelines are there in the first place.
 
Protect Yourself
Most safety hazards can be managed with training and by following safety guidelines on proper handling, use, storage, maintenance, and disposal.  Most accidents occur when these things aren't followed.  If you can't follow the proper procedures because of the cost, have a TA provider come to your board meeting to explain what the costs might be should a preventable accident actually occur (can you say lawsuit?).  Wayne told a really sad story about an operator that was installing pipe and didn't use a trench box for just the last section of pipe.  It cost him his life.  It was a totally avoidable accident caused by being in a hurry.
 
Some Safety Guidelines Are Overkill
There are reasons for all of the safety measures you are expected to follow as an operator.  Some might seem ridiculous, but the reality is that they are there for a reason, and many times someone before you learned the hard way that its not so ridiculous after all.  After hearing the things that Wayne has seen over the last 30 or so years, the operators who have died or been seriously hurt in avoidable accidents, I would recommend following every safety precaution and guideline that was provided for me.  No guidelines are overkill.
 
18
 Next Tuesday and Wednesday, August 24th and 25th, there will be an informational webinar on current research in Disinfection By-Product Control.  Hosted by Penn State Harrisburg's Environmental Training Center (also one of the 8 Technical Assistance Centers), this event will be from 11am to 12:30pm each day.
 
Tuesday August 24th
Dr Robin Collins, Director of the New England Water Treatment Technology Assistance Center at the University of New Hampshire will be discussing "Post Treatment Aeration to Reduce DBP for Small Systems".
 
Wednesday August 25th
Dr Enos Inniss, from the Missouri Technology Assistance Center at the University of Missouri, will be presenting, "DBP Control Considerations: Missouri's Experience with Small Systems". 
 
To Register and Logistics
The webinar can be viewed live through the web via Adobe Connect.  You will need a Penn State digital ID to log in for the webinar, and that can be obtained for free at https://fps.psu.edu/.  For additional details and a summary of the presentations, go here.  To register, download the registration form here and email it to Alison Shuler at ajs28@psu.edu or fax it to the number on the registration form. If you have any questions or need any assistance, you can also call Alison at 717-948-6388. Lastly, you can review the event summary for this event on SmallWaterSupply.org here.
 
Some Details
I encourage you to look at the details in the linked information to get a better idea of what the talks are about. On Tuesday, Dr Collins will be discussing technologies, how water quality affects DBP formation, and more.  On Wednesday, Dr Inniss will be presenting the results of their efforts to help small communities in Missouri that have DBP problems and case studies of systems that they evaluated to improve their performance.
 
16
Along with the discussion of chlorine gas safety from Aug 10, Wayne talked about the safety issues related to sodium hypochlorite.  It's becoming the more "popular" choice for small and medium sized water and wastewater plants, but it has issues of its own.
 
About Sodium Hypochlorite
Liquid bleach is a colorless to light-green colored liquid thats 12%-15% active chlorine. It's a Class 8 corrosive and strong oxidizer. It's considered by some to be a safer alternative to chlorine gas, but in reality, it can be just as dangerous when handled, used, and stored improperly.
  • Sodium hypochlorite is a strong oxider, and as such must be kept away from acids.
  • if adding flouride in your system, any mixing can cause the formation of mustard gas, they must be stored away from each other so spills go to different drains
  • heat and sunlight can cause it to quickly decompose, so it must be kept in a cool area
  • many problems with using it have to do with the chemical-feeder 
Chemical Feeders
There are a number of problems that are easily corrected regarding chemical feeders.  Here are some problems Wayne has seen:
  • located next to same equipment, using same tank or feed pump
  • feeders not labeled to correctly idenify them, several lines side by side
  • containers or carboys not properly labeled
  • no PPE used when handling chemical
  • no eye-wash or shower nearby
  • no encased feed lines
  • using same hand pump for multiple chemicals
  • fill pipes/hoses left submerged can allow back-siphoning
The bottom line is that all chemicals have safety issues and they deserve everyones respect. Learning about your system and the proper use of the equipment and chemicals that you need to provide safe water is always a worthwhile effort and should be a manditory part of your systems management plan.  
10
At the NTNC Recertification class I attended last week, Wayne Nelson (IRWA) spent a good deal of time talking about workplace safety and disinfectants. Chlorine gas is an important issue because it's still the most widely used disinfectant (at least in Illinois) What really hit home were the real life examples of what not to do that seem pretty simple, but don't always get done when you are short handed, don't have enough resources, or just aren't using your common sense.  All of the information below comes from the class and Wayne was nice enough to let me use some of his material here.
 
About Chlorine Gas
When used properly, chlorine gas is no more dangerous than other types of disinfectants (sodium hypochlorite-liquid, Calcium chlorite-powder, Potassium permanganate).  In fact, all disinfectants are dangerous if you don't understand how they interact/react with other common chemicals.  Chlorine gas:
  • 2.5 times heavier than air
  • expands 460 times from liquid to gas
  • causes irritation, anxiety, loss of senses, and possible death
  • is rarely a killer
  • injuries occur because of failure to leave area, most of the time
What You Should Know
Here is some practical information that you should know about chlorine gas, it's storage, and use.
  • the fusible plug on chlorine gas tanks melts at between 158-170 degrees
  • if tank can't be opened with a 6-inch wrench, send it back, shouldn't be hard to open
  • you should only open the valve 1/4 turn
  • your water or wastewater plant should have a plan in place for dealing with a chlorine leak (probably more about this in a future post)
  • when changing tanks, should have 2 people involved
  • have appropriate safety equipment available
  • maintain a safe temperature in your chlorine room - too warm can melt plug, too cold can freeze lines and cause leaks
What Not To Do
Wayne went over a bunch of examples of systems that weren't prepared for a leak or weren't managing their chlorine correctly.  Here are some things not to do, or that you should be aware of.
  • Never try to shut off a chlorine valve without a SCOT-pack or hazmat suit, you cannot just hold your breath (a lot of injuries have occurred this way)
  • don't store your SCOT-packs in the chlorine room, this is something Wayne has seen a number of times
  • never spray water to dispel a gas plume
  • don't open the valve 100%, makes it much more difficult to shut off
  • don't try to fix it yourself, follow a plan, get help, be safe
  • don't assume you know how to use the safety equipment, get trained
  • don't be afraid to ask questions, many times someone shows you what to do, but not why its important.  You need to know why, so you will know how to deal with problems. 
05
I attended the Illinois Non-Transient, Non-Community recertification class yesterday at Kishwaukee College.  The instructor was Wayne Nelson, a training specialist from the Illinois Rural Water Association, who has been an operator since the 70's and he has been with IRWA for the last 16 years.  The things he's seen and done really put things in perspective.
 
 
I Sure Learned A Lot
The class covered the things in the Illinois Adminstrative Code that are required for NTNC operators.  In Illinois, NTNC operators are allowed to use the Operator Basics Training CD to complete their recertification, but some have asked for a more traditional class, and this is the 2nd year for the one-day recertification workshop.
 
The class covered workplace safety, chlorine safety, confined spaces, proper reporting and sampling, cross connections, emergency preparedness, source water protection, and math.  The operators in attendance were from either schools or industry, it was an interesting mix.
 
What was great about the class, was that Wayne has 30+ years of experience operating water systems and assisting water and wastewater operators, so he had a real life example of what can go wrong for every piece of the class.  It really hits home when you realize how many things are taken for granted, and how many operators get in a hurry and say, "I'll just take this short cut once", and its the last thing they do.
 
 
More To Come
Wayne handed out the complete set of slides and notes to the class and he's given me the ok to share some of it with you, so in the next couple of weeks, look for some really interesting and common sense tips, as well as some examples of what can happen if you aren't informed and prepared.  As Wayne said, you can't make this stuff up, the truth is stranger than fiction sometimes.
 
 
If anyone is interested in a copy of the Operator Basics CD, email us and we can send you a copy free of charge.
02
Are You Attending The NRWA WaterPro Conference?
If you are going to WaterPro in New Orleans, the National Rural Water Association is offering a Free Webinar to attendees meant to help you prepare for the conference and "maximize your WaterPro experience".  The webinar is going to be on Aug 18 at 1:30pm.  Details and the registration can be found by clicking here.
 
 
We Will Be There Too!
Stop by the Technical Assistance Center's booth at WaterPro for information about the SmallWaterSupply.org website, as well as information about what the other 7 Technical Assistance Centers have to offer.  All of the information is free, and there are alot of helpful reports, factsheets, and CD's that will be available for operators.
08
Next Wednesday, July 14, at 1pm Eastern time, the USEPA is hosting a webinar for Public Water Systems and State Drinking Water Programs on Energy Efficiency. 
 
Why Attend?
Is your system more than a few years old?  Are you interested in saving your community water supply operational dollars? Do you wish you had new technologies available for your water system that were more efficient?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, then its worth your while to find out more about energy efficient technologies.
 
You'll Learn Something
Listening in will cost you nothing but your time, but what you will learn, even if you aren't in a position to use it today, is that there are energy saving technologies out there that can save your water system real money over time.  So, even if your system is doing great today, at some point you will be replacing or upgrading your infrastructure, and knowing about these technologies might be a key to big cost savings when deciding which upgrade technologies you are going to use.  It will keep you informed about the efforts being put into energy efficiency so you can make informed decisions down the road.
 
Look At It This Way
I had an old stand up freezer that my dad gave me 25 years ago that we decided to start using again, and its at least twice that old.  When we looked into the costs of running it versus a new energy efficient freezer, it was going to take less than 18 months to make up the cost of the new freezer.  Isn't that kind of information important when making a decision that affects the future costs of operating your system?
 
How To Sign Up
If you look on our events calendar and search for webinar using the keyword search, it will show up as "USEPA" on July 14.  Click on that and more detailed information is there, including this flyer, sent out by USEPA.
 
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