Entries for the 'Tribal Systems' Category


For those of us outside the arid West, it can be easy to push aside droughts and their impacts as somthing others have to worry about. But a look at the U.S. Drought Monitor quickly reveals that droughts—even long-term ones—are a concern coast-to-coast. In fact, increasing temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns are exposing more and more communities to the risk of droughts and other extreme weather events. 

Incorporating a drought contingency plan into your broader emergency response plan is one of the best ways to ensure your public water system is prepared for water shortages and other drought impacts. And there are a number of resources available to help you do just that.

The templates and guides below can help you design a plan that meets your system and community needs. Whether you use one of these or create your own, keep in mind these seven steps to an effecive drought management plan. These were developed by the Rural Community Assistance Corporation based on the model used by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.  

  1. Seek public involvment by forming a committee of stakholders who encourage and suppor a public "buy-in." 
  2. Define goals and objectives, such as targets for reduced consumption, identifying which customers can and should be restricted and which cannot, legal requirements, minimum flow requirements, etc.  
  3. Assess supply and demand – identify all existing and potential water supply sources and balance these against average and peak demand, historic demand trends, use by customer sector, interior vs. exterior use, and projected future demand. 
  4. Define a system-specific drought index, such as ground and/or  surface water storage, stream flows, soil moisture, rainfall deficit, well drawdown levels, and other indicies. 
  5. Identify potential mitigation measures, such as water audits, alternative supplies, leak detection and repair, public education, restrictions/bans on non-essential use, pricing disincentives (surcharges), and, finally, rationing. 
  6. Assess potential impacts of mitigation measures, such as reduced revenues, customer acceptance, rate equity, legal implications, history, and implementation costs. 
  7. Develop and implement the plan using the management strategies, templates, and statistics assembled during the assessment process. 

If you don't see something that fits your system's needs below, search "drought" in our documents database to find more resources. You can also find information on water conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy for small utilities in Sustainable Infrastructure for Small System Public Services: A Planning and Resource Guide. And be sure to read the Part 1 of this three-part series for help building a comprehensive emergency response plan. 

1. Drought Contingency Plan for a Public Water System (Example): ABC Water Company Drought Contingency Plan
This 11-page document provides an example of how to fill out the model drought contingency plan for retail public water suppliers. 

2. Drought Management Toolkit for Public Water Suppliers
This 49-page handbook was developed by the Utah Division of Water Resources to help public water suppliers better prepare for and manage future droughts. This toolkit consists of two main elements: a model drought mitigation plan and a model drought response plan (or contingency plan, which can also be used to address other water shortages). 

3. Drought Contingency Plan summary – Well Levels Known
This 1-page document, when completed, summarizes an operator's plan for a drought. It is broken down into three stages, depending on how severe the drought is. 

4. Drought Contingency Plan: Public Water System
This 36-page template can be used for a drought contingency plan for a tribal public water system. The template covers a broad list of sections and topics with the aim of being applicable for a majority of the water systems. Because tribal water systems vary, it is recommended that the tribe edit and modify the template to best fit their specific situation and context, and only include those sections that are necessary.


In addition to the operations and management challenges we’ve previously outlined, many tribes face broader issues that can also have an impact on public works. Often, tribes find themselves at an early point in utility development and need to begin assessing the infrastructure they already have in order to plan large-scale expansions or improvements.

Geographic Information System mapping (or GIS mapping) is a common approach to some of these large-scale issues, including surveying tribal lands, mapping existing distribution systems, and planning future infrastructure improvement projects. In addition to these practical considerations, mapping tribal land can often have a spiritual component, since the land often plays an important role in the tribe’s culture and traditions.

Tribal GIS solutions are a common topic at various tribal environmental conferences, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs offers GIS resources for tribes. One additional resource we’ve found is TribalGIS.com.

GIS From a Tribal Perspective
TribalGIS.com is facilitated by the non-profit National Tribal Geographic Information Support Center (NTGISC) with support from Wind Environmental Services, a 100% Native American owned and operated GIS firm. It offers GIS support specifically aimed at tribes, including a collection of videos on a tribal approach to GIS, an annual conference in November, and a community forum. All resources seek to integrate the practical GIS needs of tribal communities with the cultural and spiritual tradition of mapping and describing land. The forum and conference also highlight technical questions and topics regarding use of GIS technology. Other GIS resources available through the site include links to GIS programs at tribal colleges and an interactive map server.

The above resources are freely available on the site (with the exception of the conference, which is conducted in person). With site membership, tribal GIS workers can also participate in an email listserv and receive discounts when registering for the conference.

For tribes facing challenges that can be solved by GIS, TribalGIS.com is a great place to find community and network with other tribal personnel in a similar position. For more on TribalGIS and a basic introduction to GIS in Indian Country, you can watch their eight-minute video
For more on tribal topics, see our calendar and document databases, and search for Category=Tribal.

Posted in: Tribal Systems

A few weeks ago, we talked about the results of our Tribal Utility News subscriber survey. Between this post and the challenges our subscribers told us faced tribal utilities, the tribal utility landscape can sound overwhelming. But while there’s no denying that tribal utilities can face obstacles, the overall picture doesn’t have to be bleak. The good news is that there are a growing number of resources addressing these topics, both for small systems in general and for the specific challenges facing tribes.

Tribal Utility Management Resources
For utility management advice and support from a tribal perspective, check out the Tribal Utility Governance Program manual, developed by RCAC as part of the Tribal Utility Governance trainings offered last year. Though the trainings have been completed, you can check out recordings of the sessions here. From a more general small systems perspective, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) also has a number of downloadable handbooks and guides for board members. We also try to include trainings and resources relevant to tribal managers in our calendar and document database. Tribal utility managers who are already familiar with management topics might want to check out the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona’s Tribal Utility Management Certification.

Training for Tribal Operators
For tribal operators, Native American Water Masters Association (NAWMA) meetings offer training and support on a variety of utility topics, as well as a chance to connect with other tribal operators. The Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (ITCA) also has a federally-recognized tribal operator certification program that offers regular trainings as well as certification exams. The United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) also offer federally-recognized tribal operator certification and an increasing number of trainings through NAWMA and their annual conference. And Navajo operators are often offered free training through the Navajo Nation EPA’s Public Water Systems Supervision Program (their operator certification program is currently still in development).

And of course, searching our calendar for the Tribal category tag or under State for the National Tribal Operator Program will bring up even more trainings for both tribal operators and tribal utility managers, covering topics from grant-writing and GIS to general O&M and drinking water treatment standards.

Help is Out There
But what if you need that extra personal touch to untangle a problem at your utility? Books and trainings are great, but sometimes you need to get your hands dirty right now. Help is available. Our tribal contact manager is designed to help you determine which tribal assistance providers are available in your area.* In addition to federal resources like the Indian Health Service and EPA regional offices, most RCAP regional partners and state based technical assistance providers may be able to assist you. (Some RCAP partners have staff specifically for tribes as well.) Regional tribal associations with utility management and operations resources like those mentioned above generally offer technical assistance as well. To see our full list of Tribal Assistance Providers, go here. Even if you don’t need a hands-on technical assistance provider right now, these can be good phone numbers to track down and have at the ready for life’s little surprises.

More Resources?
Is there a resource that didn’t get mentioned here? Have you found a training resource or an assistance provider particularly useful? Comment and let us know. You can also call or email our staff for help in locating someone locally to provide you with support.

*Please note that due to updates being made in the contact manager right now, USET’s contact information is inaccurate. Lisa Berrios is no longer with USET’s tribal utility team.

Posted in: Tribal Systems

Back when our Tribal Utility News newsletter was just getting started, we surveyed our subscribers on tribal utilities’ biggest challenges and education needs. We’ve discussed the challenges they told us about here; today we’re going to talk about the education needs.

A lot of the topics suggested for emphasis in tribal utilities went hand-in-hand with the challenges we discussed in our previous post. Management support and general operations training topics came up more times than any other category, with water and wastewater treatment topics coming in a distant second.

Need for Management Training in Utility Topics
The management support topics covered the full range from record-keeping, ordinances and enforcement, and asset management; to rate-setting, budgeting, and funding sources. In our previous post on this survey, we mentioned that many respondents felt tribal councils didn’t always fully support the tribe’s utilities. So some of these educational needs could be related to that challenge. However, there has also been increasing awareness that managerial support is a need for many small systems. Operating in a small community can present special challenges. Finding funding can be more difficult, particularly for tribes. And things like enforcing ordinances or collecting past-due fees can be awkward when you know all of your customers personally. However, when the utility managers feel able to tackle these challenges, the whole utility is able to provide better service to the community and a better work environment to its operators.

An Introduction to General Operations
For operators, survey respondents focused on general O&M topics like SCADA, safety, and general mechanical training. Water and wastewater treatment and distribution topics were mentioned, but much less frequently. Many small rural utilities have difficulty keeping trained operators on staff. The isolation and other challenges mentioned in our previous post make this just as true for tribal utilities. This means many utilities have to periodically start from scratch, introducing apprentice operators to the basics of operation and maintenance. On a related note, a few survey respondents mentioned a need for awareness about certification programs for operators. Because clean drinking water and the sanitary disposal of waste are so essential to public health, it benefits communities to have operators who have received the proper training to achieve these goals. Operator certification programs are a way of ensuring that training takes place.

Other Topics?
The good news is that there are a growing number of resources addressing these topics, both for small systems in general and for the specific challenges facing tribes. But first, we want your opinion on these survey results. Are these the training topics you would want at your tribal utility? Are there any topics you would add to the list? Comment and let us know.

Posted in: Tribal Systems
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