USDA Rural Utilities Service, Water and Environment Programs declare Circuit Riders Essential Service

In response to the Presidential Declaration of a National Emergency concerning the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) outbreak, USDA Rural Utilities Service, Water and Environmental Programs declared the Circuit Rider Drinking Water Technical Assistance Contract to be an essential government service.

Presidential Policy Directive PPD-21 identifies the water and wastewater systems sector as being a “critical infrastructure sector,” defined by Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, as “sectors whose assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual, are considered so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.”

NRWA is named in DHS’s Water and Wastewater Sector-Specific Plan as a Critical Infrastructure Partner and is a member of the Sector Coordinating Council.

The USDA WEP Circuit Rider contract is a critical component of the federal government’s ability to respond to the needs of rural systems, especially during emergencies and disasters in which potable water supplies and clean sanitation are at risk. At the state and local level, Circuit Riders are first and second responders, working collaboratively with emergency management response teams. For example, the Circuit Rider contract is included among excepted contractor services during a lapse in federal government operations. The declaration of this national emergency requires the continued provision of these services.

For these reasons, the U.S. Government deemed Circuit Riders and essential support staff, as determined by the NRWA, to be essential and directed NRWA to continue performing all duties as provided for in the contract, with no lapse in services, during this national emergency.

During this time Circuit Riders are authorized to provide assistance remotely when possible, to include the use of telephone and web-based technology, to mitigate public health and safety risks. In emergency situations Circuit Riders will still provide on-site assistance. Any on-site assistance will be carried out within the social distancing guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The public health and well-being of our nation’s rural residents depends on uninterrupted access to safe drinking water. Rural water systems provide critically important, life-saving infrastructure by providing safe drinking water and clean sanitation at millions of homes across the United States and territories.

National and State Rural Water Associations are dedicated to ensuring the continuity of drinking water services and wastewater treatment in rural areas during this time of crisis.

Special Report from NRWA CEO

These are trying times for our nation and for the people who work at our public water and wastewater utilities. Without a doubt, Americans rely on safe and clean water being provided to their homes. Water utilities provide an essential service every day of the year; now, that service is necessary for people isolated in their homes to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.

Small and rural systems generally have less staff and will be impacted the worst if their workforce becomes infected. The National Rural Water Association and each of our State Affiliates have instituted emergency measures to ensure the safety of staff, enabling them to continue providing assistance to water and wastewater utilities, and retaining the ability to respond onsite to emergencies. Be assured your State Rural Water Association is there for you.

At NRWA, we are in constant communication with USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and members of Congress. Our D.C. staff is working hard, advocating on your behalf as resources are considered and developed to assist and inform our nation’s utilities of the latest information and progress of the virus.

We encourage our utility members to reach out to neighboring systems and develop informal mutual aid networks in case critical utility staff are unable to perform their duties. At this point we do not know what the impact of this new virus will be and hardships it will cause. We all must be prepared to assure continuity of services, no matter the scenario. It is in the best interest of each utility, the public and our nation.

We must all be prepared, be informed and take all precautions necessary to protect our workforce and our families. There is everything to gain and nothing to lose by taking these precautions. Our industry motto is: Quality on Tap–Our Commitment, Our Profession. Our collective commitment should be to stay healthy and remain available to provide essential water services during the coming days, weeks and possibly months of this national health emergency.

My commitment to you is that your State Rural Water Associations are there for you with resources, assistance and emergency response capabilities. Working together, being proactive and taking all necessary precautions for health protection will be the winning combination to overcome this virus. I have total confidence America’s water professionals will act as unsung heroes–just as they have throughout my 35 years working with Rural Water.

Thank you for all you do,

Sam Wade

CEO, National Rural Water Association

NRWA Statement on the COVID-19 Virus

The National Rural Water Association continues to monitor the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and recommends all water and wastewater utilities review the best and latest information on the following trusted websites:

At this time, existing safe management techniques in both drinking water and sanitation apply to COVID-19.  Extra measures are not needed. In particular, disinfection treatment processes will facilitate more rapid die-off of the COVID-19 virus. Provision of safe water, sanitation and hygienic conditions play an essential role in protecting human health during all infectious disease outbreaks, including the current COVID-19 outbreak.

Frequent and proper hand washing is one of the most important prevention measures for COVID-19.  Good and consistently applied hygiene in communities, homes, schools, workplaces, marketplaces and health care facilities will further help to prevent human-to-human transmission of COVID-19.

This outbreak continues to evolve and information changes daily. Similar to past viral outbreaks of this magnitude, COVID-19 is something to be taken very seriously. NRWA will continue to monitor the situation and is following the guidance of leading health authorities. Any impact to technical assistance, training programs, meeting and/or conferences will be posted prominently at https://nrwa.org/initiatives/covid-19/.

The National Rural Water Association (NRWA) is the country’s largest public drinking water and sanitation supply organization with over 31,000 small and rural community members dedicated to drinking water quality, environmental protection and public health protection. Safe drinking water and sanitation are generally recognized as the most essential public health, public welfare, and civic necessities.

NRWA PFAS Lawsuit Statement

On Tuesday February 25th, the National Rural Water Association filed a federal class action lawsuit against PFAS manufacturers. NRWA took this action for a simple reason: their rural water and wastewater systems are not responsible for manufacturing or introducing these man-made chemical compounds into communities and environments. They should not have to bear the burden for the costs of testing, treatment and remediation and then having to pass these significant costs on to their customers. Customers who include the more vulnerable populations such as the elderly, disabled, and low-income families who are already struggling with limited financial resources.

NRWA is a non-profit utility membership association representing 31,000 rural and small community rural water and wastewater utilities. NRWA is comprised of 49 state affiliates representing all 50 states because Rhode Island and Connecticut are combined as one. Its rural utility operations specialist board members and local leaders are mission driven: a mission of providing safe, clean and affordable water and wastewater services to their customers.

Therefore, after a thorough review of the current and potential impact to our members and the rural & small populations they serve, the National Rural Water Association Board of Directors determined NRWA’s membership needs to be represented in any legal settlement that may be forthcoming.

This lawsuit is a first for the National Rural Water Association. There are 49,731 community water supplies in the nation; 91% serve less than 10,000 population and 54% serve less than 500 population. These are not the type of entities looking to file a lawsuit, but Sam Wade, CEO of the NRWA points out, “these smaller communities lack the resources to participate individually and hold those accountable for the damages they have caused. Representing the membership in any settlement is an obligation of the association.”

These drinking water and wastewater utilities are the foundation for public health, environmental protection and for the economy. Rural America is where our food, energy, and natural resources come from and for impacted communities, their reputations are at stake as their missions are being comprised. The United States is one of a very few countries, that where upon entry, you are not warned about drinking the water.

Contamination of our nation’s water supplies from known hazardous chemicals is not acceptable in any way, shape, form or fashion. A clear message has been sent with this lawsuit: the nation’s small utilities will no longer sit idly by as victims with the burden of paying for the testing, treatment and remediation of known hazardous chemical contamination placed on the backs of the citizens they serve.

Systems impacted or that may be potentially impacted are strongly encouraged to register at https://nrwa.org/initiatives/pfas/ for more information or to contact the legal team:

Paul Napoli, of Counsel

516-639-6909

pnapoli@napolilaw.com

 

Special Report: Circuit Riders – The Origin and Mission

Initially, Circuit Riders were clergy assigned to travel around specific geographic territories and deliver a sermon or religious address to settlers and organize congregations in the earliest years of the United States.

The National Rural Water Association (NRWA) pioneered the concept of a “Circuit Rider” for the water industry in 1980 in cooperation with the Farmers Home Administration, now Rural Development, Rural Utilities Service. The program was the result of congressional actions and appropriations advocated by NRWA to directly assist rural and small communities. NRWA was formed in 1976 as a utility membership association representing the water and wastewater industry in small and rural communities. The original goals and mission of funding and providing resources to assist rural and small utilities continue today. These small and rural utilities include most of the community water supplies in the nation. In fact, 91% of the 49,731 community water supplies serve less than 10,000 population, 26% serve 3,300 or less and 54% serve 500 or less.

The Circuit Rider Program was institutionalized into law on September 24, 1980 with the passage of the Rural Development Policy Act of 1980. The authorization of the Circuit Rider Program was created by Congress with this clear mission stating, “through the Farmers Home Administration for planning and technical assistance and for the establishment of a circuit-rider program to facilitate the delivery of Federal programs to rural areas. It also provides for dissemination of more information to the rural public about the availability of these programs. This bill will improve the Federal Government’s capacity to meet the needs of our small towns and country areas. It will move us from a protracted period of analysis to a program of active involvement in rural and small-community development….”

Presidential Remarks on the passage of the Rural Development Policy Act of 1980:

“Senator Leahy and Congressman Wes Watkins, Congressman Nolan and others who are assembled here, ladies and gentlemen who are interested in the future of rural America—future of America… This legislation will enable the Farmers Home Administration to assist small communities in establishing circuit-rider programs to provide assistance in economic and community development. I’m today directing the Farmers Home Administration to act promptly to make funding immediately available for these circuit riders, who will go into a community, assess what can be done, that the initiative be from the local people, but provide counsel and assistance as necessary.”

Since 1980, this bi-partisan program has been the mainstay of viability for the nation’s rural and small community water and wastewater utilities. The value cannot be understated and is documented by the record of small utilities in compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, economic development in rural areas, and a delinquency rate on repayment of government debt to the Rural Utilities Service, which is consistently less than one-half of one percent.

The NRWA Circuit Rider Team is made up of 132 full-time professional men and women located throughout every state and territory. They provide a pool of expanded skills, knowledge and expertise that is usually unavailable to many small and rural communities. These technicians are uniquely qualified with a skillset that cannot be duplicated. Circuit Riders are practitioners who have actual hands-on experience managing and operating systems, a bank of knowledge gathered from working with systems across their respective states, possess a variety of license and are Utility Management Certified. Since 1980, they have developed operational knowledge and built trusting relationships with staff, governing officials and local leaders. These relationships allow Circuit Riders the ability to effectively communicate and improve all facets of their utility, governance, management operations, finances and sustainable actions for the future. In addition, this relationship allows for critical issues and actions to bypass local politics and receive unbiased information and advice from a trusted source.

Annually, Circuit Riders provide more than 50,000 types of technical assistance and support activities to the nation’s 45,255 community water supplies that serve 10,000 or less in population. The value of this critical expertise is documented in government reports and more importantly, from the systems and communities they served. Over the course of a year, there are continuous unsolicited appreciation letters received from utilities and local leaders such as:

“During a catastrophic occurrence such as this was, [Circuit Rider’s] experience and knowledge of how to handle everything was so appreciated. We think we would have been lost without their direction and guidance.” – PWSD #2, Jefferson Missouri

“As a small system on a tight budget we do not always have the funding to hire specialized contractors…. The Rural Water Association [Circuit Riders] provide valuable technical assistance to our system operations that would otherwise be unaffordable.” – Public Works Director – Brewster, Washington

“To say that we were in dire straits is an understatement. A value cannot be placed on your Circuit Rider’s and training personnel’s assistance to all 82 counties in Mississippi.” – Poplar Spring Water District, Mendenhall Mississippi

Please visit www.nrwa.org or a State Rural Water Association website for more information on Circuit Riders.

Water Project

By Dennis Berkey, Sixth Grade Teacher, Westview Elementary

Originally featured in Alliance of Indiana Rural Water’s Hoosier Pipeline.

Students at Westview Elementary School are becoming experts in water. This rural school with a large Amish population is located in LaGrange County. Sixth graders are building “pond” ecosystems and monitoring the water quality. Teachers and students love this hands-on approach to science and the lessons that are learned.

Groups of students started building their ponds approximately three weeks earlier. Aquariums housed water, gravel, hay, and dirt as well as several types of microscopic algae and animals. Students also wrapped the aquariums with tinfoil, allowing “sunlight” to have contact with the surface.

Students then tested the water environments several times a week. Temperature, ph, alkalinity, nitrates, ammonia, O2, phosphates, hardness, turbidity, chlorine and metal levels were checked and recorded for each pond. They also created slides, using microscopes to check the health of the living things in their ponds.

Donald Papai and Kevin Wenzel, from the Alliance of Indiana Rural Water, came in and discussed the process of making dirty water clean and usable. They discussed how fertilizers and runoff affect our water source as well as how wastewater is treated in municipalities.

“You students are the future,” stated Mr. Papai, “Understanding the importance of clean water will impact generations to come.”

Our goal is that our students understand the importance of keeping our water clean and usable. We also want them to understand the impact we have on our environment.

Utility Management Certification Reaching Far and Wide

Today, the water and wastewater industry is more complex than ever before. Economics, increased complexity in regulatory requirements and a changing society are crafting the water and wastewater systems of tomorrow.

Josiah Gitu Niarobi Kenya

Josiah Gitu, Niarobi, Kenya

As our industry changes, there is a strong need to recognize the individuals who provide management leadership to the industry and create a standard for the future manager to strive for, thus meeting demands of the future.

The Water University and the Utility Management Certification Program are designed to “Provide Recognition of Professional Growth and Accomplishments in the Water and Wastewater Industry.” The program allows participants to gain recognition in the water and wastewater industry and prepare for the future.

The UMC has reached many places far and wide, but this might just be the farthest yet. Josiah Gitu is the Commercial Billing Manager for the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company in Nairobi, Kenya. He has worked for the company for 14 years, and it is the largest water utility in Kenya providing water and sewerage services to a population of about 4 million. Some of his responsibilities there include management of the revenue generation process from meter reading to customer invoicing and dispatch, he also workers with tariff or rates, and setting and providing revenue projections and budget proposals and guidance.

He is also tasked with the responsibility of developing strategies for revenue growth and development of ICT (information and communication technology) innovations for enhancing service delivery and the utility’s sustainability.

His goal is to provide the best leadership and management abilities that would keep the utility at par with other leading utilities in the world through benchmarking and learning from other professionals. Part of this includes completing the Utility Management Certification Program. He received his UMC Study Guide on January 24, 2020. We look forward to seeing his future success.

You never know where you might reach, so reach high! If you are interested in Utility Management Certification, please visit www.wateruniversity.org.

NRWA Opens 2020 Rural Water Rally with Speeches from Senator Roy Blunt and Deputy Undersecretary for USDA Rural Development DJ LaVoy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Rural Water Association opened the 2020 Rural Water Rally with approximately 280 rural water professionals in attendance on February 4 in Washington, D.C.

VIP speakers Senator Roy Blunt from Missouri and DJ LaVoy, Deputy Undersecretary for USDA Rural Development, spoke to Rural Water Rally attendees.

Blunt expounded on the importance of small water systems and how imperative it is for them to keep up with regulations and advances within the industry, while still being affordable for their rural Roy Bluntcustomers. He said the programs Rural Water has developed and promoted have a huge impact on how successful our industry is.

“[Water and wastewater technicians] represent the kinds of communities, the kinds of neighborhoods where people want to be connected,” Blunt said. “[Water and wastewater technicians] are part of the most basic connection of all.”

Blunt praised water and wastewater technicians from across the country for the thankless work they do. He wanted them to know that their hard work is very important to Rural America’s livelihood and does not go unnoticed.

“The people of Rural Development are dedicated and enthusiastic about our industry,” said DJ LaVoy, Deputy Undersecretary for Rural Development. “They understand one of the four things that is important to us is Rural Water.”

Lavoy said the work of water and wastewater technicians and associations is imperative to the success of our industry. Both speakers were thoroughly impressed with what our association and Rural Water employees have accomplished over the years and knows the best is yet to come.

“Our partnerships and programs aren’t going anywhere,” LaVoy said. “We want to grow our relationship with you.”

He said that the NRWA has their full support and is looking forward to the future. Blunt and LaVoy talked about where the water industry started and how much it has grown and improved since clean, safe drinking water became a big priority in Rural America.

“We are so proud to be part of the patriots and leaders that [water and wastewater technicians] are,” Lavoy said. “When Rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”

LaVoy and Blunt understand that none of this progress would have been possible without the programs put in place and funded by the federal government.

“The programs that have been put in place in the last few years deserve priority support,” Blunt said.

LaVoy explained the disconnect between the general public and the water and wastewater industry. Most people do not understand what goes into making clean, affordable drinking water in Rural America.

“The small towns, that’s what we are all about,” LaVoy said.

The water and wastewater workforce are a specific group of people dedicated to ingenuity and providing safe, clean drinking water to Rural America. Without these technicians, many jobs and activities in America would not be possible.

“We have to make sure our water is safe and functioning,” Lavoy said. “Our circuit riders maintain that water supply.”

Blunt talked about how the NRWA Apprenticeship Program will be a very important movement to incorporate veterans and other diverse employment opportunities into our industry.

“We need to do a better job creating these alternatives,” Blunt said. “We have a great story about what [water and wastewater technicians] do and why it matters.”

“Half of your workforce will be retiring in the next decade,” Blunt said.

The water and wastewater industry is aging rapidly, and the NRWA Apprenticeship Program was created to recruit new professionals to lead the industry. With new technologies and standards being put into place, the water and wastewater industry will require more training. This program has been tailored to new or emerging professionals in the industry who do not possess the wealth of knowledge current professionals near the age of retirement hold. The program will help initiate the next generation into the profession and help them to be successful.

“When disaster strikes it is [water and wastewater technicians] and our first responders who make sure we have a viable water source and keeps our lives functioning the way they are supposed to be,” LaVoy said.

The opening session also included remarks from NRWA President Kent Watson of Illinois; NRWA Chair of the Legislative Committee John O’Connell; Bill Simpson, Mike Keegan, Michael Preston and Keith Heard of the NRWA DC Staff; NRWA Deputy CEO Matt Holmes; and NRWA CEO Sam Wade.

North Marshall Water District of Kentucky Takes Home Best Tasting Water in the Nation

Washington, D.C. – North Marshall Water District, located in Benton, Kentucky, claimed the 2020 title of America’s Best Tasting Drinking Water at the 21st Anniversary of the Great American Water Taste Test, held on February 5, 2020 in Washington, D.C. as part of the Rural Water Rally.
The Silver Medal was a tie between Mapleturn Utilities of Indiana and Jenkensville Water Company of South Carolina. The Bronze Medal went to California Pines Community Services District located in California. The other finalist in the top five was Auburn Board of Public Works from Nebraska.
These five water systems competed against 37 total entries from across the country. State Rural Water Associations hold their own taste test finals and send the winners to compete at the Great American Water Taste Test.
These finalists are selected in a preliminary round, with the finals judged by a panel of experts. The honorary judging panel this year included Edna Primrose, Assistant Administrator, USDA Rural Development Office of Water & Environment Programs; Diane Nellor, Clerk of the Senate Appropriation Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies; and Morgan Ulmer, Clerk of the Senate Appropriation Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.
Judges rated each water sample based on its clarity, bouquet and taste. Each of the judges commended the quality of water that Rural Water provides and noted the difficulty in choosing the best tasting water in the nation.
Bobby Gifford of North Marshall Water District accepted the Gold Medal Award. North Marshall Water District began in 1961. With wells as the main source of water, it serves 5,600 connections in its community in Kentucky. Congratulations again to the Gold Medal Award winner North Marshall Water District on the Best Tasting Water in the Nation!

Planning for the Future with a Source Water Protection Program

Originally featured in Kentucky Rural Water Association’s magazine Waterproof.

By Matt Glass, Source Water Specialist

Drinking water sources are subject to a variety of contaminants and Source Water Protection (SWP) can be considered the front-line defense against the impacts of the pollutants. The fact that water utilities spend a significant amount of money each year on protection-related measures shows our industry knows the value of SWP to maintaining optimal water supply quality.

The benefits of Source Water Protection Program include reduced water treatment costs, increased public health protection, improved environmental conditions, and generally better relations with customers and stakeholders. By dedicating resources to SWP, utilities end up saving money that might otherwise be spent on water treatment or alternative supplies.

Source Water Protection provides utilities with a means to combat the uncertain impacts of unregulated microbiological and chemical contaminants. Pollution prevention will always be more appealing than treating contaminated water supplies and SWP efforts provide a path to future sustainability. Contaminant sources come in a wade range; many people in our industry re increasingly aware of the problems posed by Poly- and Perfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and the incredibly high cost associated with remediation. We all know how excess nutrients, sediments, and chemicals  can become part of runoff and negatively affect the quality of our drinking water supply, so for our utilities it is just logical to prevent the introduction of these potential contaminants into the source water before they can reach the treatment plant.

Water utilities have a good opportunity right now to partner with the agricultural community to help protect source water supplies. Under the new Farm Bill, ten percent of spending on Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) program is to be directed to source water protection, providing at least $4 billion over the next ten years. These programs assist farmers and forest landowners in protecting or enhancing the environment. The NRCS administers most of USDA’s conservation programs and working with the agency is vital f utilities wish to address nonpoint sources such as nutrients, sediment, and chemicals.

As the Source Water Specialist for the Kentucky Rural Water Association I can provide technical assistance to our member utilities who wish to establish or update their source water protection program. There is no better time than right now to start protection efforts that will ensure your source water quality in the future.