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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

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

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.

Featured Video: WARNs in Action

WARNs have been a valuable asset to water and wastewater utilities for several years now. In the event of an emergency---ranging from a tornado to a flood to a major main break---fellow operators can come to your aid and help your utility get back on its feet. This is accomplished through a Mutual Aid Agreement.

Mutual Aid Agreements are often misunderstood. They are not set-in-stone requirements that you must give aid, regardless of your capacity to do so. Utilities volunteer to offer aid; no one is forced. Mutual aid agreements are different from regional partnerships. This past summer, we talked about the benefits of a full-blown regional partnership, complete with shared responsibilities among operators and centralized accounting and assets. Even regional partnerships can benefit from joining WARNs, since a large-scale emergency like a flood, wildfire, hurricane, or earthquake could still decimate an entire region. But if a regional partnership isn't of interest to your utility, a mutual aid agreement is still worthwhile. Signing on to a mutual aid agreement typically does not cost money, and in many cases utilities that volunteer to help can be reimbursed.

This 3-minute video from earlier in the history of WARNs provides a general introduction to the concept. It also describes an activation of COWARN in Colorado, in response to a major water contamination event in a small rural town.

To look for a WARN in your state, learn more about the idea, or view situation reports from WARN activations around the country, see the AWWA's WARN website. To see Illinois' ILWARN flyer for small systems, go here. And if you know of a particularly good WARN and small systems story, let us know!

Featured Video: System Pressure, Fire Hydrants, and Cross Connections

Last week, we featured two videos that went into detail on backflow and the assemblies and practices that can prevent it. This week's video deals with backflow also, but it places the topic within the broader context of distribution system maintenance at a smaller utility. It features an interview with Scott Roselle, the water and sewer lead at a utility serving a town in Michigan. In this 4-minute interview, Roselle discusses pressure districts, fire hydrant maintenance, and cross connections, including both general CCC topics and the specifics of mitigating cross connections with residential swimming pools and in commercial buildings. If you want to see how another smaller utility handles distribution challenges, check it out:

For more detail on small system distribution O&M, check out this handbook from our partners at RCAP.

Featured Videos: Backflow Prevention & Cross Connection Control from AWWA

No one wants to experience a backflow incident. Depending on what contaminant was involved and how much of the distribution system was affected, these incidents range from being a lot of work and expense to being a full-blown public health crisis. (See the bottom of this page to browse real backflow incidents that have occurred here in the U.S. as well as Australia and Canada.) Either way, a lot of people will have their water service disrupted and you'll have a lot of extra work on your hands until the situation is resolved.

If you're hoping to prevent a backflow incident in your community, this week's videos, courtesy of AWWA, could help. The first video explains the basics of backflow and backsiphonage and provides a brief overview air gaps and backflow prevention assemblies. The second video covers similar topics but goes more in-depth on backflow prevention assemblies, discussing the most common models, how they work, and where and how they should be installed. The first video is about 5 minutes and the second is about 7-and-a-half. 




If you'd like more training on backflow and cross connection topics, visit our event calendar and select the Backflow category and your state. If you'd like to do more reading on your own, visit our document database and select the Backflow category and the Manuals/Handbooks document type.

Featured Video: Secure Your Utility

For the last two weeks, we've been talking about sharing the value of water and the reality of hidden infrastructure with your community. These are vital points that will help your community understand where their money goes and the importance of the work you do every day. However, there may be some individuals in your community that you wish understood a bit more about the value of water and a bit less about hidden infrastructure. Vandalism, break-ins, and other security breaches can be a nuisance at best and a public health hazard at worst. Utilities of all sizes in all kinds of communities deal with these issues, but the far-flung nature of rural utilities can make them particularly vulnerable.

So what can you do? This week's video offers some suggestions. It presents a case study of an Arizona utility that took several measures to deal with security issues. Though the utility highlighted is large, many of their practices may work for smaller utilities as well.



You can view a PDF of the handbook mentioned in the video, or use the other navigation and access options offered on the USEPA website. You might also be interested in this top 10 list of water security and emergency preparedness procedures for small groundwater utilities (also a PDF).

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.

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.