Rural Water assists Mount Zion with water loss, finances

Mount Zion, W. Va. – Mount Zion had every chance to fail. The small West Virginia community was losing water to an improperly-installed distribution system, buried under old debt, and under investigation by the Public Service Commission. Instead of failing, though, Mount Zion is progressing toward financial stability and utility sustainability with assistance from the West Virginia Rural Water Association.

“It’s been really nice to see someone there who wants to do a good job and run a good utility,” said Amy Swann, Executive Director of WVRWA.

Patty Cottrell is Mount Zion’s system operations specialist, and she has been the motivation for the utility’s progress. Cottrell has taken advantage of rural water training and resources to start making the necessary improvements to the utility. The Effective Utility Management workshop provided direction and motivation that galvanized her efforts at the utility.

“She got a lot out of the group work, where you’re talking to other systems and realize that others have the same issues,” explained Swann. “The workshop helped her focus on what she needed to do.”

“I was on the road to some of the activities mentioned at the workshop, so it really encouraged me,” Cottrell said.

“She really seemed to seize the day,” Swann added.

Cottrell began by doing an assessment and review with the utility board, the county commissioners, employees and customers. The review helped identify the problems to be addressed and created the necessary support to make the necessary improvements.

“It was a great move,” Swann said. “I think it was really important to get the board and the county commissioners behind the plan.”

Mount Zion’s primary problem is water loss. The system buys water from another utility, which means that any water lost is an expensive product wasted.

“Unaccounted for water is a big problem,” Swann said.

The EUM training helped identify the problem and rural water is providing resources to ensure the issues are corrected.

“Rural water has provided man power to help us isolate sections of the system and check for leaks,” Cottrell explained.

The utility has also started working to address long-term financial problems.

“Mount Zion has been working through financial issues for quite some time,” Cottrell said.

“The district is catching up on old debt,” Swann explained. “For a long time they just didn’t have the money to pay their bills.”

The utility is also making progress in improving compliance and office procedures.

“Patty has been working with the Public Service Commission to ensure they comply with the appropriate rules,” Swann said. “They’re working to make sure they use the proper forms for starting and stopping service and for putting customers on a payment plan.”

Cottrell still has a great deal of work ahead to bring Mount Zion into sustainability, but she will have the resources of rural water available to make progress.

“We’re looking ahead at the next step,” Swann said.

“I feel like every resource rural water has is available to me, allowing us to maximize the value for our customers,” Cottrell said.