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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

Featured Video: Serious Play

Featured Video: Serious Play
If you have kids, you might be very familiar with the shapes and structures that can be built out of Lego blocks. Even if you don't have kids, you might be about to get a healthy dose of kids' building supplies over the holidays, as parents try to keep their kids out from underfoot. But did you know those building supplies could be used to explain complex concepts to your customers?

In this video, a conservation nonprofit demonstrates how they used colored building blocks to explain possible remediation strategies for polluted sediment in the Lower Duwamish Waterway in Seattle. Even if you're not facing this specific situation, look for ideas on how simple toys like these can be used to explain complex concepts to your board, city council, or customers. After all, everyone loves to play, don't they?



For more on communicating complex concepts to people without expertise, check out our past blog entry on Communicating Science. And if you've found a particularly effective strategy for communicating difficult water utility concepts to your board or community members, let us know!

Featured Videos: Small On-Site Wastewater Treatment Systems

Featured Videos: Small On-Site Wastewater Treatment Systems

Sometimes wastewater treatment doesn't involve clarifiers or even treatment buildings big enough to walk around inside. Approximately 25 percent of homes in the United States are not connected to centralized sewer systems. These homes and businesses collect and treat their wastewater on their own property using systems that are referred to as onsite wastewater treatment systems, septic systems, or decentralized systems.

In some rural and suburban areas, everyone uses decentralized systems. Even in communities with sewers and a centralized treatment facility, there are often areas the sewer does not reach and where homes or businesses are on septic systems. If a community wants to manage all of its wastewater, it is necessary to address both centralized and decentralized systems.

This video is for small, rural communities that are looking for wastewater treatment options. You'll hear about the benefits of onsite systems and get a "tour" of one community's system.

Small On-Site Wastewater Treatment Systems from RCAP on Vimeo.

Small, on-site treatment systems are an innovative way to treat water. They come in a variety of types and are often found in housing subdivisions, schools and small commercial centers. They have advantages for a variety of situations, especially for locations that are distant from or isolated from centralized sewer systems.

For more on operating decentralized wastewater systems, visit our documents database and search by the category Decentralized WW Systems and document type Manuals/Handbooks.

Featured Video: Nitrogen Removal in Wastewater Treatment

Featured Video: Nitrogen Removal in Wastewater Treatment
Need to brush up on nitrification and denitrification? Wondering how they fit in to the wastewater treatment process? Looking for some troubleshooting tips for common wastewater nitrogen operations issues? Then this week's featured video is for you!


This 12-minute video discusses the nitrogen cycle, sources of nitrogen in wastewater, types of nitrogen in wastewater, the processes involved in removing nitrogen from wastewater, and troubleshooting tips for issues such as rising ammonia levels and floating pieces of sludge in the clarifier, among other issues.


Nitrogen Removal in Wastewater Treatment from Steven Myers on Vimeo.

The Nutrient Control category in our document database covers nutrient control and removal topics for both nitrogen and phosphorus. You can type "nitrogen" or "phosphorus" (without the quote marks) into the keyword search field to narrow by nutrient. The nitrogen results are particularly interesting in the Factsheets/Case Studies and Slides/Presentations document types.

Featured Videos: Preparing Your System for Disasters & Emergencies

Featured Videos: Preparing Your System for Disasters & Emergencies
Boo! Halloween may be the season for spooky ghosts and spine-tingling stories, but water utility professionals have their own scary stories. A lot of them involve being knee-deep in mud at 2 AM, and most of them end (or begin) with boil orders. This week's video discusses various emergency and water security challenges that could face a utility, and offers practical suggestions to prevent or mitigate them. Your next B-movie night might not feature burst methane or chlorine tanks or vandalism by local teenagers---but maybe it could! This video is one step toward making sure your story has a happy ending. (Though the video is aimed at wastewater utilities, much of it will be relevant to drinking water utilities as well.)

Preparing Your Wastewater System for Disasters and Emergencies from RCAP on Vimeo.

For more on community water resiliency, see the USEPA's CBWR tool that we highlighted earlier this month. For more information on water security specifically, see the USEPA's Water Security Handbook.

Featured Videos: Clarifier Basics & State Point Analysis

Featured Videos: Clarifier Basics & State Point Analysis
You know what a wastewater clarifier does in a general sense---solids go in the bottom, cleaner water comes out the top---but how do you handle the nitty gritty of day-to-day clarifier operation? How do you understand what's happening? How do you troubleshoot?

This week's video offers some answers. It begins with a very brief refresher on the basics and then goes on to dive in to state point analysis and troubleshooting scenarios. It's just under 15 minutes and includes clear diagrams and visuals to help guide you through the concepts.  And if you click through to YouTube, there's a link to the spreadsheet used in the second half.




For more on clarifier operations and troubleshooting, visit our document database, type "clarifiers" (without the quote marks) into the keyword search field, and search document type Slides/Presentations.

Featured Video: Radionuclide Removal

Featured Video: Radionuclide Removal
Radionuclides are radioactive particles. They can be manmade or natural, existing in water, earth, and even living creatures. When they're consumed in drinking water, they can cause cancer or kidney problems. The USEPA has established drinking water standards to make sure radionuclides stay below dangerous levels in drinking water. If you're in an area with high levels of naturally occurring radionuclides, you are probably already aware of the issue and working to address it. But seeing how other small utilities are dealing with the same issue can still be useful.

In this week's video, the chief operator of the drinking water plant for Medicine Bow, Wyoming discusses the radionuclide treatment for his community, using a combination of ion exchange and blending. You might need to crank up the sound to catch everything, but it's still a great look at one small community's approach to this drinking water standard.



For more on the Radionuclides Rule, see the USEPA's Rule and Compliance pages, and this small system compliance guide in particular. You'll also find materials in our document database under the category Radionuclides.

Featured Video: A Day Without Water

Featured Video: A Day Without Water
A day without water is a daunting concept. Not only would it mean challenges to drinking, bathing, cooking, cooling, manufacturing, and dozens of other day-to-day activities, but as a water professional, it would probably be your job to get the water flowing again! Next week, the third annual Imagine a Day Without Water public education effort will highlight the value of water. Participation in this campaign can help your customers understand the importance and cost of the important work you do.

For utilities, Imagine A Day Without Water can also be an opportunity to consider your ability to keep the water flowing or restore your operations in the face of disaster. This USEPA video from a few years back highlights the Community-Based Water Resiliency tool (or CBWR). This tool can help you work with stakeholders in your community to assess your preparedness for various emergencies, and provides suggestions for improvement. If you and your community haven't gone through an exercise like this, the CBWR could be a great place to start.



For more on community-based water resilience, see the USEPA's website.

Featured Video: Supplying Community Water

Featured Video: Supplying Community Water
Managing a rural utility can sometimes feel overwhelming and lonely. When you're the only ones in your community dealing with challenging infrastructure, bill collecting, and complicated accounting, it can feel like you're the only people on earth to face these issues. Add in the little quirks of a small rural community, and it can feel like no one could possibly understand what you're dealing with or what you're trying to accomplish.

The truth, though, is that the challenges facing rural communities are nothing new. This week's video is obviously several decades old at this point, but the issues facing the featured communities will probably sound familiar. From aging infrastructure to inadequate rate structures, these utility boards found ways to tackle issues that are still relevant today. Note that the Community Resource Group mentioned in the video recently changed their name to Communities Unlimited


 

Communities Unlimited is a regional partner of the Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAP). To find the RCAP regional partner offering technical assistance in your area, check the regional map. You can also browse RCAP's handbooks for small utilities and utility boards by going to our document database and searching for the host Rural Community Assistance Partnership and the document type Manuals/Handbooks.

The issues facing your utility may be tough, but they're not unique. There are technical assistance providers and other utilities that have faced them before and found a way to make it work. We and our partners at RCAP want to provide you with the resources to do that too. And if your utility has come up with a particularly good solution to a problem, let us know!


Featured Video: Running Toilets Waste Water

Featured Video: Running Toilets Waste Water
As football season gets underway, it's a good time to revisit Denver Water's clever water conservation PSA. The video may be ten years old, but the simple concept still makes for a fun and memorable message. It's a good reminder that even though water utilities play a vital role in public health and quality of life, that doesn't mean we can't sometimes have a little fun. Happy Friday!



Featured Video: Formulate Great Rates

Featured Video: Formulate Great Rates
If you're a utility manager or a member of a water utility board, there's a good chance you've had to deal with utility rates at some point. If not, there's an even better chance that a rate-setting conversation is in your future. As the nation's infrastructure ages, many communities are coming to terms with the fact that their utility rates have been too low to allow for replacement costs. Whether you've been forced into an expensive repair by a catastrophic failure or simply know a major piece of your infrastructure is living on borrowed time, you may have no choice but to consider a rate hike and other fundraising measures. But even if your position is not that dire, utility rates have to respond to many complex factors including inflation, fluctuations in number of customers, and changing water treatment standards.

If the whole thing sounds overwhelming, you're not alone. The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) has produced several resources to guide utilities through this process. Their handbook Formulate Great Rates provides guidance for small communities that need to conduct water system rate studies. They also recorded a 2-part companion webinar for the handbook, the first video of which is linked below. The webinars are presented by RCAP experts with experience in rate-setting and help explain some of the more challenging sections of the handbook. This first webinar is about half an hour long.


Formulate Great Rates: A webcast on setting rates in small-community utilities (Part 1) from RCAP on Vimeo.

If you need more help understanding the handbook, or need a hand with rate-setting in general, RCAP's regional partners offer technical assistance for rural communities. You might also want to check out the Environmental Finance Center's rate dashboards.

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