Sustainable Utility Management: 12p.m. CDT May 25

Sustainable Utility Management: 12p.m. CDT May 25 Register Now

Everyone talks about the importance of sustainability these days. But what does that word really mean for water and wastewater utilities? The Workshop in a Box is a collaborative effort between USDA and USEPA. The Workshop gives you the tools to assess your strengths and weaknesses using the Ten Attributes of Effectively Managed Utilities. The Cliff Notes version of the Ten attributes can be found at We will discuss the attributes and walk you through any easy way to see your utility’s strengths and weaknesses. The webinar will also teach you how to develop an improvement plan and an action plan to address the weaknesses you identify. All materials used in the webinar are available at

About the Presenter

Amy Swann

Rural Water Loan Helps Utility Acquire Grant, Comply with State Law

THREE RIVERS, Calif. – When California’s Proposition 50 created new state regulations for drinking water treatment, the North Kaweah Mutual Water Company found itself in need of a $1.99 million upgrade to meet the new requirements. The utility of 80 connections could apply for a state grant for the project, but they still needed funds to generate the plans and engineering to even apply for the grant. That’s when NKMWC turned to the National Rural Water Association’s Rural Water Loan Fund for a bridge loan to begin the process.

To comply with the regulations, North Kaweah would essentially have to be rebuilt, including three new wells, a chlorination system, water storage tanks, pumping stations and a new distributions system.  It was a project that would be impossible for a small utility with a volunteer board to accomplish without assistance.

“Without this bridge loan between conception and funding, we could not have undertaken the project,” Treasurer Susan Darsey said in a letter. “The Rural Water loan was critical to the successful completion of our construction project.”

NKMWC started trying to locate the funding in 2011, and quickly discovered more funding was needed just to navigate the complexities of engineering and agency oversight.

“We surely didn’t think it would be a ten-year project, but for a volunteer board working on such a large project and with California state agencies involved, we are proud of our success,” Darsey said.

NKMWC completed the project and finished repaying its loan in 2017.

“Thank you on behalf of our water users, who now have a compliant water system providing us potable water and fire protection,” Darsey said. “Your value to all rural residents is immense.”

Energy Efficiency in Water/Wastewater Systems: 1 p.m. CDT May 18

Energy Efficiency in Water/Wastewater Systems: 1 p.m. CDT May 18 Register Now

As many water utility operators know energy is a huge part of the operation budget and it doesn’t appear to be getting cheaper. The purpose of this webinar is to give water utility operators and management the tools to conduct an energy audit of their facilities. To conduct an energy audit one must understand the importance of documenting a baseline of energy use for the facility and specific equipment, along with how to understand the electric bill. The instructor will discuss numerous energy saving measures that can be completed to save energy and money. The students will learn the math needed to determine what equipment costs to run and use this math to determine approximate savings from an energy saving project. The course will end with an example of how to finance an energy efficient project with the funds saved on energy.

About the Presenter:

Walter Higgins is an Environmental Scientist with the US Environmental Protection Agency Mid-Atlantic Region. He had a BS in Agronomy and Environmental Science from Delaware Valley College of Science and Agriculture and has been a Penn. Certified Wastewater Operator Class A, 1, 2, 3 since 2014. Higgins has approximately 10 years’ experience as a Soil Scientist for Montgomery County Health Department (PA), an Environmental Engineering firm, and an Excavating company. Various duties from public outreach on water quality, to on-lot sewage system site evaluation, designs and installation, and heavy equipment operator. Approximately 4 years’ experience as a Project Officer overseeing Delaware’s Federal Capitalization grant that funds the Delaware Water Pollution Revolving Loan Program. Also, has overseen various grants to local communities for wastewater, stormwater, and drinking water improvement projects.

NRWA meets with EPA Administrator Pruitt

TULSA, Okla. – On Friday May 5, National Rural Water Association officers and staff met with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in Tulsa, Okla. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce the association to the Administrator and offer the association’s expertise and experience as a resource in regulatory affairs as they relate to rural and small community water and wastewater systems.

The discussion centered around regulatory fixes as identified by NRWA membership to include consecutive system issues and Total Maximum Daily Load regulations. The Administrator stressed that the agency was in the review process of regulatory issues and encouraged the association to formally submit comments. The NRWA representatives encouraged the agency to view rural and small systems as protectors of public health and the environment as opposed to a regulatory burden.

“The meeting was very informative and the open discussion was very meaningful,” said NRWA President Steve Fletcher, who manages Washington County Water company. “Hopefully this meeting is the start of a collaborative process that results in more affordability consideration in the regulatory review and processes.”

Senior Vice President Steve Wear, Manager of Conway County Regional Water in Arkansas; Vice President David Baird, District Coordinator, Sussex Conservation District in Delaware; Treasurer John O’Connell, Chief Operator, Dryden WWTP, New York; and Secretary Kent Watson, Manager Wickson Creek Special Utility District in Bryan, Texas also attended the meeting.

National Rural Water Association Releases Statement on 2017 Budget Agreement

DUNCAN, Okla. – The National Rural Water Association, the nation’s largest water utility organization with over 31,000 rural and small community members, applauds the federal budget, now that it has been signed by the President, for its support of USDA Water and Waste infrastructure funding.

The budget agreement includes $570 million for rural and small community water infrastructure funding throughout the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utilities Service rural development water grant and loan initiatives.  This funding level will support over $1 billion in rural and small community water projects next year and demonstrates Congress’ strong support for this important national initiative.

The USDA water infrastructure initiative is rated as one of the most cost-effective and beneficial programs in the Federal government.  Approximately 70% of the dollars spent are loans which are repaid to the federal government with interest and 30% of the funding is distributed as grants that are needed to make specific projects affordable in neglected and impoverished areas.

That is the key to the value of this initiative: when we refer to water projects, what we are talking about is people’s health, rural communities’ viability and a clean environment. Drinking water and wastewater projects are the first-line of defense in protection of public health and environmental quality in rural areas. There is currently a funding backlog of over $2 billion in rural water projects needing funding to improve the lives of rural Americans.

“We are thankful for the strong support of Congress for this vital public health, environmental and economic development initiative that was demonstrated in the final Congressional budget agreement,” said NRWA President Steve Fletcher, General Manager of the Washington County Water Company in Nashville, Illinois. Most U.S. water utilities are small; approximately 92 percent of the country’s 50,366 community drinking water systems serve communities with fewer than 10,000 people and 80 percent of the country’s 16,255 wastewater systems serve fewer than 10,000 people.  “Rural and small communities must continue to support their rural water associations that allow us to be heard in Congress on critical issues like funding for USDA rural water infrastructure.”

Oklahoma Utility an Example of What RUS, Rural Water Can Accomplish

AMBER, Okla. – In a metal building west of the small Oklahoma town of Amber, Paul Jones is gathering his staff around a wall filled with color-codes pipe maps and a whiteboard scrawled with the day’s priorities. The Rural Water District has undergone tremendous changes, fueled by a combination of hard work and USDA loan Financing.

“When I got here seven years ago, the infrastructure was in bad shape,” explained Jones, manager of Grady County Rural Water District #6. “The utility hadn’t received that level of maintenance it required.”

Grady #6 was also a purchasing utility, buying their water from the nearby City of Chickasha. The arrangement had created two problems. First, Chickasha was at a lower elevation, so Grady #6 was having to pump all its water uphill, and second, the small utility was responsible for water quality that was out of their control.

“We had no control over what Chickasha did to their water, but we still had to sample and we could still be fined if they were out of compliance,” said Sharron Garrett, the utility office manager. “Your destiny is in someone else’s hands.”

The small system needed to adapt, to change, but it was facing many of the problems common to rural utilities. With a staff of six and 1,464 connections, Grady #6 had to maintain over 700 miles of pipe over 600 square miles of territory. The system supplies water to four different school districts and covers most of northern Grady County. The demands on the system showed no signs of slowing, either, with the population growing 9% over the past 15 years.

Grady #6 need to make improvements, but those improvements required money.

“It’s very difficult for a rural system to raise the capital to make big changes,” said Garrett, who started working at Grady #6 with her husband when the utility was started in 1975 and had 365 connections.

“Our rate payers simply can’t afford commercial or private financing at the prevailing rates and terms,” Jones said.

The utility started by making smaller changes, like making water loss a primary focus.

“When I started, water loss was around 45%,” Jones said. “Right now we average 25% water loss, but when we get to 10%, that’s when we’ve really worked on water loss.”

The utility replaced it’s neglected valves and installing line meters that measured flow through certain zones of the system.

“We can isolate different parts of the distribution system and see how much water is going into that area at different times,” Jones said, pointing to the color-coded utility map on the wall. “When you see a lot of water going into an area at 1 a.m. when everyone is asleep, then you know you have a problem. Once we identify a problem in a certain area, we go in to locate and repair any leaks.”

The approach has been so successful that it has even drawn attention from the US EPA. The Oklahoma Rural Water Association arranged for Dr. Peter Grevatt, director, and Becki Clark, deputy director, from the EPA Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water to tour Grady #6.

“Grady Rural Water #6 was able to successfully overcome their challenges by implementing innovative yet practical, cost effective solutions to help the system deliver high quality water that will improve the health, economy and security of their community,” Dr. Grevatt said after touring the facility.

Jones appreciates the attention his team has received from their approach to water loss, and he sees it as a greater concern in the future.

“Finding good water is hard,” he said. “With the rules and regulations regarding potable water growing tighter all the time, keeping what you’ve produced is very important.”

The office whiteboard with the day’s tasks and priorities still has “Water Loss” written across the top. It is part of an effort to maintain the progress the utility has gained. Grady #6 has started the process of identifying pipe that needs to be up-sized or replaced. The system now also has a regular maintenance schedule that includes everything from exercising valves to mowing around lines and wells.

“We’re trying to get full life out of the equipment,” Jones said. “It all works together: we can prevent damage to our lines and if you have to repair a leak at 2 a.m. it helps if you’re not in head-high Bermuda grass.”

Funding from the USDA Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program helped Grady #6 get the funding to starting making bigger investments in the utility. A $12.8 million loan provided the capital to install 75 miles of water lines, drill two water wells and erect three water towers.

One of those towers is an impressive 110-foot-tall, 1.4 million gallon water tower near the town of Minco. The fresh white tower was completed in August of 2013 and stands near a field of tall, slow-spinning wind turbines. The tower is one of eight that store water pumped from the utility’s new two new wells. The news wells and tower are part of the effort to transition Grady #6 from purchasing water to producing its own.

“Our board has been very inspirational,” Jones said. “They had the foresight to pursue this.”

With the water contracts with Chickasha expiring in 2021, in addition to problems with pumping and quality, the Grady #6 board began exploring other water sources. The utility found a plentiful supply northwest corner of their system, near the small town of Cogar. The utility brought two wells on-line, with a third under development.

The change has created several advantages for Grady #6, including moving from a rates structure that purchased system water at $3 per 1,000 gallons to producing ground water for $.35 per 1,000 gallons.

“Since we changed water sources, customers have been very happy with the taste,” said James Calhoun, a systems operations specialist. “I bottle it and take it home.”

Because of the elevation difference, the utility no longer has to pump water up-hill.

“Cogar is a slightly higher elevation, so most of the system is gravity fed now,” Jones said. “We went from needing eight pumps to needing one.”

The elevation also gives the utility some resistance against natural disasters.

“We have generators at the wells, so we can maintain service, even if an ice storm knocks out all the power,” Jones explained. “Unless a tornado directly hits the towers, we’re pretty much covered.”

One change at Grady #6, a change Jones considers critical to continued success, has nothing to do with new equipment or infrastructure. That change is improved pay and time-off for his employees.

“People in the water industry don’t get enough praise,” he said. “They’ll fix a water leak in the middle of the night, and that doesn’t get noticed.”

“Just last week we had a leak where we started at 11:45 and we didn’t go home until 12:30 the next day,” Calhoun said.

“Most of that time was spent sanding in a hole full of mud,” added Shawn Ortiz, system operations specialist.

“That was a fun day,” joked Morgan Britton and Matt Sierra, two members of the utility crew.

Jones hopes to keep improving the pay and benefits for his staff in the future, since he considers them as integral to the utility’s success as their new water source or focus on water loss.

“These guys are the driving force behind everything. They’re the ones out in the field with their boots on,” he said.

Utah Rural Water Assists Community Where Valve Forced Them to Manually Fill Tank

SOUTH DUCHESNE, Utah – For the last eight years, a Systems Operations Specialist has been filling the South Duchesne Culinary Water System’s water tank by manually opening the valves twice a day, every day. Assistance from the Rural Water Association of Utah helped correct the problem with a valve that allowed the system to operate normally.

“They had a flow control valve with an altitude valve that was supposed to refill the tank as the level dropped,” explained Jake Wood, a Circuit Rider with RWAU. Circuit Riders are roving water utility experts that provide training and technical assistance to the communities in their area.

Wood explained that under normal operation, the valve would detect the change in pressure inside the tank as the water level dropped. The valve would then open and refill the tank. Since the valve was not operating properly, someone had to manually-operate the valves to refill the tank. Occasionally he would overfill the tank, which would send it into flood stage and discharge the extra water to waste.

“Their tank is a retired beer vat, so without the valves there’s no way to check the water level,” Wood said.

The valve was installed in 2008 and numerous technicians had visited the utility to work on the valve.

Wood isolated the valve and started to disassemble and clean the components.

“A lot of the components were stuck and the lines were clogged with hard water deposits and sediment,” Wood said.

Wood cleaned the flow control valve, altitude valve, pilot control valve and the pressure sensing line and port. Once the valve was cleaned and reassembled, the Circuit Rider started reconnecting the valve to the system.

That was when he started to encounter complications.

“One of the first things that stood out was the system’s operating pressure exceeded the pressure of the pipe,” Wood said. “They had old, 1970s pipe that is rated at about 160 PSI. The static pressure of the system was 165.”

The pressure raised the potential of any adjustments creating a water hammer, a pulse of high pressure that travel through water and can split pipe or damage equipment.

“I was worried we were going to have problems,” Wood said.

The valve itself also created complications.

“These valves typically come from the factory set to certain pressures,” Wood explained. “So many technicians have worked on the valve, I didn’t know how it was set.”

Working carefully, Wood brought the valve online and made the appropriate adjustments for it to fill the tank. He cycled the system through the process to ensure the valve was operating properly.

“You want it to fill once the water level drops about a foot, so you still have necessary pressure for a fire fighting event,” Wood said.

Once the work was complete the system was filling automatically as designed, saving the utility the cost and frustration of having an employee manually fill their tank twice a day.

Water Issues Discussed at 2017 Regional/Water District Issues Forum

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Rural Water Association held the 2017 Regional/Water District Forum April 11-12 in Washington, D.C. The forum is designed to provide a personalized briefing from top-level congressional, agency and industry experts to address the issues facing Rural Water Association Members.

Attendees received briefings on Infrastructure Funding, Appropriations, 1926(b) Protections, Regulations, the next Farm Bill, the Drinking Water Affordability Act and Cybersecurity. They were also able to discuss the topics with presenters and offer feedback in a small group setting.

The Funding Panel included Kent Evans, Director of the USDA Rural Utilities Service Water Programs, Dr. Andrew Sawyers, Director of EPA’s Wastewater Office, and Chris Shaffner, Sector Vice President from CoBank.

Evans highlighted the effectiveness of Rural Development loans and grants. RD loans and grants remain the main funding mechanism for water and wastewater utilities in Rural America. These loans boast exceptionally low delinquency rates and can provide historically-low interest rates.

Dr. Sawyers reviewed the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. The WIFIA program is designed to accelerate investment in water and wastewater infrastructure by providing long-term, low-cost, supplemental credit assistance under customized terms to creditworthy water and wastewater projects of national and regional significance. Attendees raised concerns that the $100,000 application fee and minimum project size of $5 million would create obstacles for small communities who want to access the program. Sawyers acknowledged the concerns and appreciated the feedback.

Shaffner provided information about CoBank and its programs. CoBank is a borrower-owned financial cooperative specifically chartered to provide dependable credit to agriculture and infrastructure in
Rural America. Shaffner highlighted the bank’s flexibility in loan structure and their variety of loan products including interim loans, refinance loans, term loans, USDA guarantee loans, and planning and design lines of credit.

Attendees were interested in President Trump’s plans for infrastructure. While all the panelists were aware of the general efforts, they had few details. All the panelists agreed that current discussions included public private partnerships and tax incentives. The specific measures that make the program and the timeline are still “up in the air.”

Fitz Elder, Deputy Staff Director of the Senate Appropriations Committee, came to inform the attendees about the current Appropriations Outlook. Current funding will expire on April 28, but Elder was optimistic there would be a funding bill by the end of the month. The largest sticking point is funding for a border wall. Elder expects numerous funding battles for 2018 appropriations. He said that the USDA Water and Wastewater Loan and Grant Program would probably not be zeroed out, but that it was important for rural systems to continue to contact their legislators.

Jim Herring, Attorney at Law from the Herring, Long and Crews firm based in Canton, Mississippi gave a detailed presentation about the history of 1926(b) protection. This protection established the rule that no municipality or other public body may curtail the water or sewer services or a rural water association indebted to USDA/Rural Development. The presentation included a packet entitled “The Odyssey” which included over 100 pages of case law, maps, and court rulings on the law.

Dr. Peter Grevatt, EPA’s Director of Ground Water and Drinking Water started his presentation by detailing his visits to small community water systems and stating that he was impressed with Rural Water’s work. This year the EPA will consider new rules regarding unregulated contaminant monitoring, perchlorate and lead and copper. The conversation immediately to the Lead and Copper Rule. Dr. Grevatt admitted that the rule is expensive and burdensome but pointed out that the catastrophe in Flint made it important to get right.

Darin Guries, Professional Staff member for the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and Mr. Keith Heard, former Chief of Staff to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-MS) provided some insight into the Farm Bill process and encouraged Rural Water to remain engaged throughout the process.

Jason Isakovic, Legislative Director, for Representative Latta (R-OH) introduced attendees to HR 1653- The Drinking Water Affordability Act. The bill provides flexibility under Drinking Water State Revolving Funds and federal authorities to help large, small, and disadvantaged public water systems improve their infrastructure and ensure safer drinking water and better protection of public health.

Michael Marlow and Steve Mustard of the Automation Federation, Eric Goldstein from DHS and Adam Sedgewick from NIST finished the agenda by discussing the state of cybersecurity policy in the federal government and how cyber vulnerabilities and threats can truly impact a system. NRWA and the Automation Federation have partnered to assess cybersecurity awareness in water and wastewater systems and develop training to increase preparedness.  Both organizations are collecting information via an online survey available Here.

NRWA President Steve Fletcher concluded the Forum by thanking the participants for their active discussion and participation.  Fletcher stated that in his view, it has never been more important for Rural Water members to get involved and tell their story.

Rural Water Uses Pipe-Freezing Tech to Assist Nebraska Town

AXTELL, Neb. – When Mike Stanzel arrived to assist the Village of Axtell with a leak, he never expected that after scheduling around a high school basketball tournament and closing 13 valves the leak was no closer to repair. Ultimately, the repair required the excavation of a service line and the use of a line freezing kit to repair the leak.

“There is no such thing as a simple leak,” said Stanzel, a Circuit Rider for the Nebraska Rural Water Association. “Axtell had a small leak turn into a nightmare.”

Jason Stoddard, the Water Superintendent for Axtell, was notified of a leak in an old machine shop. When he arrived, he found the first in what would be a series of problems.

“The water service line had no curb stop,” Stoddard said, referring to a valve near the street that allows water service to be cut off in emergencies. “I don’t know why it was built that way, but it has probably been like that for 70 years.”

The Superintendent contacted the Nebraska Rural Water Association for assistance. Stanzel was in the area with his tools. Rural Water Circuit Riders are roving water industry experts that provide training and technical assistance to rural communities.

“I got there in the afternoon and we looked at the system map,” Stanzel said. “We closed four valves. We had to use a jackhammer to uncover two of them because they had been covered with asphalt.”

They next tried using a freezing kit to stop the water flow enough to repair the leak. The freezing kit pumps carbon dioxide through a special sleeve to create an ice plug that stops the water flow so leaks can be repaired without having to shut off all service or drain the entire system. Unfortunately, the leak was flowing too much to create an ice plug.

“You can’t freeze running water,” Stanzel said.

They consulted the system map again. The next valves they would need to close would also cut service to the high school while they were hosting a basketball tournament.

“We decided to come back the next day when school was out,” Stanzel said.

When they returned the next day, they attempted to slow the leak by closing more values up the street.

“We found some more valves, but none of them shut it off,” Stoddard said.

They closed off nine more valves, but it was not an easy process.

Many of the valves were inoperable, misaligned or buried,” Stanzel said. “It was obvious we needed a different plan.”

They located the service line and excavated enough to expose the line.

“We had to pull out the sidewalk and dig down to the line,” Stoddard said.

Once the line was exposed, they used a line crimp to slow the flow so that the freezing kit could create an ice plug. With the flow stopped they could repair the leak and install a curb stop.

“This town is extremely fortunate to have the various equipment necessary to make these kinds of repairs: jack hammers, concrete saw, backhoe and a dump truck,” Stanzel said.

Axtell was also fortunate to have the support of Nebraska Rural Water.

“Mike was a big help,” Stoddard said. “Everything he did helped out and he came up with ideas that I wouldn’t have had. It wouldn’t have gone as smooth without Mike.”

Registration Open for the 2017 WaterPro Conference, Sept. 18-20 in Reno, Nev.

DUNCAN, Okla. – The National Rural Water Association opened registration for the 2017 WaterPro Conference, scheduled for Sept. 18-20 in Reno, Nev. Those planning to attend the conference can register at

The conference room block is now also open to accept reservations. Housing information can be found at

WaterPro is the annual conference of the National Rural Water Association and is designed to bring together water and wastewater utility systems – large and small, municipal and rural – for sessions in operations, management, boardsmanship and governance.