WASHINGTON, D.C. – Water Professionals from water districts, regional systems and Rural Water Associations across the country met to receive high-level briefings and discuss water industry issues at the Second Annual Water District Finance and Regulatory Issues Forum, held June 1-2 in Washington, D.C.
“The second year of the forum was again a great opportunity for regional systems to learn, understand and express their opinions on regulatory and funding challenges,” said Dominic Jones, manager of Red Rock Rural Water Systems in Jeffers, Minn.
“This is really top-level information,” said Sam Wade, CEO of the National Rural Water Association.
The District Forum was designed to address the unique needs of Utility Districts and Regional Water Systems. These utilities face unique challenges due to large service areas, miles of pipe that cross various jurisdictional boundaries and unique governmental structures. The Forum has evolved into a unique opportunity for all systems to get briefings on the latest issues impacting the water industry and network with utility and agency leaders shaping the water industry.
“The complexity of supplying drinking water to Rural America becomes apparent when leaders from across the United States discuss their own local challenges,” Jones said.
Patrick Carroll, Chris Tomassi and Melissa Zimmerman, appropriators from the Interior and Agriculture Appropriations Committees, lead discussions about the idiosyncrasies within their committees; how the Chairmen of the subcommittees and full committees view rural America; and how they prioritize the mandatory and discretionary funding programs within their accounts.
“The appropriators mentioned that when their committees received funding requests from the Members that there are a lot of requests coming in on Rural Water’s behalf and the support from both sides of the aisle seems to be unwavering,” said Matt Holmes, Deputy CEO of the National Rural Water Association.
Rural Utility Service Administrator Brandon McBride, RUS Water and Environment Programs Assistant Administrator Jacki Ponti-Lazaruk and RUS Water and Environment Programs Director Kent Evans explained the Rural Utility Services funds available, historically-low interest rates and the latest features to the RUS Water and Environment Programs. They emphasized that the RUS had money available for projects, and the new RD Apply system makes applying for funding faster and easier than ever.
“We have a great partnership with RUS,” Wade said. “It’s always great to hear about how they enjoy working with Rural Water and how effective these programs can be.”
Jim Gebhardt and Ron Bergman of the EPA came by the forum to discuss the EPA administered Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds. They emphasized the programs’ assistance to the states and how the program can be the impetus to the creation of drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects.
The EPA staff also discussed the mission of the new Water Infrastructure Resiliency Finance Center.
“The Forum attendees were able to ask questions and start a conversation about the potential ramifications and unintended consequences of the Finance Centers to rural American water and wastewater infrastructure,” Wade said.
CoBank Senior Vice President Nivin Elgohary and Water Sector Vice President Chris Schafner gave a presentation that focused on CoBank’s unique value to borrowers and government agencies. CoBank currently provides financial services to the Agribusiness, Communications, Energy, Water, and Community Facilities industries across rural America with almost 900 employees in banking centers from DC to California.
L. Michael Bogert of the Parson, Behle and Latimer law firm gave a presentation on the Obama Administration’s Waters of the US rule and discussed his process of working with NRWA’s WOTUS working group to define Rural Water’s issues and formulate an amicus brief to file in the proper court of jurisdiction. Bogert defined the key issues of the rule including the definitions of the terms “tributary” and “adjacent waters,” explaining that a significant nexus is the basis for jurisdiction to protect non-navigable waters and wetlands under the Clean Water Act.
Jeanette Manfra, Council to the DHS Secretary; Adam Sedgewick, Analyst at the National Institute for Standards and Technology; and Steve Mustard and Michael Marlow of the Automation Federation made presentations about cybersecurity. The presenters discussed the process to update the NIST Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity, and emphasized best cybersecurity practices for small and community water systems like changing passwords, securely managing customer information and unplugging from the internet in the case of an attack.
Bill Simpson and Fitz Elder discussed the 2016 political reelection cycle and the potential impacts for Rural Water’s federal priorities. They explained that 47% of the House Members have been in place for five years or less. This means that utilities have to continually educate members and their staff about Rural Water’s mission and priorities.
Initial feedback indicate the Forum was a tremendous success, for both attendees and presenters.
“I think the presenters got as much out of it as the attendees – they got to interact directly with system managers and board members,” Holmes said. “It’s a unique networking opportunity, because it’s more conversational and you don’t have the pressure of a conference schedule.”
“Red Rock will continue to support this forum,” Jones added. “This kind of collaboration brings benefits to our State Association and our local communities.”
Presentations from the District Forum are available to members on the WaterPro Community. Click Here to view the presentations.