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Non-Community Public Water Systems

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Non-community systems are public water systems that regularly supply water to at least 25 of the same people at least six months per year, but not year-round. Some examples are schools, factories, office buildings, and hospitals which have their own water systems.

We have 198 resources (and counting) on Non-Community Systems in our Documents Database that provide valuable information on this topic. You can search for documents on how to tell if you are considered a public water system, instructions on seasonal public water system startup, a seasonal supply determination chart for noncommunity public water supplies, and many other useful guides that will help you to provide safe and clean water to your community. 

To access the wealth of knowledge on Non-Community Systems within our database just select "CATEGORY" in the dropdown then choose "Non-Community Systems." Once you make that selection, a second dropdown will appear where you can choose "HOST," “TYPE,” or “STATE” to narrow the search even further. If you have a specific search term in mind, use the “Keyword Filter” search bar on the right side of the screen.

This is part of our A-Z for Operators series.

What Is a Cluster System?

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According to U.S. EPA: "A cluster (or community) decentralized wastewater treatment system is under some form of common ownership and collects wastewater from two or more dwellings or buildings. It conveys the wastewater to a treatment and dispersal system located on a suitable site near the dwellings or buildings. It is common to find cluster systems in places like rural subdivisions."

Image from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Cluster systems transport wastewater from a small number of homes (typically 2-10) via alternative sewers to either a conventional treatment plant or to a pretreatment facility followed by soil absorption of the effluent. Cluster systems can be financially sound, environmentally friendly solutions for small community wastewater problems, where conventional central treatment systems are not practical or affordable and where individual onsite systems are inappropriate because of site or soil limitations. 

The advantages of cluster systems are the lower average cost, flexibility in land use, less complex operation and maintenance for the community, and non-discharging, decentralized wastewater treatment systems can provide an environmentally sound alternative for small or disadvantaged communities.

The main disadvantage of cluster systems is the amount of operation and maintenance needed. While it is typically not complicated, alternative sewers have septic tanks that need to be inspected and pumped and mechanical parts and controls that use electricity. Since cluster systems are located onsite, workers are required to travel to individual homes or businesses. This type of decentralized wastewater system requires more frequent maintenance, which can be costly if anything is malfunctioning. 

Another key thing to keep in mind is that cluster systems require a somewhat complex organizational structure in order to make community decisions like fee collection and continuing education of homeowners about wastewater issues. The cooperation of homeowners using the cluster system is much more important than with municipal systems since smaller systems are less resilient and less tolerant of periodic large flows or larger than normal loadings of household chemicals than in large systems, where these peaks are averaged out over a very large user base.

RCAP's A Drop of Knowledge: Recent Article Roundup #2

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A Drop of Knowledge is a monthly digital article from Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP.) The articles focus on topics like wastewater, drinking water, policy, and infrastructure in rural America. It contains how-to’s, tips, and guidance from more than 300 technical assistance providers (TAPs) across the country. Some recent featured articles are linked below:

Looking for something else? Find more articles and subscribe to A Drop of Knowledge.

Small Drinking Water Webinar Series Recap

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EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) and Office of Water (OW), in collaboration with the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA), host this free webinar series to communicate the latest information on solutions for challenges facing small drinking water systems. The series topics vary each month and are primarily designed for state, territory, and tribal staff responsible for drinking water regulations compliance and treatment technologies permitting. We have compiled the webinar recordings that were released in 2023 as part of this series below:

Pathogens | February 2023

Presentation 1: Microbial and Disinfection Byproducts (MDBP) Rules Revision Update
Presentation 2: Challenges and Perspectives of Studying Water Storage Tank Ecosystems in Distribution Systems

Lead and Copper | March 2023

Presentation 1: EPA's Lead Service Line Inventory Guidance
Presentation 2: Corrosion Test Methods

Manganese | April 2023

Presentation 1: Manganese Interference with Disinfectant Residual Methods
Presentation 2: Management of Manganese and Small System Considerations

Harmful Algal Blooms and Algal Toxins | May 2023

Presentation 1: HAB Technical Assistance in El Salvador
Presentation 2: Cyanobacterial Blooms Dynamics as Determined by Nucleic Acid Based Techniques

Bipartisan Infrastructure Law | June 2023

Presentation 1: EPA Water Technical Assistance Opportunities
Presentation 2: Supporting the Selection and Implementation of Technologies to Remove PFAS from Drinking Water and from Treatment Residuals
Presentation 3: Applied Research and Technical Assistance Project on Lead Service Line Identification Technologies

Wildfire Impacts on Drinking Water | July 2023

Presentation 1: Wildfire Implications for Drinking Water Systems
Presentation 2: Wildfires Can Increase Drinking Water Contamination: Nitrate, Arsenic, and Disinfection Byproducts

Cybersecurity | August 2023

Presentation 1: Tools and Resources to Help Your Small Systems Build Cyber Resilience
Presentation 2: Water Distribution System Operational Technology Cybersecurity Research at the Water Security Test Bed

Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5) and a Spotlight Presentation on EPA's Fraud Awareness | October 2023

Presentation 1: Update on the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5)
Presentation 2: EPA Fraud Awareness
Presentation 3: PFAS Drinking Water Methods: Past, Present, and Future

Risk, Crisis, and General Communication | November 2023

Presentation 1: Conversations With Customers: What We’ve Learned from Talking with Them
Presentation 2: Drinking Water Risk Communication Toolkit
Presentation 3: EPA Flint Water Response: Risk Communication Case Study

The Small Drinking Water Systems Webinar Series is scheduled to continue in 2024. Some of the subjects that are likely to be featured this year include Lead Service Line Inventory Guidance, PFAS Treatment, Disinfection Byproducts, and many other topics.

5 Strategies for a Lead-Free Rural Water System

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to focus efforts around reducing lead exposure from all sources, particularly for children.

The agency is proposing tighter rules for exposure to lead in older residential buildings and childcare facilities that have completed lead abatement. The draft rule would lower the lead dust hazard level to any level greater than zero — meaning any amount of lead paint found remaining in a building would be considered a hazard.

EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe said in a statement: “This proposal to safely remove lead paint along with our other efforts to deliver clean drinking water and replace lead pipes will go a long way toward protecting the health of our next generation of leaders.”

The proposal complements expected exposure reductions from the replacement of lead-based service lines at public water systems. This article from Water Online (excerpted below) outlines the following suggestions for water utilities in rural areas:

Identify how broad-based the problem is.
It’s hard to make any progress without knowing just how big the problem of lead service lines is in any given community. As other communities have done, utilities can create maps of their service line networks. These maps can help identify concentrations of lead pipelines.

Inform customers about potential lead pipeline contamination.
The average customer doesn’t think about lead contamination when turning on the tap. Customers need to be educated about what their pipes are constructed of and how those materials can affect their water quality. The more they know, the more likely they’ll want their utilities or cooperatives to help them solve the problem.

See how other communities have replaced their lead pipes effectively.
Some communities, utilities, and cooperatives have been very successful in upgrading their water systems. Consequently, other communities should take notice. Building a playbook based on a city or town that has already undertaken the effort can be simpler than starting from scratch.

Look for funding sources.
Any kind of pipe replacement is costly. That’s why it’s important to stay on the leading edge of any funding streams available to cooperatives, utilities, towns, etc. For instance, the EPA has some excellent resources and links to various types of water project grants and loans, such as the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund.

Build a framework for replacing all the lead service lines.
With the right information and well-educated customers, utilities and cooperatives can begin building timelines to replace all the lead service lines. In time, the overarching goal can be a lead-free water system. Though some customers might not like absorbing minimal costs along the way, most will appreciate not having to worry about the quality of the water they and their families are drinking.

Further Resources:  

A Case for Regionalization

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Water and wastewater services are needed in every community in order to sustain it, but some communities need more assistance in order for their water utility to thrive. Many rural areas face challenges like meeting strict regulations while still providing affordable services to users. As technology becomes more sophisticated, the need to purchase new, expensive equipment becomes unavoidable for small utilities that often do not have the funding or resources needed. This is when regionalization can really benefit utilities and their customers alike.

Regionalization helps two or more water systems to leverage and combine resources, equipment, personnel, and even physical plants. According to U.S. EPA, “the main benefit of regionalization is that it pools individual resources of two or more water systems to obtain services or facilities that one or both systems may not have been capable of obtaining by themselves.”

In the Rural Community Assistance Partnership's (RCAP's) 2021 report: Affordability and Capability Issues of Small Water and Wastewaters Systems: A Case for Regionalization of Small Systems, they feature a case study that shows a successful model for regionalization from the Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) in southwest Ohio. GCWW offers the smaller water systems in the area much assistance in the form of: lab testing services, billing services, call center operation, a source of project financing, construction management services, engineering services, and emergency help when needed. 

RCAP also released a report titled: Regionalization: RCAP’s Recommendations for Water and Wastewater Policy which contained 22 recommendations that should be integrated into policy decision-making. The research featured in this report was unveiled in a webinar that also focused on the experiences of five different states: California, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas, who spoke about what they have put in place to help support the various forms of regionalization.

Further Regionalization Readings & Resources:

RCAP’s Free Quarterly Magazine is Focused on Rural Communities

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Rural Matters is the official magazine of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP.) It features stories and insights that highlight the challenges and opportunities facing the rural communities that RCAP works with. Rural Matters is published quarterly in both print and digital formats and RCAP offers an archive of past issues on their website. Below are links to some of the most recent issues:

2022 | Issue 1: Let’s Talk Wastewater features topics like: loan management, the water access gap, mapping a septic system on tribal lands, developing an effective sewer board, and managing wastewater in U.S. territories.

2022 | Issue 2: Let’s Talk Drinking Water features topics like: boil water advisories and orders, COVID-19’s impact on water systems, violations and how the Agreed Order process works, options for additional water supply, and Lead and Copper Rule Revisions.

2022 | Issue 3: Let’s Talk Solid Waste features topics like: purchasing a solid waste collection vehicle, how a pandemic impacts solid waste management, a story of solid waste success in South Dakota, recycling program adaptation, and the unique challenges that come with solid waste management in the Grand Canyon.

2022 | Issue 4: Let’s Talk Regionalization features topics like: winterization tips, well ownership, a regionalization success story, fleet electrification, and multiple articles that emphasize the importance of community collaboration with water and wastewater systems.

If you’re interested in contributing feedback or advertising in Rural Matters you can contact or you can simply subscribe to receive each issue.

The State of California Drinking Water


California has long been an epicenter of water issues, but the current megadrought and chronic infrastructure underfunding has brought the crisis to a head. According to a recently published study, California's water systems are beginning to fail across the state. Medium and small-sized public water systems are especially vulnerable.

The report claims to be the first comprehensive analysis of how safe water is provided in California. The study sampled 2,779 public water systems and nearly half proved to be at some risk of failing to provide safe drinking water. Roughly one-third of state small water systems sampled in the study were found to potentially contain contaminants like nitrate and arsenic

The greatest takeaway from the findings was that more funding is needed and that investments should prioritize the most at-risk and underserved communities. However, in the short term, bottled water or home filtration systems could be provided to communities that need drinking water immediately, according to the report. Long-term solutions to these problems include enhancing water treatment, consolidating small and underperforming water systems, and recruiting experts that can advise communities on how to improve their systems.

RCAP Advocacy and Policy Update: COVID-19 Response

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Over the last two weeks, the National Office has been active in promoting the needs of rural water systems and small communities during this ongoing COVID-19 crisis. In the last two weeks, Congress has approved and President Trump signed into law Phase 1 (H.R. 6074) and Phase 2 (H.R. 6201) legislation addressing the COVID-19 crisis in a variety of ways. Phases I, II, and III are the three parts to COVID-19 legislation so far. 
Phase I, enacted into law March 6. Provides $8.3 billion in emergency funding for federal agencies to ensure vaccines developed to fight the coronavirus are affordable, that impacted small businesses can qualify for Small Business Administration (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs), and that Medicare recipients can consult with their providers by telephone or teleconference, if necessary or desired.
Phase II, signed into law on March 18. This package includes provisions for paid sick leave, free coronavirus testing, expanded food assistance, additional unemployment benefits, and requirements that employers provide additional protection for healthcare workers. 
Phase III, signed into law on March 27. The Trump administration struck a deal with Senate Democrats and Republicans on a package providing an estimated $2 trillion in spending and tax breaks to strengthen the U.S. economy and fund a nationwide effort to curtail the coronavirus. The price tag of this package is enormous, unprecedented, and is roughly equal to 10% of the country’s economic output. The plan includes approximately $500 billion that can be used to back loans to distressed companies, including $50 billion for loans to U.S. airlines, as well as state and local governments. It also contains more than $350 billion to aid small businesses. While stipulating the airlines as eligible for a special fund of money available for loans, the legislation is otherwise broad in its approach, recognizing that the coronavirus has affected almost every sector of the economy. 
It provides payment to states to reimburse nonprofits, government agencies, and Indian tribes for half of the costs they incur through December 31, 2020 to pay unemployment benefits; and funding to support “short-time compensation” programs, where employers reduce employee hours instead of laying off workers. Employees with reduced hours receive a pro-rated unemployment benefit. This provision would pay 100 percent of the costs they incur in providing this short-time compensation through December 31, 2020.
Under Phase Ill, all U.S. residents with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 ($150,000 for married couples) would get a $1,200 ($2,400 for couples) "rebate" payment. They are also eligible for an additional $500 per child. The payments would start phasing out for earners above those income thresholds and would not go to single filers earning more than $99,000; head-of-household filers with one child, more than $146,500; and more than $198,000 for joint filers with no children.

Thank you to Ted Stiger, Senior Director of Government Relations and Policy at the Rural Community Assistance Partnership for providing this update on enacted legislation related to the pandemic.

Featured Video: Wastewater Treatment Process Control Testing

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This week’s featured video was produced by the Athens Wastewater Treatment Plant. The plant serves a small town of approximately 1,050 people in West Virginia. In an effort to educate their small town and others across the country, Athens WWTP has developed a series of videos. In this particular recording, the plant will demonstrate several process control tests they use to evaluate their wastewater conditions. You’ll learn how Athens performs a settleometer test and monitors pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, oxygen reduction potential, mixed liquor suspended solids, and volatile suspended solids.

Tests likes these are valuable for troubleshooting the dynamic environment of wastewater treatment processes and meeting regulatory compliance. As such, it’s important for sampling to be performed accurately, consistently, and in a location that is representative of the wastewater quality as a whole. The types of tests you perform, the number of samples taken, and the laboratory methods used to analyze these samples will depend on your system’s treatment type, chemical usage, equipment, and raw water quality. Results from the analysis will promote process optimization. A detailed copy of your facility’s sampling and testing procedures should be accessible in the utility Operations and Maintenance Manual for reference.

To provide more information on process monitoring, we’d also like to recommend: