Maine Rural Water Assists Community with Leak that Drains Half of Reservoir

DEXTER, Maine – Tom Crawford checked the Dexter reservoir in the morning and saw it had lost nearly half its water, and levels were dropping fast. Timely assistance from the Maine Rural Water Association helped locate a leak in an unknown water main and prevent the community from losing water.

Broken six-inch line.

“It was a real emergency,” explained Crawford, the Superintendent for the Dexter Utilities District. “Within four hours we lost over half a million gallons.”

Dexter utility workers tried to locate the leak on their own, but they didn’t have the necessary equipment. In some cases, they resorted to holding screwdrivers to fire hydrants to try to listen to leaks. There was no sign of water rising to the surface, which should occur with such a large water loss. That’s when they contacted MRWA for assistance.

“I had just arrived at a training class when Dexter called,” said Andy Gilson, an MRWA Circuit Rider. “They were in a panic because the reservoir was dropping like a rock.”

Gilson started using listening equipment to narrow down the location of the leak. He identified a general position for the leak, but Dexter officials didn’t know of any possible lines in the area.

“It happens all the time,” Gilson said. “There’s a lot of stuff that people put into the ground and no one recorded the location.”

Gilson used data loggers to trace potential locations for the leak. The loggers collect information such as noise or, in some cases, water pressure over time to locate potential leaks. The loggers narrowed the leak to a neighborhood near a stream, but utility personnel didn’t know of any other lines in the area. Gilson used a metal detector along the mapped water line and located a previously-unknown valve.

“There was a bump and as soon as I saw it I knew there was a v

Diverting the stream to make repairs to the broken main.

alve there,” Gilson said. “Frost had raised and lowered the valve and worked it to the surface. They didn’t have to dig far to uncover it.”

The valve connected to a six-inch line that lead toward a neighborhood across the stream.

“The system personnel knew the neighborhood was being served by a main from the other side, but they didn’t know there was a second main that crossed the stream,” Gilson said.

The Circuit Rider used a line locator to follow the main to another valve near the stream. He used that valve to isolate the main and confirm that the leak was somewhere under the stream. The repair required the utility to divert the stream and replace ten feet of main under the stream. It was a complicated process that required the cooperation of Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection.
Gilson’s assistance helped prevent Dexter from losing water and located a difficult leak.

“Andy is really good at what he does,” Crawford said. “He was a huge help to our community. I don’t know if I could have found it without him.”

Rural Water Teams Restore Water, Wastewater Service to Devastated Mexico Beach Florida

MEXICO BEACH, Fla. – When Phillip Hall drove into the Mexico Beach water plant and saw the water tower laying on the ground storage tank, he knew the city’s water system was significantly damaged.

“When I pulled into the yard and saw that tower down, I just knew,” said Hall, the Mexico Beach public works director. “The whole system was entirely inoperable.”

Rural Water staff install a hydrant valve to isolate a damaged main.

Mexico Beach was completely without power. Hurricane Michael leveled swaths of the city, and it’s estimated that 70% of the city’s structures will have to be demolished. Water main breaks made it impossible to restore service to some sections of the city. Several of the wastewater lift stations were damaged.

“Mexico Beach was essentially ground zero for the hurricane’s impact,” said Gary Williams, executive director of the Florida Rural Water Association. “There is Katrina-type devastation in places along the coast.”

Entire streets were washed away, complicating the relief efforts until crews could fill and patch the damaged roads. Even weeks after landfall, rural water still had to contend with rough, temporary fills and patches on Highway 98 with some side streets washed out and impassable.

“It took us a while to get in here because the roads were so damaged,” Williams said.

Assistance from Rural Water started to restore service to the devastated city.

“We’ve had some amazing people come help us,” Hall said.

Rural water crews repairing a damaged water line.

From the beginning, Rural Water was committed to a long-term relief effort.

“When I got here, I told them ‘Rural Water is all-in, and we’ll stay here until you don’t need us any more,’” Williams said.

Emergency generators from the Alabama Rural Water Association, Georgia Rural Water Association, Louisiana Rural Water Association and Florida Rural Water Association helped provide power to the treatment plants, master meters and lift stations. Some of the generators have operated continuously for over 10 days supplying power.

“We’ve had to service a lot of this equipment in the field,” Williams said. “Some of these generators have run for two weeks – they need things like oil and filters, and of course fuel.”

Once supplied with emergency power, rural water crews began assisting the city with the work of restoring water and wastewater services. The work effort included crews from the Rural Water Associations and over 300 utility workers from utilities across Florida.

“They shut off meters, repaired water lines and fixed lift station panels,” Hall said.

It was a massive effort that mobilized dozens of work crews to repair and replace significant damage.

Rural Water working around heavy machinery and damaged infrastructure to repair a water line.

“This has been a lot more than the typical response, which is generators and pumps,” Williams said. “This has been completely rebuilding the water and wastewater infrastructure, including laying new water and wastewater lines.”

It was a relief effort the city did not have the spare material or cash reserves to support. FRWA and the State Revolving Loan Fund committed to purchasing $120,000 of parts and material to help rebuild the system.

“When the work crews show up, they have to have something work with,” Williams said. “It’s a credit to the Florida Rural Water board of directors and membership, because without them we’d have nothing to bring to the table.”

Roughly 18 days since the hurricane made landfall, 60% of the city has its water restored and 75% of the lift stations are back online. The water plant is running on automated mode and the chlorination system is at 100%. It’s a significant achievement that would not be possible without Rural Water.

“What Rural Water is doing is invaluable to these communities,” Hall said. “We have 20 employees in public works. We could have gotten everything back eventually, but it would have taken months.”

Preparing to install a new valve and hydrant. The hurricane tore the previous hydrant completely from the ground.

The recovery was especially complicated because city workers were dealing with personal losses as well as city damage. Hall himself would take off work the next day to meet with insurance adjusters.

“All their employees came back after the storm, which shows a great dedication and commitment to the customers of Mexico Beach,” Williams said.

Rural Water’s effort has earned the praise of the Mexico Beach community.

“I cannot put into words how helpful Rural Water had been,” he said. “I’ve told all of them ‘helpful is just not kind enough.’”

For Williams, it is another example of the community of rural water systems and the power of systems aiding other systems.

“The Rural Water family pulled together, like they always do, to alleviate the suffering of the public,” he said.

Florida Rural Water Helps Rebuild Water and Wastewater Mains After Hurricane Destroys Infrastructure

PORT ST JOE, Fla. – Rows of broken, blue watermain pipe lay alongside the highway on Cape San Blas while crews dig trenches for new water and wastewater line. The storm surge from Hurricane Michael tore the water main for Lighthouse Utilities and the Port St. Joe wastewater collection system out of the ground, but assistance from the Florida Rural Water Association and neighboring utilities helped restore service to the cape.

“We were completely down,” said Matthew Pope, the Lighthouse Water System Operations Specialist. “The water tore out mains on the cape.”

Crews laying new water main.

The small Lighthouse Utilities serves a community of roughly 1,900 connections. The storm destroyed roughly hundreds of feet of water main, and the utility did not have the ability to replace it. Wastewater service on the cape is provided by Port St. Joe. Hundreds of feet of wastewater line and force main were exposed and pulled from the ground.

“There was over 3,500 feet of roadway, water and wastewater pipe damaged by the storm surge,” explained Scott Phillips, an FRWA wastewater training specialist.

Damage to roads and highways delayed relief until the Florida Department of Transportation could make temporary repairs. Once on-site, it was clear the water and wastewater infrastructure needed to be completely rebuilt.

“You could see hundreds of feet of pipe exposed,” Phillips said. “It was impossible to do anything else because there was no main.”

Highway repairs provided a further complication, because the DOT had yet to decide if the permanent highway repairs would go in to the same location or be rebuilt along a different path. Phillips recommended running a four-inch line across the surface to provide temporary water service until the route of the highway was determined and a permanent location of the water mains found. After meeting with the DOT and governor’s office, the state made a decision on the permanent location of the utilities.

Repairing water lines near newly-patched road.

“The governor requested the DOT survey the road,” Phillips said. “They decided to rebuild the highway along its current route.”

With the location decided, FRWA staff began organizing crews from neighboring utilities to start laying the new water and wastewater line. Boynton Beach, City of Cooper, Del Ray Beach, Escambia County Utility Authority, Port St. Joe, and Regional Utilities all contributes staff and equipment to help lay the new lines. FRWA helped supervise the effort and provided additional equipment like radios to coordinate traffic control.

The combined effort laid over 500 feet of water main, wastewater line and force main a day.

“We couldn’t have done it without Rural water,” Pope said. “We just don’t have the equipment.”

Once the main lines were replaced, FRWA began assisting the utilities restore service to the cape.

“When we got to where we could turn on some of the water, we started doing leak detection,” Phillips said.

FRWA staff also helped repair flooded control boxes on wastewater lift stations, helping bring the wastewater collections system back into operations.

Once Rural Water was able to access the area, the combined effort of FRWA and neighboring utilities was able to restore water and wastewater service to the majority of the cape in only a few days, despite having to replace the water and wastewater mains.

Florida Rural Water Restores Water and Wastewater Service in Wewahitchka after Hurricane

WEWAHITCHKA, Fla. – Hurricane Michael left the city of Wewahitchka, Fla. completely without water and wastewater service when it made landfall on October 10th. Assistance from the Florida Rural Water Association helped restore service to the damaged community.

“We were down and down hard,” said Michael Gortman, city administrator for Wewahitchka. “We had no power. We lost water out of our elevated storage tank.”

The hurricane damaged the roads in the area, delaying any assistance to the community.

“October 12th was the first day we could get in,” said Scott Phillips, an FRWA wastewater training technician. “All the highways in the area were closed until the Department of Transportation could make repairs.”

Once FRWA staff reached Wewahitchka, the first priority was to bring in emergency generators. Once the system had power, crews could begin working to make other repairs.

“They wanted to wait until they had a generator for each lift station, but I told them everybody needed generators,” Phillips explained. “I trained them to rotate the generators and pumps at the lift stations. You pump out the stations closest to the sewage plant and work out.”

Most wastewater collection systems rely on gravity, but in certain areas, the lack of elevation requires the system use a lift station to pump wastewater into the next part of the system. When these lift stations are not functioning, they can overflow into the environment or back up into homes. Emergency response often includes supplying these stations with emergency generators or with bypass pumps to maintain their function.

“The best thing is to get the stations operating as quickly as possible,” Phillips said. “The longer you wait the more wastewater builds up.”

The recovery efforts were also complicated by an ATV accident that injured several Wewahitchka city officials, including the mayor and fire chief.

“They had to be taken to the hospital,” Phillips said. “It certainly slowed things down.”

Once the system had emergency power, Rural Water began addressing other problems.

“They started doing leak detection, so we could make repairs and keep water pressure,” Gortman said.

Wewahitchka also started seeing grit and debris from the storm surge showing up at the sewage treatment plant.

“They were getting grit in their effluent, so we used one of our vacuum trucks to start cleaning debris out of the lift stations,” Phillips said.

FRWA soon had the Wewahitchka water and wastewater operating at normal, even if on emergency power. It was a feat that would be difficult without Rural Water’s assistance.

“They were miracle workers,” Gortman said. “They helped with a little bit of everything.”

 

USDA Awards $6 Million to Develop a National Apprenticeship Program

DUNCAN, Okla. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently awarded a $6 million grant to NRWA for further development of its National Apprenticeship program. At the 2018 WaterPro Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, Edna Primrose, USDA Assistant Administrator for Rural Development’s Water and Environmental Programs, announced this award to NRWA for workforce development in the water industry that will assist in providing rural America with clean, reliable water resources.

During the USDA Outlook at the WaterPro Conference, Primrose expanded on the NRWA Apprenticeship programs. “Having a highly skilled workforce is a crux for sustainability…This (Apprenticeship program) is important. It’s critical. To have NRWA recognized as a premier training provider, premier operator and premier steward of rural water and wastewater systems will ensure the future of rural America.”

NRWA has prioritized developing a nationwide apprenticeship program to accelerate the process of hiring qualified water and wastewater workers and providing them an identifiable career path. NRWA is collaborating with state and local leaders to establish nationally-recognized and federally sanctioned Registered Apprenticeship programs.

Since its formal launch in 2017, 16 states have registered programs in the NRWA Apprenticeship program, and 12 states are currently working to establish the proper standards and programming to become registered.

With the new funding from USDA, NRWA will have the financial resources to help states develop their own Registered Apprenticeship program under the NRWA Guideline Standards.

Establishing an apprenticeship program for the water and wastewater industry is a massive undertaking and requires adaptation by states to meet their specific needs. NRWA plans to develop standardized forms, reporting templates and educational material to help states with a solid foundation to build upon for their own state-centric apprenticeship program.

The water sector is in the midst of a concentrated retirement bubble and is expected to lose between 30 and 50 percent of its workforce to retirement this decade. Many of the nation’s top water managers started their careers in these entry-level positions and spent a lifetime advancing their skills in a nonsystematic method. Over the past 30 years, the complexity of operating a water utility or wastewater system has increased dramatically.

In order to maintain the level of expertise and service that the public has become accustomed to, NRWA implemented this apprenticeship program to enhance the quality of life, create jobs and promote economic development opportunities in Rural America while improving water and wastewater infrastructure.

Currently, a typical new water worker comes from haphazard on-the-job training and classroom instruction primarily focused on differing state certification requirements. Many of these workers are considered as low-skilled and earn minimum wage.

This program will focus on technology and innovation to provide the next generation of water industry workforce with the knowledge and expertise they need to help ensure clean and safe water for their small communities and to maintain infrastructure necessary to keep their service areas economically viable.

The water industry is unique in that it involves the daily responsibilities of public health protection through the operations and maintenance of critical but unseen infrastructure.

“The apprenticeship program has presented those in our industry with a tremendously powerful tool to advance the level of expertise of critical to quality water,” stated Bryan Klein, general manager from Steuben Lakes Regional Waste District.

Apprenticeship is the most practical and efficient method to jumpstart a career in the water industry. The NRWA Guideline Standards will provide a systematic program and will establish a nationally-recognized credential that certifies proficiency for water workers in Rural America.

The proven earn-while-you-learn model of apprenticeship will enhance workforce participation and retention of water workers in small and rural communities. With student debt at a record high, programs like this present an appealing alternative to college degree programs, with a debt-free path to a well-paying career.

Like most apprenticeship or journeyman programs, the NRWA Apprenticeship Program provides hands-on experience and classroom education so that the apprentice may possibly become a water or wastewater system operations specialist immediately upon completion.

With this program, the public can rest assure that a safe, uninterrupted supply of water will continue, and sound decisions will be made concerning the health and safety in small and rural communities. By its very nature, the water industry places a high degree of personal responsibility and professional ethics on each individual. Like Catlyn Helmuth from Lagrange Utilities said when asked about his apprenticeship, “I’m so excited to start a career in the water/wastewater industry. I know this is forever for me, so I want to be the best.”

NRWA is also looking to attract military veterans or those transitioning out of active duty to this great opportunity for them to continue to serve their communities. According to USDOL, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 370,000 veterans were unemployed in 2017. Men and women who have served their country in the armed forces bring valuable skills and assets with an unyielding work ethic.

“Veterans would be a great resource to tap into for the water and wastewater industry for their attention to detail and instilled discipline. Many have learned the value of work ethic and completing a project correct the first time. My experience in the military taught me that trying to shortcut something generally has dire consequences,” said Randy Seida, manager of West Side Water Supply in Lansing, Michigan and a retired E-5 SGT with the 82nd Airborne Division, 313th Military Intel. “I find that working as a manager of a municipal water utility is similar to my time in the military. We are held accountable for countless lives daily and the smallest mistake can change everything. It takes hard work, discipline and focus in all weather conditions and various environments, sometimes with little to no sleep, to keep your mindset on the task at hand. The attention to detail engrained in service members, under pressure in various circumstances and conditions, is what our industry needs.”

In July 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor certified the NRWA Guideline Standards of Apprenticeship for Water and Wastewater System Operations Specialist which have been registered as part of the National Apprenticeship System in accordance with the standards established by the U.S. Secretary of Labor. These standards include a two-year program that consists of classroom training and on-the-job learning from seasoned water and wastewater professionals.

“This Apprenticeship Program will ensure a well-trained and capable water sector workforce to meet the increasing demands of the water industry,” stated NRWA CEO Sam Wade. “Advancements in water treatment and supply technology have increased the skills and training needed to protect public health and the environment. The program will ensure we have a skilled and educated workforce we need well into the future.”

Reduce your water department’s operational costs by simplifying the payment process: 2 PM CST Dec. 6

Reduce your water department’s operational costs by simplifying the payment process: 2 PM CST Dec. 6

Register Now

Increasingly, water companies are processing receivables, even in large volumes, in-house. Doing so saves the water department money, puts knowledgeable personnel to the task, and allows for high-levels of quality assurance and customer service. In this webinar, we will discuss the unique challenges water departments experience with accepting and processing payments, from keeping cash flow steady to dealing with excessive overtime and overstaffing in between payment cycles. Solutions will be presented, such as Digital Accounts Receivable and Payment Kiosks, that can streamline the process.

Presenter: Brad Lewis, F&E Payment Pros

NRWA Launches Savings Engine

DUNCAN, Okla. – National Rural Water Association (NRWA) has launched the aqkWa Savings engine, nrwa.org/savings-engine, to provide consumers with an interactive, personalized online tool to help save water, energy and money.

““The NRWA has partnered with the aqKWa Savings Engine to provide consumer education on water conservation through our 31,000 water and wastewater utility system membership,” said NRWA Deputy CEO Matt Holmes. “It will be an additional service systems can offer to encourage water and energy efficiency while improving customer engagement.”

The NRWA Savings Engine is a software platform that water users will log on through a mobile device or computer to answer current water and energy usage. In return, the consumer receives a comprehensive look of their water consumption with tips and advice where and what they can do to conserve water, cut energy use and save money.

This SaaS-based platform will be able to estimate water use and focus the consumer on water conservation efforts while increasing utility outreach and assisting in demand management. By using this portal, water systems and utilities can be provided a large amount of customer-specific data, as well as discovering infrastructure issues that otherwise they may have missed.

“Water companies receive data that includes geographic location, water and energy consumption by appliance, person and household and water and energy savings possible by appliance, person and household,” said Tim Robertson, CEO of the UK-based Save Water Save Money and creator of the aqKwa Savings Engine.

According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates, each American uses an average of 88 gallons of water per day in the home and an average family can waste 180 gallons per week, or 9,400 gallons annually.

When consumers receive their personalized report from the Savings Engine, they will be given access to water savings device suggestions and tips such as turning off the faucet while you hand wash dishes or brush your teeth.

NRWA is excited to offer this new tool that will help utilities engage their customers and grant consumers and utilities immeasurable insight about water efficiency and possible savings.

Florida Water Helps Port St. Joe Recover from Hurricane Michael

PORT ST JOE, Fla. – When Hurricane Michael made landfall, Port St. Joe water plant staff watched the wind hurl fifty-gallon steel drums from the yard into the tree line.

“This is probably the safest building in the county,” said Larry McClamma, the Port St. Joe water plant manager. “I sat there and watched the storm throw barrels into the trees.”

The hurricane interrupted water and wastewater service to the city, but assistance from the Florida Rural Water Association helped keep the water flowing and the sewers from backing up.

High wind damaged the water plant’s storage facilities, creating chemical spills that had to be secured before any other work could be done. It also filled the canal that acts as the plant’s water source with debris and prevented the plant from taking in raw water.

“Downed trees blocked 17 miles of the canal,” McClamma said.

Workers from FRWA and Tallahassee utilities helped clear the canal and restore service.

Port St. Joe’s wastewater system required more assistance to maintain service.

“We lost the ability to pump effluent,” explained Kevin Pettis, the Port St. Joe wastewater plant manager. “We lost both of our backup generators.”

The storm knocked out power to the city’s wastewater lift stations, preventing the sewage from flowing normally and risking overflows. FRWA provided emergency power generators and bypass pumps to operate the wastewater plant and keep the lift stations functioning.

“We’re busted up and haphazard but we’re functional,” Pettis said.

Generators and bypass pumps have 70% of the wastewater system operating at normal. It is an accomplishment that would not be possible without assistance from Rural Water.

“When you look at the scope of the damage and the small number of hands available, it would have been overwhelming without Rural Water,” Pettis said.

Louisiana Rural Water Association Helps Restore Water in Parker, Fla. After Hurricane Michael


PARKER, Fla. – Amber Parkle and her daughter had been without water for ten days, and they cheered when responders from the Louisiana Rural Water Association opened their meter and water poured from the outside faucet.

Louisiana Rural Water plans how they will execute the meter worker Parker public works has asked them to accomplish.

“I’m ecstatic beyond anything I can describe,” the Parker resident said. “To get running water and to be able to wash our hands – we’re are so happy to have water, even without power.”

The community was devastated after Hurricane Michael made landfall.

“All out lift stations were down. We had no water,” said Tony Summerland, the Parker public works supervisor. “There was no power and there wasn’t a passable road in Parker.”

LRWA began closing valves and isolating parts of the distribution system so water pressure could be resorted to the system.  Once it was pressurized, LRWA moved through neighborhoods, opening water meters and checking for leaks.

“They’ve been going door-to-door, checking for leaks and seeing if customers had their water service.,” Summerland said. “Without these guys, there’s no way we’d be back to where we are.”

LRWA turning on meters covered in debris.

Parker only has 13 city employees, including two for water and only a single mechanic.

“If we would have lost one of those guys we’d be in trouble,” Summerland said. “The extra man power has been incredible.”

After a few days of assistance, the community’s water and wastewater service is almost fully restored.

“The pressure is slowly coming back up, but we had 13 leaks reported in the last hour,” Summerland said. “Right now, if someone doesn’t have water, it’s most likely because of a service line beak on their side of the meter.”

Georgia Rural Water Restores Water in Bainbridge After Hurricane Michael

BAINBRIDGE, Ga. – Hurricane Michael brought unexpected damage to Bainbridge, Ga., carrying Category 3 strength winds over 100 miles from the shore, uprooting trees, knocking out power and disrupting water and wastewater service.

“Bainbridge Georgia looks like a war zone. It may be several days before you see someone to help just please bear with us,” George McMillan, of Bainbridge Public Safety, wrote in a post shared on Facebook.
The hurricane knocked out all power to the city, including to the water utility and sewer system.

“We have 49 sewer lift stations, hence you see the need for generators,” said Chris Hobby, Bainbridge City Manager.

The Georgia Rural Water Association was the first organization to arrive on-site to provide assistance to Bainbridge. They brought emergency generators to help restore both water and wastewater service.

“Our entire city had lost all electrical power,” Hobby said “GRWA was the first on-site. The brought numerous generators.”

These included a high capacity generator that allowed the utility to operate its water treatment and pressurize the distribution system.

“Our drinking water treatment operations also a large generator,” Hobby said. “We were able to pump and maintain pressure. This relieved our fire safety concerns also.”

Georgia Rural Water’s fast response to Bainbridge and surrounding counties drew praise and appreciation.
“I wish to express our sincere thanks for the quick response and assistance provided by Georgia Rural Water Association,” Hobby said.

“I wish to thank the Georgia Rural Water Association for their rapid Emergency Response and Professional Technical Assistance,” added Dean Burke, a member of the Georgia Senate and former mayor of Bainbridge. “They spent night and day helping the community water systems in the storm-stricken counties of Decatur, Seminole, Early, Miller, and Mitchell. The GRWA folks connected numerous generators, providing power to pump clean drinking water, treatment of wastewater, and assuring a fire problem didn’t exist.”