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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

Featured Videos: The House on Wade Avenue

Last week, our featured video discussed the value of water. Hidden infrastructure is often a factor in how people value their water utility. Distribution and collection systems and treatment plants are usually tucked out of the way, and out of sight for many people is out of mind. Sometimes though, the obscurity of the infrastructure can be its own story, as in the case of this mysterious house on Wade Avenue in Raleigh, North Carolina. See if you can guess its secret, and once you know the answer, challenge your customers to guess too!



For more public education resources, check the Public Education category on this blog. Or, for a more in-depth discussion of public education and water infrastructure, check out this hour-long webinar recording from the Environmental Finance Center at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Featured Videos: Put Water First

Summer is a time when water sources are on a lot of customers' minds. Whether they're buying bottled water from the store or making sun tea with water from the tap, chances are the value of drinking water is particularly clear to them. If you'd like to advocate for the value of your drinking water utility, this week's featured video could help.

Heather Himmelberger, director of the Southwest Environmental Finance Center, gave this talk a few years ago at TEDxABQ. TEDx events are independently organized TED-like conferences intended to help communities spark conversation and connection. Heather speaks about the incredibly reasonable price of tap water, and discusses the expenses that could face the industry in the future. The video can provide an accessible introduction to these topics for your customers.


To see more on the topic of the value of water, check out the Value of Water category here on this blog. Or type "value of water" (minus the quote marks) into the keyword search field of our document database, then click Retrieve Documents.

Contracting a Certified Water Operator

Many small systems across the nation depend on the services of a circuit rider, also known as a contract operator. In fact, according to this article by Lori Moore, Compliance Specialist at Colorado Department of Public Health, contract operators make up an incredible 33 percent of the total number of certified water professionals who supervise public systems!

Contract operators can help ensure regulatory compliance for less complex systems that do not need a full-time operator, they can respond to emergencies, attend sanitary surveys or help fill-in when a full-time operator cannot be found in the area. 

Whatever the reason, it is important to know how to select a contract operator, and then once selected, how to communicate effectively with them. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has recently published such a guide, outlining the responsibilities of both the responsible official/owner and the certified water operator. The guide also includes a contract operator interview tool and topics for developing terms of a contract.

Pennsylvania isn't the only state offering guidelines for developing a contract. For example, here is Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation list of suggested information and requirements to include and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has it's own guide as well. Many states also offer lists of current certified contract operators, like this one

Once selected, communication with the operator is key to developing a successful relationship. Because the work contract operators do is immensely valuable, especially these days, establishing clear expectations can go a long way for everyone involved. 

Featured Video: After the Storm

If your utility is in an area that gets storms with heavy rain, you may be aware of the affect stormwater can have on water quality. Even if your area is usually dry, a sudden storm can rinse all of the oil spills, dog poop, and dust that have accumulated in the yards and streets of your community right into the nearest surface water body. Depending on the community you live in, industrial sites and large farming operations can also have an impact on stormwater quality.

This 20-minute video from the USEPA discusses how stormwater and watershed factors can affect water quality in your community. It also highlights communities that face stormwater quality challenges, and possible solutions to those issues.


If you want to see more presentations from communities dealing with stormwater issues, visit our document database and set the filters to the Stormwater category and the Presentations/Slides type. Then click Retrieve Documents. You might also be interested in these sourcewater protection resources from the USEPA. Dealing with stormwater quality can sometimes be a big project, but the benefits to your community's quality of life and public health are worth the effort.

Featured Video: Differences in Public Supply Well Vulnerability

Have you ever wondered why one of your wells has consistent problems with nitrates, E. coli, or other contaminants, while another one has a different set of problems or is totally fine? The answer may be in the ground under your feet. The geology and aquifer characteristics of your area affect how vulnerable a well is to contamination and influence the kinds of contamination most likely to affect your well. A well in an aquifer that's mostly sand will behave very differently than a well drilled in an area with a lot of sinkholes. An aquifer that's nothing but sand from close to the surface all the way to the bottom will behave differently than an aquifer with a layer of clay between the sand and the surface. And the differences go on.

To explore exactly how this works, the USGS studied four public supply wells, each from a distinct area of the country with a unique aquifer structure. Their findings on the kinds of contamination that affected these wells can be found in these four factsheets as well as in the 12-and-a-half minute video below:

Now that you have some idea of the kinds of contamination that may be affecting your well, you might have new ideas for protecting your well as well. Check out the USEPA's sourcewater protection resources for more information on developing or improving a groundwater protection plan for your utility. If you'd like to provide local private well owners with similar information on their own wells, you might want to check out our education materials for well owners at The Private Well Class.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a DRONE!

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a DRONE!

So you are thinking it is about time to inspect the outside of your water tanks and above ground assets. According to the Illinois EPA, a water storage tank should be inspected at least every 5 years, so it just may be that time again.

You are probably familiar with the traditional tools for condition inspections such as ladders, scaffolding, harnesses, cherry pickers, helicopters, ROVs, divers and cameras. But these days, you can add another tool to your toolbox: unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or more simply, drones. Drones can offer a safer and possibly more cost-effective method of visualizing the condition of a utility’s facilities. Certainly, these “eyes in the sky” can take a visual inspection to an entirely new level – literally.   

There are clear benefits to using drone technology. According to this Wall Street Journal article, researchers believe the use of drones could cut utility costs and improve worker safety, both for routine inspections and for surveying damage after disasters. Plus, set up and operating costs can be less expensive – initial drone systems can be had for as little as $6,000. Drones can also be used to supplement your GIS program for asset management and to map assets in remote and rural locations.

Yet there are some drawbacks as well. Depending on state and local ordinances and laws, there may be height and line of sight regulations as well as special training/licensing requirements for operators.

Interested in finding out more?

There will be a technical session on using drones at the 2017 APWA Public Works Institute in California in September. And the NCAWWA is offering a session at their 2017 Institute, also in September. Can’t wait until September? The Operator Training Committee of Ohio is offering a training in a few short weeks.

Ready to give it a try?

NJ Water Association offers a drone service for asset management purposes, emergency response planning, tank inspections and more. Their drone and operator are both registered with FAA to maintain compliance with FAA Part 107 requirements.

Featured Video: Wastewater Phosphorus Removal

As you keep an eye on surface water quality near your wastewater treatment plant this summer, nutrient control might be on your mind. If you're struggling with high phosphorus levels in your effluent, this week's video might shed some light on your options. In this webcast recording from WEF, a panel of experts discuss wastewater phosphorus in-depth, covering biological, chemical, and combined removal options. This is a longer video---nearly two hours---but if you need a deep dive on the topic, this resource is a great place to start. Click on the link below to access the video player.

WEF Phosphorus Removal Webcast

For more slides on phosphorus removal, go to our document database and select the Nutrient Control category and the Presentations/Slides document type. Then type "phosphorus removal" (without the quote marks) into the keyword search field and click Retrieve Documents.

Featured Video: Control Valve Disassembly

Sometimes, operations and maintenance means taking things apart and putting them together again. If that's what you need to do right now, this video could get you halfway there. This eight-and-a-half minute video walks through the tools and steps needed to disassemble two kinds of control valves: a pump control valve and a pressure reducing valve. It includes a number of helpful hints and tricks, such as useful hand tools you can make yourself, and markings that will help with reassembly. (Reassembly instructions are not included in the video though.)


To see the complete disassembly, inspection, and reassembly process for the pump control valve, see this video.

Funding for Water Infrastructure Improvements

Funding for Water Infrastructure Improvements

Paying for maintenance and upgrades to your utility is no small task, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates the cost of replacing water and wastewater infrastructure in rural communities could be almost $190 billion in the coming decades. It’s unlikely a single source can meet your costs, and smart financing will instead require a mix of external funding, capital planning and rate setting to meet your goal.

External funds

The U.S. EPA provides a thorough starting point for finding external funding sources. Federal funding for water infrastructure includes:

There is also funding available at various agencies designated specifically for water and wastewater utilities dealing with declared federal disasters, or those seeking funds for proactive planning and design.

Funding options at the state level vary, but the Environmental Finance Center Network maintains a list of funding sources by state. The lists will include the last date of update, basic information on how to apply, and staff contact information to learn more.

Finally, there may be local or private foundation grants available, depending on your situation.

Capital planning

As the Environmental Finance Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill states, “Long-term planning is required to schedule major infrastructure improvements and spread the capital costs over many years in order to avoid having to raise rates significantly in any one year to pay for a capital project that was unplanned.

To that end, the center has developed resources and compiled best practice guides to help small utilities develop Capital Investment Plans and/or Asset Management Plans. These include the “Plan to Pay” tool, which uses Excel to project your fund balance (revenues, expenses and reserves), and necessary rate increases for the next 20 years.

Rate setting

Once you know your options for external funding and projected balance for infrastructure improvements, you’ll know whether and when a rate change is needed. View our past blogs on Laying the Foundation for a Successful Rate Approval Process and Tips to Help Utilities Get the Water Rates They Need.

As always, you can find additional resources in the WaterOperator.org document library, including examples specific to your state by selecting “Financial management” under Category and your location under State.

Featured Video: Wastewater Microbiology

If you're a wastewater treatment operator, you know your "bugs" are what helps make the whole thing go. Most wastewater treatment plants rely on the action of various microscopic creatures to clean and break down the waste at their plant. And these bacteria, protozoa, and other life forms do more than just treat your wastewater. Correctly identifying and counting the "bugs" in your system can also give you an idea of what's going on in your plant, like what nutrients or other levels might be high. This can then give you ideas on what other tests or treatments need to be run to mitigate any problems before they get out of hand.

What if you want to be friends with your bugs, but you don't know how to start? This video could be a good first step. In this eight-and-a-half minute video, you're introduced to the basic kinds of microbes found in a wastewater treatment plant. This includes microscope video of several varieties of critter, and discussions of their significance as indicator organisms.

If you'd like to learn more about your tiny wastewater treatment buddies, go to our document database and type "wastewater microbiology" (without the quote marks) into the keyword search field. Then click "Retrieve Documents." To see what operator training may be available near you, visit our calendar and select your state using the drop-down menu options.