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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

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.

The Roundup: Online Wastewater Training Courses

The Roundup: Online Wastewater Training Courses

Photo Credit: Zenia Nunez

 

Managing wastewater is a big task. Whether you need to train new personnel or simply brush up on professional development, we’ve rounded up accessible wastewater training opportunities on the web, listed in alphabetical order. These courses require a fee in exchange for Continuing Education Credit (CEUs). To find free webinars on wastewater, without CEUs, check the WaterOperator.org events calendar.

 

On-demand courses


360water

The one hour courses include some wastewater treatment, analysis, and safety for $30 each. 360water courses are good for CEUs in most states.

Cost: $30

 

Approved Environment, Inc.

These online courses are good for CEUs in 18 states. Courses range from 1 hour topic courses (e.g. odor control or ozone disinfection) for $20.25 each, to a 16-hour Wastewater Certification Review for $275.

Cost: $20.25 - $275

 

CEU Plan

CEU Plan will filter thee course topics available to you depending on which are accepted for credit in your state. (There are no options for the U.S. Virgin Islands, Unincorporated Territories or the Caribbean.)  Prices vary by state, but the widely offered 1 hour activated sludge courses, ranges in price from $12 to $15, and some states offer course packages that bundle together 6 hours of wastewater or collections topics for an $80-$86 enrollment fee.

Cost: $12 - $86

 

Office of Water Programs, California State University Sacramento

A five-part course designed to train operators to safely and effectively operate and maintain wastewater treatment plants. All courses are online and include lessons, readings, student exercises, and online exams. Supplementary materials for purchase include companion CDs with readings and student and a manual Operation of Wastewater Treatment Plants, Volume I.

Cost: Enrollment $50 - $148

 

Technical Learning College

Accepted in many states, TLC’s courses are written manuals and assignments available for download, with fees from $50 to $300 for a wide variety of topics, from pretreatment to pumps.

Cost: $50-300

 

TREEO Center

TREEO offers online courses in wastewater collection and treatment (listed at the bottom of the linked page). These self-paced courses look more like traditional classes than most other options. However, they are pricey at $325 per course, which includes a textbook shipped to you.

Cost: $325

 

Scheduled Courses

Arkansas Environmental Training Academy
AETA offers wastewater courses scheduled online throughout the year for a relatively low price. Descriptions are available here.
Cost: $75 to $180

Washington Environmental Training Center
A course on wastewater laboratory procedures begins June 26 (today) and costs $343 for 2 credits. A wastewater collection course begins September 25 at $479 for 3 credits. has a few online options, mostly for water operators, but they do have a $479 for 3 credits.
Cost: $343 - $479

Did we miss any online wastewater courses you’d recommend? Please share a link in the comments section below.

Featured Video: Lower Rio Grande Public Water Works Authority

There are a lot of rewards to living in a rural community: seeing just enough of your neighbors, lots of satisfying work, and (depending on where you live) getting to see the beauty of nature in the way a city dweller never can. Unfortunately for rural water utility operators, some of these benefits don't completely translate to their jobs. If you're the only operator---the only employee---at a rural utility, sometimes independence and hard work end up meaning the operation of the utility is all up to you all the time. Never being able to take a day off or have a vacation can be tiring enough. But you add in some of the weather Mother Nature can produce while she's busy being scenic, and sometimes you end up working nights, weekends, and 24-hour days, trying to keep your friends and neighbors supplied with clean, safe drinking water.

If this sounds familiar, a regional partnership might offer you a little breathing space. Regional partnerships can give you the opportunity to get a nearby operator to cover your utility while you take a vacation or go to town for a doctor's visit. Pooling your resources with other rural utilities can also help you qualify for employer insurance, access tools and resources from neighboring communities, and meet other knowledgeable operators. This 7-minute video from the Rural Community Assistance Corporation shows how a regional partnership helped unincorporated communities known as colonias help each other:

Lower Rio Grande Public Water Works Authority from RCAC on Vimeo.

To see more resources for water utilities from RCAC, check out their Guidebooks.

Water Loss and Conservation for Small Utilities

Water loss is an unavoidable part of distribution systems, yet too much can stress the supply and efficiency of your utility. The average water loss for systems is estimated at 16 percent, up to 75 percent of which is recoverable. This water may be disappearing due to faulty or aging infrastructure via pipe breaks and leaks, storage overflows, and house connection leaks. It’s also possible the water loss is only apparent, not real, due to errors like unauthorized consumption or inaccurate meters.

Identify your water loss

Your utility can calculate water loss as the difference between system input (the volume of water your utility delivers), and consumption (the volume of water that can be accounted for by legitimate consumption, whether metered or not.) The EPA outlines the following calculations in their overview of water audits and water loss control:

  1. Determine the amount of water added to the system, typically for a one year period,
  2. Determine authorized consumption (billed + unbilled), and
  3. Calculate water losses (water losses = system input – authorized consumption)
    1. Estimate apparent losses (unauthorized consumption  + customer meter inaccuracies + billing errors and adjustments)
    2. Calculate real losses (real losses = water losses – apparent losses)  

For a quick estimate, you can also use the Monthly Water Loss Calculator from the Missouri Rural Water Association. If you aren’t sure of the right numbers to plug into these calculations, your system may need a water audit. Maryland’s Water Supply Program offers guidance on preparing for water audits and linking them to a water loss reduction plan.

Identify your action items

Once your water loss calculations have determined whether you should take conservation actions, you’ll have a host of options to choose from. One of the most comprehensive overviews in our WaterOperator.org library comes from the Florida Rural Water Association, which not only lists options available but grades the water savings, cost effectiveness, and ease of implantation for each. In general, most of your options will fall under:

  • Meter installation, testing and replacement
  • Leak detection and management
  • Pipe repair and replacement
  • Correcting water theft and meter tampering
  • Setting conservation rates, if appropriate

If your utility is functioning well, or if you’re unable to make changes but facing a water shortage, you can also work directly with customers to change their usage habits. We’ve found few compilations of home water conservation tips more extensive than this 100 item list compiled by the Public Service Commission of West Virginia.

Evaluate performance

Finally, your utility will want to set benchmarks for the interventions and check back on your calculations periodically to see how the system improves. To find more resources on how to identify and correct water loss, including those specific to your state, be sure to check our document database at wateroperator.org/library

Featured Video: This American Land: Critical Aquifer

If you're in an area of the country that's naturally dry, or in one of the states currently experiencing drought, you've probably had a lot of time to think about how to save water. Tips for conserving water around the home are a Google away (or check our document database!), but chances are, your biggest local water users aren't residential. If your area is dry enough that you need to be thinking about water use on a regional scale, then your local farmers may be needing some water conservation help too. In this 7-minute video, the USDA NRCS discusses the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative, where they worked with local farmers to grow more crops with less water:

If you want to learn more about the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative, check out this article. If you want to learn more about water conservation at water utilities, go to our document database, type "water conservation" (without the quote marks) into the Keyword Search field, and select Type "Manuals/Handbooks". Then click "Retrieve Documents".