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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

Educate Decision Makers With Help From RCAP

Google “drinking water” or “wastewater,” and you’re sure to find a growing list of news articles about lead safety concerns, the recent PFOA and PFOS advisory, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, and our crumbling infrastructure. The weight and fervor of these public discussions may concern some who grapple to protect our drinking water and environment. But increased attention has its benefits. It could mean your board members and other community decision makers would be more receptive to learning about your operations and operational needs. And that’s an opportunity you don’t want to miss.

Last year, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership released two video series designed to help leaders in small, rural communities make more informed decisions about drinking water and wastewater operations, maintenance, and expansion. Each video spends roughly 2-4 minutes walking the audience through a different technical step in the drinking water or wastewater treatment process. Click on the links below to watch the videos.

Wastewater Treatment

  1. Introduction
  2. Collection system
  3. Preliminary treatment
  4. Primary treatment
  5. Secondary treatment
  6. Solids and sludge handling
  7. Effluent disinfection
  8. Effluent disposal

Drinking Water Systems

  1. Introduction
  2. Raw water intake
  3. Pre-settlement and pre-treatment
  4. Static mixers and flash chambers
  5. Sedimentation and filtration
  6. Distribution systems

Beyond these series, sharing the RCAP video The Importance of an Operator in a Community’s Water System with your governing body will provide insight into the day-to-day work of an operator and the importance of that role.  

Click here to browse these videos in a playlist.

To find more videos from RCAP and other technical assistance providers, visit our Documents Database and click Videos in the Type category. And subscribe to the WaterOperator.org newsletter to get featured videos and other resources sent straight to your inbox.  

Tools for Transient Public Water Systems

 

Does your truck stop, restaurant, or campsite supply water to customers from a well or other privately-owned water source? If so, you’re what I.S. EPA calls a transient noncommunity public water system. And you’re not alone.  Every business and organization across the country that serves at least 25 people—not necessarily the same people—for at least 60 days out of the year is a TNC and must comply with Safe Drinking Water Act regulations and any requirements set by the local primacy agency. 

Getting and staying in compliance can be complicated, but your state’s primacy agency and your local technical assistance providers are there to help. If you aren’t able to confidently answer any of the questions below, you should consider reaching out for guidance to ensure you are providing safe water.

  • Is your system’s water source approved for public consumption?
  • Are you required to have a licensed operator?
  • Do you know what chemicals you’re required to sample and how frequently?
  • Are you up-to-date on your sampling requirements?
  • Do you know what type of treatment is best for your source water?
  • Do your tanks, pipes, and pumps align with state capacity and flow rate rules?
  • Do you have—and are following—an operations and maintenance plan that aligns with state and federal requirements?
  • Are all other required manuals and plans up-to-date and stored in a safe location? This may include engineering plans and maps, an emergency response plan, and evidence of compliance with EPA risk management requirements.
  • Do you have an organized record of all operation and maintenance activities?

You can also find more information on many of these and other small system concerns through our documents database. This short video tutorial can help you get started. 

Starting Off on the Right Foot: Basic Seasonal System Startup

As summer draws near a lot of small, seasonal water system operators are showing up, blowing off the cobwebs, and getting the show on the road. Every state has slightly different regulations and requirements for small system startup, and it’s important to know what your state requires. The Revised Total Coliform Rule requires seasonal systems to certify that they've completed state-approved startup and sampling procedures, so be sure to check anything we say here against your state's guidance. Having said that, it doesn't hurt to have a few reminders as you work through your startup routine. Here, we summarize the most common considerations for small seasonal system startup.

Inspect

The first thing you need to do is inspect your system. Even if everything was ship-shape when you closed your system down, life has happened while you were away. There could be storm damage, animals could have gotten into your well house or your well, or Murphy’s Law could have paid your system a visit. Each system is slightly different and will need to be checked for slightly different things. The Connecticut Department of Public Health has a great guidance document with detailed instructions for inspecting and repairing drilled wells with the wellhead at the surface or in a pit, old dug wells, and well houses or pump houses.

Regardless of your well construction, here are a few basic inspection tips to keep in mind:

  1. Clear the area around your well head. Remove trash, brush, debris, and any other potential sources of contamination to at least the recommended setback distance around your well. Make sure to store chemicals (including pesticides, fertilizer, gasoline, etc.) in another location away from your wellhead. If you have a generator, make sure that it has backup containment for possible fuel spills. Make sure the ground is sloped so that water can’t puddle up around your well.
  2. Remove any animals from inside the well, including bugs and spiders, which can introduce bacteria to the well. Bugs and spiders can be removed with a shop vac. Replace the sanitary seal or repair the dug well cover so that animals cannot enter the well.
  3. Any system component that has a vent should also have a secure vent screen, and the vent opening should point downward. Make sure the vents are clear and unobstructed.
  4. Check your wiring, conduits, and electrical systems to make sure that they’re in good shape. This is important with any form of well construction, but pay particular attention in a well house or pump house, as rodents like to live in these structures and may damage your wiring. If there are rodents living in your well house, be sure to clear them out.
  5. If you have a chlorinator, properly dispose of your old chlorine and purchase new. Make sure that your chlorine residual test kit is working properly, is properly calibrated, and the reagents are not expired. Inspect the chlorinator itself to make sure that it is in working order.
  6. Storage and pressure tanks will need to be drained, any sediment removed, and disinfected. Storage tanks may need to be re-lined or otherwise repaired before they can be used. This is particularly true if they have never been serviced before. These repairs are best done by a professional. If you choose to re-line a tank yourself, make sure to have proper safety and ventilation equipment in place before you begin.

Turn it on

Once you’ve gotten a good look at your system and done any preliminary repairs, it’s time to turn it on. Different states will have different requirements on what samples and readings need to be taken during this process; be sure you know what’s required where you’re working. Run water through the system by opening hydrants, blow-offs, and faucets. Check that your pressure tank is maintaining correct pressure and the pressure relief valve is working properly. Check the pressure throughout your system. Walk your distribution lines to make sure they are not exposed or leaking. (Leaking distribution pipes, in addition to wasting water, can also let bacteria into your system.) Chlorinate the system (we like this guide) and let it sit overnight or 24 hours. If your system has a water softener, high chlorine levels can damage the resin, so bypass the softener and disinfect it separately according to manufacturer instructions. Don't let anyone use the water during this time, both so that the chlorine has enough time to disinfect the pipes, and so that your users are not harmed by the highly chlorinated water.

Flush

Once the chlorine has had a good long time to work on the bacteria that grew while you were away, flush the highly chlorinated water out of your system. Don’t flush the water into the septic system. This will kill the good bacteria that help the septic system work. Also try to avoid vegetation and surface water that could be damaged by the chlorine.

Sample

This is the point where the Revised Total Coliform Rule sampling kicks in. Be sure to refer to your state's sampling requirements and your sample site plan in order to keep your system in compliance. Wait until you have the lab results back and have confirmed the water is safe to drink before you allow anyone to use the system for drinking water. If you chlorinate, this is also a good time to check that you have the correct chlorine residual in your system, and to adjust the chlorine feed if necessary.

If you’re concerned that your system may need additional water quality tests, don’t be afraid to request them! It’s always good to know what you’re dealing with.

Put your house in order

Though these are the basic steps to getting your system up and running, there is more that goes into running a seasonal system.

Valve exercising is an important part of distribution maintenance for any system. Take some time to systematically turn the valves in your system on and off as you’re bringing it online. Then you’ll know they’re working if an emergency comes up later in the season.

Backflow prevention is just as important in a small system as in a big one. Make sure your hose bibs all have vacuum breakers installed. If your system has RV sewer dump stations, make sure they’re isolated from the drinking water system by backflow assemblies (or that the water lines don’t reach the stations at all). Have a professional inspect any testable backflow assemblies you have on your system.

As you go through the process of starting up your system for the season, take some time to make sure your manuals and emergency contacts are up-to-date, your instruments are properly calibrated, and your chemicals are all up-to-date and properly stored. Taking some time to put your (well) house in order at the beginning of the season gives you a great starting point for the coming months of small system operation.

Good luck, and don’t forget to lock your pump house!

Collaboration Toolkit: Protecting Drinking Water Sources Through Agricultural Conservation Practices

As a small water system operator, the journey of supplying safe, clean water to consumers begins at the source. Source water protection is best approached through collaboration and can be enhanced with the use of voluntary conservation practices by local agricultural professionals. This is especially the case in regions where nitrate and phosphorus runoff from agricultural operations threaten source water quality.

Fortunately, the Source Water Collaborative (SWC) developed a simple six-step toolkit designed to facilitate collaboration between source water stakeholders (like you) and landowners through U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) conservation programs.

Step 1: Understand how key USDA conservation programs can help protect and improve sources of drinking water

In order to foster beneficial relationships for source water protection, it is important to understand what national, state, and local organizations can be of service to you. Two USDA sponsored organizations are highlighted in the toolkit: The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Farm Service Agency (FSA). NRCS exists to provide technical and financial assistance to both landowners and operators for the enactment of voluntary conservation practices. FSA works to provide farm commodity, credit, conservation, disaster, loan, and price support programs. Having a working knowledge of specific programs, key contacts, and common vocabulary are vital first steps to take in your source water project.

Step 2: Define what your source water program can offer
Next you’ll need to understand NRCS and FSA programs and how they relate to specific operations and regulations in your state. This can be done quickly by browsing by location for NRCS state offices at nrcs.usda.gov and fsa.usda.gov. It’s important to note that the staff of these organizations are often the most aware of the regulatory structure of environmental programs, so be sure to make it known that you wish to work collaboratively. You should then focus on identifying what specific areas or projects collaboration with conservation practices could enhance. This is your opportunity to share valuable information such as source water data and GIS maps in order to identify potential water quality improvements.

Step 3: Take action

Step 3 of the collaborative toolkit focuses on making concrete moves to begin an action plan. It suggests you start by contacting your assistant state conservationist for programs. Be clear about your intentions to foster a partnership regarding source water concerns and NRCS programs that can be of assistance. Linked in the toolkit are initial talking points, a draft agenda for the first meeting, and key USDA documents to help you begin your first steps to action.

Step 4: Find resources
This is where you do your homework. Step 4 lists several links to very useful conservation and source water resources: A list of NRCS conservation programs, state drinking water programs, watershed projects, maps of nutrient loading, and much more. These resources will ensure you develop your project with the correct programs and people.

Step 5: Coordinate with other partners

This crucial step enables you to make sure that you are partnered with the people that will give your project the highest probability of success. The links listed in this step are for key partners who can bring data, technical capabilities, useful state and local perspectives, and other important stakeholders. These links include U.S. EPA regional source water protection contacts, state source water program contacts, state clean water programs, and other federal agencies that can make your efforts more productive.

Step 6: Communicate your success & stay up-to-date
Finally, share your source water protection experiences with SWC to facilitate improvements to the toolkit and promote the toolkit among water colleagues. 

Finding the right partners for voluntary, collaborative conservation practices is a progressive step for improved source water protection. By utilizing the resources and tips provided in the collaboration toolkit, you can put yourself in the best position to maximize your source water protection potential. Visit Source Water Collaborative for more information on any of your protection questions.

So You've Got a Website...Now What?

In an earlier post, we talked a little about the value of having a website—or webpage on a city site—to connect with rate payers. Getting the site up is one step, albeit a huge one. Now you face the challenge of driving traffic to the site or page. After all, the most informative site might as well not exist if no one knows it’s there.

Marketing a website may sound like a full time job, but it doesn’t have to be. There are a handful of things you can do to raise awareness and promote use without adding much to your already lengthy “to do” lists.

  • Add a teaser to your email signature. Something as simple as “Visit WaterOperator.org for more information” with a hyperlink is enough. Emails get forwarded, copied, and otherwise shared. You never know who may be reading and clicking.   
  • Create a bill insert informing rate payers about the site. If resources allow it, consider including refrigerator magnets or something similar with the url and your logo to serve as a more lasting reminder.
  • Share website information on your utility’s Facebook, Twitter, or other social media accounts. If you’re not active on social media—or even if you are—reach out to whoever runs the accounts for your city or town to let them know the site is available as a resource. Whatever you do, don’t forget to include the link.
  • Participate in Facebook groups and Google Plus communities. This is a particularly good strategy if your own social media accounts don’t have a lot of followers. Perhaps your community has a Facebook community for parents, university students, seniors, gardeners, or more. Ask to join these groups and start directing people to relevant information on road closures, water conservation, or whatever else the group may find useful.
  • Offer to write a guest post for a city or community blog. By including your website in the bio at the end of your post, you can draw in visitors from sources that may get more hits than your website.
  • Reach out to your local print and tv media and offer to talk about some of the resources available on the site. 
  • Start an email list. Email marketing is still one of the strongest ways to engage with the public. Chances are, you found this very blog post through one of our email newsletters. Once you have it, use your list to highlight whitepapers, videos, conservation tips, and utility news recipients can find on your site.

As you start marketing your site, be sure to share your successes, mishaps, and everything in between on Small Communities #TalkAboutWater. Your experiences could help another small system reach their rate payers more effectively and efficiently.  

Financial Accounting for Small Systems

This article originally appeared on the SmallWaterSupply.org blog in 2012 as part of the Water We Drink series, developed by the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) and the National Environmental Services Center. Written by Certified Public Accountant Hatsy Cutshall, its ideas and tips still hold true today.

A cascade of bad economic news since late 2008 has focused nearly every citizen’s concern on finance, certainly at home and often at the public level. Many who are struggling to pay their own bills are looking to municipal leaders and asking valid questions about how their tax money is being spent.

A water or wastewater system is often the single largest asset owned by a small community. Like a homeowner with his property, all the stakeholders of those systems are best served if that asset is well managed and maintained to get the longest and best use at the lowest cost to all concerned. It is imperative that the board and the system managers understand and appreciate the value of the financial aspect of running the system. With that understanding they are then prepared to address public questions and concerns to help them understand how and why many decisions are made.

Financial management is not just about depositing cash in the bank and paying the bills. When used as part of an effective overall management strategy, it helps managers plan for the future to avoid unpleasant surprises like a compliance order or the sudden and unplanned need for significant infrastructure replacement. It also prepares management to explain to the rate-paying constituents how the decisions are made that go into setting the rates that keep the system going.

Without sound financial information, it is easy for the public to make incorrect assumptions about how much it costs to provide safe, reliable drinking water. Often, the first target for public scrutiny is the staffing expense. In response, many small system managers and governing boards are tempted to short change the accounting and finance function in favor of technical staff. By doing so, they risk problems that could cost them far more in the long run than the salary or accounting fees they have opted to avoid.

Furthermore, when a system does face the need for additional investment or maintenance costs, managers will find that there is less money flowing overall, fewer grants, and more loans. Funders are imposing stricter reporting requirements on systems to prove their capacity to manage the money they're borrowing.

There has never been a better time for small systems to take a look at their financial management and make sure it can stand up to this heightened scrutiny. In doing so, they likely will also discover ways that their financial information can help them decide how to make better use of the income and other resources for which they are responsible.

To help system managers and board members form a strategy for improving their financial management, I've compiled some ideas for how to get started. I've had the good fortune to talk with a number of technical assistance providers and other consultants who work with small systems. They've highlighted some common situations that they find when they begin work with a small system, as well as solutions that can help resolve some difficult situations.

Ten Financial Accounting Tips for Water and Wastewater Systems

  1. Get organized! Before you can begin to create or improve a financial system you have to be able to find your expense bills, your receipts records, your bank statements, and your payroll records. Create a filing system and get your paper records in order so that when you need to refer to a document, you can find it easily. If many of your records are in electronic format, create an electronic filing system for those records, as well.
  2. Review and document the system's rules and policies for income, expenses, and setting aside reserves. Read the minutes of board meetings for policies that may need to be formalized into the operating procedures. Board members and management should consider policies for handling late payments, whether to apply for a credit card, and board policy for setting aside a percentage of all fee income for capital needs reserves, to name a few.
  3. Find the right person to do the accounting work. If the system has a staff member who can take on the work and is willing to learn, get him or her some training. If the system cannot afford or does not need even a part-time bookkeeper on staff, consider hiring a local bookkeeping or accounting firm to do this work on a contract basis. Ask if the contractor has staff members who are willing to attend board meetings to help managers and board members read and interpret the reports.
  4. Talk to some trusted and experienced advisors about the system's accounting needs before you buy software. Often small systems buy accounting packages that are far more expensive and complex than they really need. The accounting software must be able to track the water system's activity separate and apart from that of any other government activity. If the system is small enough (e.g. 50 to 100 connections) a simple Excel spreadsheet may be able to handle all the tracking and reporting you need. For larger systems or those that are ready for a more comprehensive solution, QuickBooks is affordable and can handle most, if not all, of the accounting functions that many small systems need.
  5. Build a budget. Start with the actual results of the prior year's operations and consider what is likely to change, as well as what the board and constituents wish to change and put it in writing. Once approved, enter this budget into the reporting system so that reports can compare the actual financial activity to what was expected. Comparing the two will help managers and constituents plan for the future.
  6. Find and file any records you can that show how much was paid for pipe, pumps, meters, and other system infrastructure. Identify what the system owns and adopt an asset management plan. This survey of the system's physical components then informs the financial planning and budgeting process to reduce the risk of unplanned expenditures. This summary of what the system owns and how much it cost will also give you the information you'll need to record the value of the system's fixed assets on the balance sheet as required by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) 34 rule, which addresses financial reporting requirements for infrastructure assets.
  7. In addition to training the financial staff or hiring a bookkeeping firm, consider offering training for the system's board. Members of a utility's oversight board are often volunteers and may need assistance in making informed decisions and communicating the reasons for those decisions to the public. This type of training, as well as more generalized financial management training, is often offered through the state's primacy (drinking water or wastewater agency) as well as through non-profit organizations such as the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) and the National Rural Water Association (NRWA).
  8. Make sure your accounting system can track and classify income by type such as fees for water service, hookup fees, late fees, and so forth. It should also provide reports on aged receivables: how much the system is owed and how much is overdue by 30, 60, 90 or more days.
  9. Classify expenses in such a way that a report reader can easily compare how money is being spent to the board's approved budget. Expense line items such as telephone, rent, electricity, salaries, supplies, and other routine costs should be created; as payments are made and entered into the system, those payments should be categorized according to their purpose. The system should also be able to provide a report on how much is owed to outside vendors and when those payments are due. This report is called an "accounts payable aging" report.
  10. Record financial activity in the system regularly and often, at least once per month. If you let bookkeeping work pile up for months at a time, it is very easy to forget information that is important to the financial reports, such as the purpose of an expenditure or to which fund is should be charged. Monthly (or more frequent) reporting also helps managers see problems in time to solve them before they become more expensive to solve.

Make the decision that financial management is as important as maintaining the plant and equipment. Whether you decide to do it to meet regulatory requirements, citizen demand, or management needs, it's a great idea!

For more information or for advice and help getting started, contact your region's RCAP office, the National Rural Water Association, or your state primacy agency that deals with drinking water or wastewater systems.

The author would like to thank the following people for their help and information in preparing this article: H.B Calvert, Karen Yates and Jan Frederick with the Midwest Assistance Program; Mary Fleming and Linda Martinez with the Rural Community Assistance Corporation; Karen Johnson and Cindy Navroli, MPA, CPA.

Websites Offer Conveniences for Utilities and Customers

If you’re reading this, you're probably already aware of the power of the internet to share information and raise awareness of important issues. Hopefully you think some websites (like ours!) are useful. But have you considered getting a website for your own utility? If you don’t have a website already, here are some things to consider.

Benefits of Going Online

A utility website can provide a number of services, both to you and to your customers. At the most basic level, a website can house the information people ask you for all the time: utility fee information, FAQs, maybe some fact sheets on common local concerns like water conservation or winterizing. Not only does this provide a convenient place to direct people for more information, but some people may Google first, and find what they’re looking for before they have to try tracking you down by phone.

Beyond this basic usefulness, websites can be outfitted with customer service contact forms, new service request forms, CCRs, board meeting schedules and minutes, online bill pay options, and other resources. Contact forms usually feed into an email account, which can be used to collect and organize non-emergency customer communication even when you’re not available. Online bill pay is a convenience for your customers, and online CCR distribution, if your utility is eligible, can be a convenience for you.

Website Building Services

If you’d be interesting in gaining the convenience of a website without having to set one up on your own, there are services that can help. As an example (but not an endorsement), Rural Water Impact provides website setup and migration services specifically for small water utilities. GoDaddy also offers a range of website design and hosting packages. And if you’d like to try your hand at a straight-forward design, services like Weebly and Squarespace make it as easy as drag and drop.

As always, we here at WaterOperator.org are happy to help you think through your website needs. You can reach us at info@wateroperator.org or 1-866-522-2681.

Planning for the Future

The convenience and organization of a good website can provide plenty of benefit in the present. But those benefits can stretch into the future, as young people accustomed to cell phones and internet use start getting old enough to pay the bills. In addition to providing convenience to you and your customers now, having an established website can prepare you and your utility for a new, more digital future.

A Few Considerations 

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that water districts—among others—provide equal access to programs and services. One way to meet these requirements is to ensure that your website makes use of accessible design features. Systems with inaccessible sites may also be able to meet their legal obligations by providing an alternative way for people to access the information provide, such as a staffed telephone line. You can learn more about ADA requirements by calling the Department of Justice's toll-free information line at 800-514-0301. 

State law may also require that public utilities with websites maintained by utility staff post meeting schedules, agendas, and minutes. Your primacy agency should be aware of these requirements and can direct you to the appropriate state office for more detailed information.

If these requirements give you pause, consider talking with city or town officials to see if your system can instead be an active partner on their website. This is also a good option for systems concerned that under-staffing makes maintaining a website impossible. 

Engaging Customers in a Digital World

Like most Americans, your customers probably spend half their day staring at screen—checking emails, commenting on Facebook profiles, scrolling through Twitter feeds. In fact, the Council for Research Excellence recently announced the results of a media study that revealed that 68 percent of us use at least two media platforms—tv, computer, smartphone, audio, print, tablet—at the same time in an average day.

Here’s the take away: joining or becoming more active on social media platforms means meeting customers where they already go to receive information and news.

But, like most things, doing well on social media is much easier said than done. Today we’re sharing a few overarching tips and tricks, but finding the right platform and devising a successful media strategy may require more detailed discussions and a bit of trial and error.

Fortunately, Small Communities #TalkAboutWater is a great place to have these conversations with others who understand the unique challenges faced by small systems. You can also reach out to us directly at info@wateroperator.org or 1-866-522-2681.

  1. Define your goals and audience. Are you looking for greater community engagement? Are you in need of easier, more direct ways to share public notices? Maybe you want to connect with local and state officials. The more specific your goals and audience are, the easier it will be to choose the right social media platform and measure success.
  2. Remember not all platforms are created equally. If your system doesn’t frequently generate new pictures, graphics, or videos, Pinterest and Instagram are likely not for you. If you want to share more detailed messages—perhaps about road closures due to pipeline repairs or tips for conserving water—Facebook may be a better choice than Twitter. This article from The Next Web has more information about the pros and cons of different platforms.
  3. Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew. Time and personnel are precious commodities for small systems. Having a smart social media strategy is worth the time, but don’t feel like you need to join multiple platforms at once or post hourly. Consider starting with a single platform and a more conservative media strategy. The key is sustainability.
  4. Make use of your existing network. Invite customers to follow and like your page(s) in your next newsletter or with a bill insert. Put links to your social media pages on your website. Encourage your existing followers to tell their friends.
  5. Prioritize customer service. For many people, an organization Facebook or Twitter page is their first stop when they have questions or concerns. Stay on top of customer issues by responding within 12 hours. And be sure to re-share favorable experiences posted by customers across your social channels.
  6. Start conversations. It’s called “social media” for a reason. The most successful users ask questions that engage followers and inspire them to weigh in on topics they care about. For example, ask customers to share their favorite water conservation practice.
  7. Share your expertise. Customers see water systems as reputable sources for information on water supply and quality issues. Share little-known facts, post links to important information, provide access to reports or relevant research.  
  8. Get personal. Social media is a place for genuine engagement. A lot of the communication water systems have with rate payers is prescribed—public notices, bills, etc. But that doesn’t mean you can’t show the personal side of your operations. Talk about what you’re excited about, highlight staff successes, wish people a happy Friday.

Emergency Planning Goes Digital

They call this the age of the internet, so it probably comes as little surprise to hear that there is a whole host of computer and mobile tools designed to make emergency and adaptation planning easier and more effective for utilities and communities.  

We’ve highlighted a few U.S. EPA tools below, but there are many more with a range of features. If you’d like support finding the right tool for your system, drop us a line at 1-866-522-2681 or info@wateroperator.org. And for those who just prefer hardcopy, click here for a list of free emergency response plan templates.  

Tabletop Exercise Tool for Water Systems

This PC-based tool contains materials to assist those interested in planning and facilitating tabletop exercises that focus on water sector-related issues. Fifteen customizable scenarios address natural hazards and man-made incidents and introduce the potential impacts of climate change on the water sector.

Water Utility Response On-The-Go

The homepage of this mobile-friendly website displays a menu of links for tracking severe weather, contacting response partners, responding to incidents, taking notes and recording damage, informing incident command, and accessing additional planning info. Some of the external links from the site are not formatted for mobile viewing, and the .pdf forms may require an Adobe Reader app if you wish to fill them out on your mobile device. However, the site overall is well organized and easy to navigate, and can be a great tool for utilities dealing with weather emergencies and natural disasters. Click here to watch a short video about the site.

Community-Based Water Resiliency Tool

The CBWR Tool is an easy way to find out how prepared your community is to handle emergencies that impact water systems and learn about tools and resources that can be used to build resilience. A summary report is provided after the self-assessment with suggestions and recommended resources for increasing resilience. Users can then navigate to the CBWR toolbox, where they can find the best tool for their needs from over 400 tools and resources. Learn more about the benefits of the CBWR tool in this A Day Without Water video.

Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool

This risk assessment tool allows water utilities to evaluate potential impacts of climate change. The tool guides users through identifying regional climate change threats and designing adaptation plans. After assessment, CREAT provides a series of risk reduction and cost reports to allow you to evaluate various adaptation options as part of long-term planning. Visit the U.S. EPA YouTube channel for a complete introduction and videos showcasing how systems throughout the country have used CREAT to boost their preparedness.

Tools to Help Utilities Get the Word Out Fast

Last week, we talked about the role public advisories can be used to garner community buy-in and create more informed rate payers. Planning and adopting a comprehensive advisory framework, though, takes time—something most small utilities just don’t have to spare.

With that reality in mind, we wanted to let you know about a few public notification services available on the market. A quick disclaimer first—we at WaterOperator.org aren’t endorsing these or any other company, and we recommend you do research on your own to find the system that best fits your needs. Whether you contact one of these companies, another, or none at all, it’s worth the time to find out how a system like this might benefit your community. Also, please remember to check with your primacy agency as to whether your chosen (lowercase) public notification option may or may not be used for compliance with the requirements of the (uppercase) Public Notification regulation, or simply as a trust-promoting public service.

Swiftreach Networks

Using the SwiftH2O™ internet-based platform, utilities easily create and send thousands of voice, text, fax and email messages within minutes to any number of individuals on any device. These notifications are directly targeted to affected customers and tracked, allowing you to track who received and listened to your messages.

RapdiNotify

This international company’s web-based mass notification system allows you to notify your staff, rate payers, and other contacts via phone, email, and text messages. The product includes a self-registration widget for your website, as well as GIS mapping to help you target mass communication inside specific, user-defined geographic areas.

WARN

WARN offers multiple notification platforms built with small communities in mind. WARN Mass Notify makes it possible and easy to contact thousands of homes, work, and cell numbers a minute, as well as send texts, emails, and faxes.

If paid services aren’t right for your utility, remember that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have extremely broad reaches—with the added perk of allowing rate payers to respond. Whether your system is a social media beginner or veteran, the free resources below are worth checking out.

Communications, Customer Service, Social Networking

This 10-slide presentation breaks social media sites into basic kinds (conversational, one-way, interactive, etc.), and briefly discusses how many people use many of the most popular sites, basic uses of some social media outlets, and customer service on social media. 

Social Networking: The Old and the New, Interaction and Communication Between Communities and Their Customers and Operator to Operator Connectivity

This 23-slide presentation discusses social networking and social media. It discusses the importance, possible uses, and approach to using social media, particularly Facebook, for communication and outreach, and includes several screenshots of national water organization's Facebook pages. 

You can also contact us directly at info@wateroperator.org or join our Small Communities #TalkAboutWater LinkedIn group to get advice on how to tap into the power of social media. 

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