The 2016 conference debuted the new Are You Smarter Than a Circuit Rider? gameshow, where conference attendees partnered with randomly-drawn Rural Water staff to answer questions about drinking water, wastewater, regulations, utility management and the water industry. HD Supply Waterworks sponsored over $14,000 in prizes for the gameshow. The winning Circuit Rider earned $7,000 for their State Association and the winning attendee won a $7,000 credit with HD supply Waterworks for their utility.
The contest drew an energetic crowd that filled the seating area and spilled into standing room around the edges. Are You Smarter Than a Circuit Rider? received a 100% score in WaterPro app, with all respondents indicating that watching the show was time well spent and that they would like to see the event at future conferences.
“It was a great idea!” A viewer responded. “I loved that it was right after lunch, it kept the energy up through the conference.”
This year, WaterPro also featured new physical security courses from trained professionals that have audited small water systems. Presentations included real-world demonstrations of how an attacker could easily bypass locks to gain access to valuable utility equipment, important water facility infrastructure and dangerous chlorine chemicals. The session was so popular that a repeat presentation was added. All attendees rated the session as a five, the maximum score, in the WaterPro App.
“Educational, fascinating and entertaining class,” one attendee wrote.
“Please have him back next year,” wrote another.
The presenters also hosted a Lockpick Village in the Exhibit Hall – a hands-on demonstration and networking area that allowed attendees to learn about the weaknesses of common locks and discuss security issues.
This year’s conference again showcased Rural Water’s strong partnerships with funding and regulatory agencies.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing $283 million in 168 projects to improve water and wastewater infrastructure across the country.
“Strong infrastructure is critical to keeping America’s communities of all sizes thriving, and USDA is proud to partner with the National Rural Water Association to help improve the livelihood of our smallest towns by providing access to reliable water and wastewater systems,” said Vilsack. “Projects like these are critical to the economy, health and future of rural America, and today 19 million residents now have improved water and wastewater services in their communities thanks to investments USDA has made since 2009.”
USDA Rural Utilities Service Administrator Brandon McBride made the announcement on Vilsack’s behalf at the WaterPro conference. Jacqueline Ponti-Lazaruk, Assistant Administrator of the RUS Water and Environment Program spoke about service improvements USDA is making to the loan application process. She also announced that water and wastewater loan interest rates are at a historic low and are expected to fall even further on October 1.
“It’s a great time to apply for an infrastructure loan to improve your community,” Ponti-Lazaruk said. “Long-term, low-interest loans are available for drinking water systems, sanitary sewage disposal, sanitary solid waste disposal and storm water drainage in rural areas.”
As with previous years, the RUS presentations received high reviews with all attendees awarding the session the maximum score of five or a four.
“Thank you for the excellent information and continued motivation,” one attendee wrote about the session.
Peter Grevatt, Director of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, and Andrew Sawyers, Director of the EPA Office of Wastewater Management, gave presentations and answered questions about EPA programs and the latest regulations. Both engaged the audience in a discussion about their experiences at their utilities, after the increased level of public interest due to recent events highlighted in mass media.
The EPA session also received high marks, with 80% of attendees rating the presentation as a five or a four.
“Informative and timely presentations,” said a review. “Best of the conference.”
After a successful 2016 conference, NRWA is making preparations for the 2017 WaterPro Conference, to be held Sept. 18-20 at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nev.