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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.


Brenda Koenig
Brenda Koenig
Brenda Koenig's Blog

Featured Video: An Inflow and Infiltration Reduction Program in Missouri

Featured Video: An Inflow and Infiltration Reduction Program in Missouri

Inflow and infitration (I/I) can be very costly for small communities, especially those communities with outdated combined wastewater/stormwater systems or collection systems in poor repair. According to this classic National Small Flows Clearinghouse article, I/I problems place additional burdens on these older and/or fragile systems because the extra water that seeps or flows into them can be very damaging, and, in some cases, even cause contamination issues.  

This week's featured video describes how the City of Columbia, Missouri is attempting to locate, identify, and correct improper connections and defects that cause these inflow and infiltration problems so that their system capacity improves, and sanitary sewer overflows and basement backups are eliminated.

EPA Releases Preventive Maintenance Tools for Small Systems

EPA Releases Preventive Maintenance Tools for Small Systems
USEPA has released two new/updated interactive tools to help small systems retain and organize important operator knowledge as well as keep track of regular operation and maintenance tasks. In this way, when an operator takes a vacation, retires, or leaves a system, important knowledge about the system is preserved for those taking his or her place. 

The first tool to be released is an updated version of EPA's popular Preventive Maintenance Card File tool. This 857-page easy-to-access electronic version can be tailored to a system's needs. It includes fillable pdf logs for each month as well as logs for common daily, weekly and monthly tasks. In addition, it can provide detailed information about maintenance and operation, source water, emergencies, security, treatment processes, monitoring/sampling, storage, distribution, rules/regulations, operator certification, customer complaints, technology, supplies, important people and more.

The tool can be downloaded in its entirety as a zip file, or you can download individual months/files. If your system prefers a printed format, the logs can be printed out or you can opt to print out the original 2004 Preventive Maintenance Card File for Small Public Water Systems here.

The second new tool, piloted last summer, is the Knowledge Retention Tool Spreadsheet for Small Water Systems, found here. This tool also captures site-specific information to help systems maintain water quality in times of transition, but in a spreadsheet format. Tabs providing information on source water, technology, certification, neighboring utilities, suppliers, distribution info and more provide critical information in a quick and easy to read format, all in one place. The spreadsheet also includes a daily production well log, conversion tables and flushing/backflow/valve-exercising schedules.


In a recent webinar featuring these resources, Melinda Norris from Idaho Rural Water talked about how she has seen utility records written on walls and left on dusty barn shelves, creating situations where years of knowledge are at risk of being lost. For her, theses new tools will increase access and encourage operators to record and preserve critical information for newly hired operators or just for those needing help on a daily basis. 

These tools were developed by the EPA's Workforce Group to address an identified critical area of need for small systems: preventing the loss of years of accumulated system knowledge when an operator retires or leaves a system.

Focus on Chlorine Safety

Focus on Chlorine Safety

Chlorine is one of the most widely used industrial chemicals in the world today, with 13 million tons produced annually in the United States alone. And although there are alternative treatment methods, the majority of water systems still use some form of chlorine for disinfection because it offers an affordable and well understood means of eliminating waterborne diseases. In fact, filtration of drinking water plus the use of chlorine has been called one of the most significant public health advancements of the 20th century.

Yet every treatment technology has its risks, and it is critical to understand the dangers. That is why your employee safety training programs are so important. Here are some supplemental chlorine safety resources from our document library to help support an active chlorine safety/emergency response program at your plant. 

In addition, chlorine safety topics are covered on operator certification exams and are a critical component of operator trainings. You can use the keyword box to search our national training calendar for upcoming opportunities. 

Protecting Your Customers From Utility Scams

Protecting Your Customers From Utility Scams

There's a new hero in town: Utilities United Against Scams. In the past year, this national organization made up of more than 100 electric, gas, and water utilities, has successfully worked to disconnect more than four dozen 1-800 numbers tracked to scam artists and swindlers who pose as utility representatives threatening to shut off a customer's service unless bills are paid. The organization has also partnered with law enforcement and created materials and resources for utilities to use to warn their customers.

Why are these warnings so valuable?  A recent report published by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) found that people are particularly susceptible to utility scams. This, combined with a median financial loss of $500 — quite a sum for many customers of small systems — means that there is no incentive for this type of activity to decrease. In fact, according to a study by Hiya, utility scams rose 109 percent in 2016 alone. 

While only a handful of mostly larger water utilities are on the roster at this time, the AWWA is encouraging additional water utilities to sign up for a free membership in Utilities United Against Scams in order to pool resources with other systems to fight this growing problem and amplify public outreach. The organization also hopes to create a centralized database for fraud committed against utility customers that could prove useful to water systems of all sizes. 

To be sure, it is important for organizations such as UUAS to address concerns specific to water utilities, concerns that are different from the typical payment scams common to other utilities: mainly, imposters trying to gain access to homes and businesses with the intent to rob by claiming the need to check meters, test water or check pipes. The Middlesex Water Company advises customers to ask for a photo ID before allowing anyone into their home and Fraud.org suggests customers take these steps to protect themselves: always call the utility directly, never pay by wire transfer or prepaid cards and never give out personal information. 

In attempt to raise awareness of these pressing issues, UUAS has created the Consumer Guide to Imposter Utility Scams to educate leaders and consumers about the types of scams that are occurring across the country (phone, in-person and internet) as well as provide tips to share with community members to avoid scams and contact information for assistance in case a customer becomes a victim. 

Are you interested in finding out more about the utility scams that are showing up in your community? Check out this interactive Scam Tracker map from the Better Business Bureau. And customers aren't the only ones who can fall prey to crafty scammers: according to this article from Idaho Rural Water, there was an outbreak of scammers in 2012 tricking rural water operators into receiving "free samples" of water treatment products that they were later charged for!

Featured Video: Using Decommissioned Wastewater Tanks for Fish Farming

Featured Video: Using Decommissioned Wastewater Tanks for Fish Farming

Just when you think you've seen it all, someone comes up with a crazy idea that holds some promise. This just might be true in the case of a local aquaculture businessman, who, along with a Kentucky State University researcher, looked at outdated wastewater treatment plants and source water reservoirs and envisioned profitable fish farms! 

This week's featured video explains how Steve Mims and Tim Parrott used a USDA grant a few years ago to turn decommissioned wastewater plants into working aquaculture farms using treated effluent in digester tanks and daphnia (as fish food) from upgraded facilities that are often just next door. The tanks don't generate waste because the water cycles right back to the treatment plant.  

His big idea? To establish regional fish hatcheries through public-private partnerships, with young fingerlings sold to local farmers to raise in their own ponds all the while adding commercial-level fish and caviar production to the rural economies of Kentucky. So add fish farming to all the creative ways to recycle wastewater that people have been coming up with recently!  

Drinking Water and Lead Service Lines: Partnering to Protect Human Health

Drinking Water and Lead Service Lines: Partnering to Protect Human Health

Last month, the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative, a group that includes the AWWA, NRWA, ASDWA, NAWC, RCAP and WRF among others, hosted a panel discussion entitled "Drinking Water and Lead Service Lines:  Partnering to Protect Human Health." The focus of this discussion was how partnerships between water utilities and public health agencies are key to helping lead service pipe replacement programs really get off the ground. 

Dr. Lynn Goldman from the Milken Institute School of Public Health started off the discussion by providing historical context, pointing to precedents that allowed lead to be "managed in place" while also allowing higher lead levels in water to be acceptable practice. She explained that when EPA's first Lead and Copper standard (1992) began to improve health outcomes for water consumers, lower-level effects began to be unmasked. This phenomenon, according to Goldman, underscores the importance of enacting revisions to the Lead & Copper Rule, as well as best practices for lead sampling strategies. Goldman emphasized the importance of developing carefully crafted lead pipe removal programs so that more lead isn't released into drinking water supplies during the remediation process.

Other takeaways from the panel of speakers include the following:

  • Some communities bear disproportional consequence of lead contamination.
  • Lead poisoning can go undetected in individuals, but even low levels of lead affect the brain.
  • Action alerts vary state-by-state, but Amanda Reddy from the National Center for Healthy Housing recommends an action level of 5 ug/dL.
  • Lead-based paint is the most widespread cause of lead poisoning, but we need comprehensive solutions to address ALL hazards. 
  • There are proven & cost effective solutions. In fact, replacing lead service lines for just the children born in 2018 would protect 350,000 individuals from future lead poisoning.
  • Solutions must include diverse stakeholders including drinking water professionals, public health officials, elected officials, community leaders and concerned consumers.
  • Lead contamination resources need to be easily accessible for individuals affected by lead in their drinking supply. 
  • Simply providing bottled water is not a long-term solution.

Public Health representatives from two municipalities (Milwaukee and Cincinnati) also spoke at the forum, and offered their lessons learned:

  • Partial Lead Service Line replacement can cause more lead to be released into drinking water supplies. Full line replacement should be the desired strategy, and working with all stakeholders to pass city-wide ordinances requiring full replacement is the most effective way to do this. 
  • Developing lead protocols for emergency leaks and repairs is critical.
  • City-wide outreach and education/awareness campaigns are a must.
  • Prioritizing schools or childcare facilities for line replacement makes sense. 
  • Milwaukee used Wisconsin's Drinking Water State Revolving Funds to replace service lines at schools, Cincinnati used a HUD grant to replace service lines for low-income residents.  
  • Cincinnati formed a county-level collaborative and pooled resources, technical providers, outreach professionals. They also targeted their outreach to PTAs, Church groups, community organizations. 
  • Challenges include: switching out interior plumbing (inside private residences), missing out on targeting some childcare/schools because they are not licensed, and finding the time and resources to communicate effectively with customers. 

Finally, Cathy Bailey, from Greater Cincinnati Water Works, a system that encompasses an area with the second highest child poverty rate and second-highest number of lead lines in the country, offered her perspective. Her system has adopted a 15-year program for full service line replacement, with cost-assistance for low-income residents and cost-sharing arrangements for other property owners. Her advice for water systems? 

  • Water Utilities should lead the effort to start the conversation about lead in drinking water and service line replacement. Utilities have a  big stake in this issue. 
  • Utilities can be proactive in providing tools and education to their community. Cincinnati provides online resources such as a lead "map' and free lead testing as well as assistance to schools funded by their general operating budget.
  • Utilities can be proactive in communicating within their organization. Cincinnati Water Works has an internal dashboard to compile lead test results, health statistics and more. They then can identify homes that qualify for free P.O.U filters. 
  • Cincinnati Water Works partners with the health department to share data, understand water quality issues and help individuals and schools mediate problems. 

The panel participant's message was clear: lead service line replacement is simply the right thing to do for communities, and partnerships with health departments and water utilities are critical to that process. Want to find out more? Check out the Lead Service Line Collaborative's online roadmap/toolkit or follow #safewater on Twitter. 

Featured Video: Flow Meters for Water and Wastewater Applications

Featured Video: Flow Meters for Water and Wastewater Applications

With the wide variety of flow meters available these days, problems with flow measurement can sometimes be traced back to having the wrong technology for the job. It is important, then, for those who have their feet on the ground at the plant to know the options available. 

You’ll need to consider: is closed pipe or open channel the right solution?  What is the right technology to use once I have decided on open or closed pipe? What are the total maintenance costs involved with each of the decisions? This 43-minute video presents typical water and wastewater applications and flow meter solutions. It reviews theory of operations and application details to help you select the correct flow meter technology. Because, as they say, in order to manage it, you have to measure it! 

Featured Videos: Invisible Heroes, Minnesota's Drinking Water Providers

This week's featured videos are part of a new series produced by the Minnesota Department of Health showcasing the "invisible heroes" of Minnesota's drinking water supply. In these 3-minute videos, small town water system heroes face and overcome a variety of challenges including contamination, source water shortages and aging infrastructure in order to provide safe, reliable water for their communities. Three of the videos feature small or very small water systems and the innovative strategies and partnerships they have developed to overcome their challenges. 

The first video looks at how the tiny community of St. Martin (pop. 350) has become the first town in the state with a biologically active treatment plant in order to effectively respond to high levels of iron and ammonia in their water. 


The next video explains the unique wellhead protection program developed by the City of Worthington, MN (pop. 13,000). In order to protect the City's drinking water wells from contamination, the city, along with partner Pheasants Forever, created the Worthington Wells Wildlife Management Area. 


And finally, here is a video about how the small city of Fairmont, MN (pop. 10,000) sprang into action when faced with increasing nitrate levels. 


What do all three of these smaller systems have in common? They worked collaboratively with the Minnesota Department of Health to ensure their strategies would meet with success! 

Free Test Prep Training Resources for Operators

Free Test Prep Training Resources for Operators

Are you looking for FREE resources to help you study for upcoming certification/recertification or certification upgrade exams? Are you looking for ways to gain or deepen your knowledge about O&M issues, new treatment technologies or distribution strategies? Look no further! WaterOperator.org has a whole collection of up-to-date, helpful small system manuals and training materials to help you, whatever the reason. Check out these recent finds:

  • Basics for Small Water Systems in Oregon Manual - This 155-page manual from the Oregon Health Authority provides a series of fact-sheets of essential information and considerations for small system operators in Oregon. Fact-sheet topics include: Basic Responsibilities of Water Suppliers, Drinking Water Source Protection, Identifying and Correcting Significant Deficiencies, Identifying and Resolving Cross-Connections, Sampling & Reporting, Sampling and Reporting Requirements for Small Groundwater Systems, Public Notice Requirements, Consumer Confidence Reports, Overview of Disinfection and Other Water Treatment Methods, Shock Chlorination, Leak Prevention & Repair, Facility O & M, Storage Tanks and more.

  • Surface Water Treatment Operator Certification Manual - This 321-page certification manual from the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection provides operators with the basic knowledge required to manage surface water drinking water systems. This manual provides 15 chapters of the surface water treatment operator certification course.

  • Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator Certification Manual - This 261-page certification manual from Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection provides operators with the basic knowledge required to manage drinking water systems. The manual is comprised of 10 chapters concerning wastewater treatment plant operation and maintenance. Topic include: the Certified Plant Operator, KPDES Permitting Program, Biology, Preliminary Treatment, Physical & Biological Treatment Processes, Digesters, Disinfection, Flow Measurement, Pumps and Motors, Hazards and Regulations.

  • Introduction to Small Water Systems: A Course for Level I Operators, Chapter 1. - You can find all 13 chapters of this course on the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation website. Chapter topics include Introduction to Distribution Systems, Basic Electricity and Motor Controls, Regulations and Monitoring, and Waterworks Math. 

  • Introduction to Water & Wastewater Treatment Technology - This course from Mountain Empire Community College includes 19 lessons tracing the flow of water from the source through treatment, storage, distribution, use, waste collection, treatment and discharge back into the environment.

  • The WaterSifu website - This website's moto is "turning ordinary water workers into water black belts" and includes 28 free podcasts, a companion guide, YouTube videos, and more. Created by a water operator, this is a fun go-to resource for studying to pass your water treatment or distribution exam. One helpful video points out the six most common mistakes people make that stop them from passing their state water treatment/distribution exam.

  • New Mexico Water Systems Operator Certification Study Manual - This manual from the New Mexico Environment Department Utility Operator Certification Program provides study materials up to the Class 4 level of Water Certification. Chapters include Fluoridation, Distribution, Disinfection, Safety, Mathematics, Water Storage and more. 

  • New Mexico Wastewater Systems Operator Certification Study Manual - This manual was created as a tool to assist wastewater systems operators in New Mexico in preparation for taking the New Mexico Collection Systems OperatorSmall Wastewater Systems Operator, and Wastewater Systems Operator certification exams.

  • Class A Training Manual for the Ohio Wastewater Treatment Certification Exam - This 182-page training manual from the Ohio EPA can assist you in becoming proficient in the operation and maintenance of a small wastewater treatment system. Specifically, this training material will focus on the effective operations and maintenance of the extended aeration activated sludge treatment system commonly referred to as a “Package Plant”. The concepts and information presented in this training material have been identified by other successful certified operators of package treatment systems as critical in producing clean water acceptable for discharge into your local waterways; your environment.

  • Five Common Questions on Water Treatment Operator Exams - Questions on drinking water regulations, pumps, chlorination, and lab procedures almost always appear on the test. This video covers these questions to better prepare you for the exam. The video is for operators in the earlier stages of their career, such as the first two certification levels. If you’re at a more advanced level, then this video might simply be a review for you. Other test prep videos from this website include: Water Distribution Operator Certification Exam: 4 Practice Problems and Wastewater Treatment Operator Certification Exam: 4 Practice Problems.

For more certification prep resources, visit our document database and search by the category Certification/Exam Prep. Try narrowing it by your state, or search by "distribution", "drinking water treatment", "wastewater", or "collection system" depending on the kind of exam you're preparing for. (Search without the quote marks though, because they confuse our database!).

Featured Videos: Onsite Wastewater Systems

According to the US Census Bureau, one in four homes in the U.S. is served by an onsite wastewater system. Our first featured video this week explores some of these onsite options and then explains in simple terms how each of these systems work in different soil conditions and what it takes to maintain them. In the end, the video shows how the cost-effectiveness of septic systems can often more than outweigh the cost of a centralized system for many smaller communities. 


Wondering how to find the funding to get these types of decentralized systems off the ground? Our second video this week explores how innovative partnerships and Clean Water State Revolving Funds can be used for exactly these kinds of projects.


Do you want to find out more about onsite wastewater options and how to pay for them? Head over to our 
resource library and pick "decentralized ww systems" as a category!