New York Rural Water Helps Utility Plan for Sustainability; Saves Community $10,000

MAYFIELD, N.Y. – The process goes by the unassuming name of Workshop in a Box. It is a method for analyzing the functions of water and wastewater utilities, then creating plans to improve their management and long-term sustainability. The Village of Mayfield was like many communities across the U.S. – suffering from equipment breakdowns without sufficient reserves to replace them – when assistance from the New York Rural Water Association helped them create a sustainability improvement plan.

Steve Grimm, a NYRWA Wastewater Technician, contacted the community several times as part of his work with the wastewater program.

“I got to know the clerk really well,” Grimm said. “She was developing a pilot program for asset management.”

Mayfield was not chosen for the pilot program, but the discussions created an opportunity for Grimm to introduce the Workshop in a Box program.

“Asset Management is a hot buzzword,” Grimm said. “An engineer will come in and put together a management plan with little input from the community. When the community leaders open the plan, and find out what it costs to implement, they put it on a shelf and it just gathers dust.”

Workshop in a Box was developed by a combined effort of the USDA and EPA. It is specifically-designed for small and rural utilities, relying on input from the community to design their plans.

“I always try to include at least two members of the sewer district,” Grimm explained. “They’re the most important because they’re the ones paying the bills.”

Grimm showed the clerk some of the plans he’d helped other communities develop and eventually presented the concept to the mayor. After officials agreed to the concept, Grimm helped assemble a committee to assess the performance of the wastewater utility.

One of the issues facing Mayfield was an aging facility that suffered from frequent equipment failure.

“In the past few years, the plant has experienced increased operation and maintenance costs and equipment breakdowns,” Mayfield Mayor Jamie Ward said in a letter.

The plant began operation in 2001. While Mayfield’s rates provided for basic operations, the funds were insufficient to keep a preventative maintenance schedule, plan for long-term stability, or fund capital improvements.

“It’s nothing new,” Grimm said. “Almost every municipality is facing the same issues.”

He explained that communities had to balance the need to fund operations, maintenance and future replacement costs with the pressure to keep utility rates low. Utilities in this situation may maintain service on thin budgets, but face disaster when a major piece of equipment fails and there is no reserve fund to purchase a replacement.

Operational improvements are only one of the ten key management areas addressed in the Workshop in a Box. Other areas include Water Resource Adequacy, Product Quality, Customer Satisfaction, Community Sustainability & Economic Development, Employee & Leadership Development, Financial Viability, Operational Optimization, Infrastructure Stability, Operational Resiliency and Stakeholder Understanding & Support.

Mayfield’s plan was to start by improving three areas before trying to make other improvements.

“Three is not overwhelming,” Grimm said. “If you try to do too many, it gets overwhelming and nothing gets done.”

Each part of the improvement plan also has a timeline.

“It’s important there is some kind of timeline for progress,” Grimm said. “If there’s no timeline, people will tend to put it off.”

Some of the early plans for Mayfield include creating a sustainable financial structure, doing inventory for spare parts, instituting a proper maintenance schedule and having NYRWA conduct an energy audit. Even though the plans are in the early stages, the program is already benefiting the community.

“We estimate at least $10,000 has been saved by having NYRWA assist and guide the Village,” Ward said.

Arcadia Water Utility of Wisconsin Named Nations Best-Tasting Water

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Three smiling representatives from the Arcadia Water Utility in Arcadia, Wisc. walked onto the stage to accept the Gold Medal Award for the best tasting water at the Great American Water Taste Test, held on Feb. 7 in Washington, D.C. as part of the Rural Water Rally.

City of Salisbury Paleo Water Plant in Maryland won the Silver Medal and the Southeast Water Users District in North Dakota won Bronze. The Poweshiek Water Association in Iowa and the St. Martin Parish Waterworks, District #3 in Louisiana were also finalists.

The five finalists were selected from a field of water samples submitted from across the nation. Each state rural water association holds their own taste test and winners are eligible to compete in the national competition. Finalists are selected in a preliminary round, with the finals judged by a panel of expert guest judges.

This year’s judges were Kevin Baily, Professional Staff, Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; Claudette Fernandez, Assistant Administrator Water and Environment Programs, Rural Utilities Service; and Sarah Tyree, VP Government Affairs, CoBank.

Judges rated each water sample based on its clarity, bouquet and taste.


Great American Water Taste Test to Stream Live at 12:30 PM Eastern

The National Rural Water Association will stream the Great American Water Taste Test live on this page at 12:30 p.m. EST. The stream will also be carried on NRWA’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels.

NRWA Opens 2018 Rural Water Rally with Speeches from Sen. John Hoeven and Anne Hazlett

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Rural Water Association opened the 2018 Rural Water Rally with approximately 350 rural water professionals in attendance on Feb. 2 in Washington, D.C.

VIP speakers Senator John Hoeven from North Dakota and Anne Hazlett, Special Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development, spoke to the largest attendance at the Rally since 2014.

“Communities of all sizes rely on infrastructure to support their economies and their way of life,” Senator Hoeven said. “You, better than anybody understand the unique challenges that rural communities face when building infrastructure.”

He added that these challenges are often compounded by complicated Federal mandates and technical requirements that increase cost. Such complications underscore the importance of Rural Water professionals in supplying clean water to their community.

“Our citizens deserve safe and reliable access to infrastructure, no matter what their zip code is,” Hoeven said.

Hoeven’s work on the Senate Appropriations Committee, including Chair of the Subcommittee on Agriculture, has made him very familiar with the success of Rural Water Programs.

“USDA Rural Water programs are specifically-designed for Rural America,” Hoeven said. “They are cost effective, they are reliable and they are a good investment for our government.”

The Senator explained that Rural Utility Service loans have an extremely low delinquency rate and a cost rate of only 0.17%, meaning that it only costs 17 cents to support a $100 investment in rural infrastructure.

Senator Hoeven also discussed potential developments in the future of Rural Water infrastructure, including funding programs like the USDA Loan and Grant Program and EPA’s Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program. He also discussed the potential of new programs like the Move America Act, which would allow states to use tax-free bond and tax credits to create more flexibility and encourage private investment in infrastructure.

Anne Hazlett opened her speech with appreciation for the work of Rural Water and its partnership with Rural Development. She also described a vision for Rural Development that uses strong infrastructure to promote economic development and quality of life in rural America.

“Secretary Perdue has set a clear goal for us in the coming year and that is to use our people, our programs and our resources to facilitate rural prosperity and economic development,” she said, referring to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

The priorities for meeting those goals are infrastructure, partnerships and innovation.

“We strongly believe that robust, modern infrastructure is truly a necessity, not an amenity for communities to thrive,” Hazlett said. “If we address these needs, many of the other challenge we face in our communities become much more manageable.”

Hazlett discussed a variety of partnerships, including the partnerships required to assist utilities after disasters like the recent spate of hurricanes. She also discussed future partnerships, where each Rural Development State Director has been charged to make building relationships between RD, state and local government, economic developers, and nonprofits are a regular part of business. Building these relationships will help develop and deploy innovative solutions in rural communities.

“We believe the challenges and opportunities facing rural communities are complex and constantly evolving,” Hazlett said. “Rural Development needs a forward-focused agency that is able to assist local leaders with new and fresh solutions to those challenges.”

She concluded her speech with discussion of the various innovations developing in Rural Water, including the ability to file Rural Development engineering paperwork electronically and the establishment of NRWA’s Apprenticeship Program.

“This successful model is exactly the kind of thing that we want to lift up through the innovation center’s work and replicate across other states,” Hazlett said.

The opening session also included remarks from NRWA President Steve Fletcher of Illinois; NRWA’s new Sr. Vice President and Chair of the Legislative Committee Kent Watson; and Keith Heard from the NRWA DC Staff.

Rural Water Assists Southern Utilities Struggling with Extreme Cold

DUNCAN, Okla. –  When extremely cold temperatures moved through the Southern U.S in January, several water utilities struggled with hard freezes, broken pipes and low pressure. Rural Water professionals from Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi worked to find leaks, make repairs and restore service to the impacted communities. News reports indicated that weather-related boil orders doubled after the wave of cold.

The Alabama Rural Water Association provided leak detection services to Roanoke, Ala. to help locate and repair a water main leak that was bubbling to the surface and creating thick patches of ice on the highway.

ARWA also sent circuit riders to the Town of Hayneville after leaks dropped system pressure so low that the local school was closed and a boil order was issued. The utility had been trying to repair smaller leaks to maintain pressure, but those repairs weren’t having enough positive effect. Circuit Rider David Brooks started working to isolate parts of the distribution system and search for leaks.

“The situation was complicated by the lack of a map showing the system layout or valve locations,” Brooks said.

Brooks and workers from the utility located several valves that were previously unknown. Using these valves, they narrowed the search area to the center of town. The next day, Circuit Riders Derek Peirce and Andrew Crawford arrived to assist.

“We found a large amount of water flowing through an underground storm water collection system next to a six-inch water main,” Brooks said. “The leak was flowing directly into the culvert. It would have been impossible to detect without the specialized ARWA leak detection equipment.”

The leak was an eight-foot-long split in the main, spilling 350 gallons per minute into the culvert. Once the line was repaired, the water tanks began to fill and water pressure returned to normal.

Cold temperatures also impacted utilities in Louisiana. Timmy Lemoine, a Circuit Rider with the Louisiana Rural Water Association assisted the City of Tallulah, La. and the Village of Waterproof, La.

“I arrived in Tallulah on a Sunday,” Lemoine said. “They couldn’t keep up with the demand and were under the impression that they had a huge leak in the distribution system.”

The utility had bypassed its 500,000-gallon ground storage tank and was pumping directly into the water tower to try to maintain pressure for more than 3,000 customers and three prisons the utility served.

Lemoine and Circuit Rider Todd Abshire first inspected the system’s four wells to see how much water the wells were producing. Three of the wells had meters and Lemonie used a portable flow meter that can detect water flow in any exposed pipe. That’s where the Circuit Riders found the first problem.

“The well meters were reading inaccurately,” he explained. “One well was supposed to be producing around 500 gallons per minute, but it was only producing 190 gallons per minute.”

It was the first step in meeting the demand, but Lemoine and Abshire would have to return the next day when there was enough light to complete more repairs. The next day, they inspected the water plant and found a several leaks.

“They had two valves that had frozen and burst,” Lemoine said. “There was also a cracked horizontal filter that had around a 200 gallons per minute leak that was recirculating back into the plant.”

After replacing the valves and the filter, the Circuit Riders found an issue with the pump pushing water from the treatment plant into the water tower.

“The pump was capable of running 1,200 gallons per minute, but it would run for a short time until the clear well would pump down and then cut off,” Lemoine said. “They would get a little water in the tower and when the pump cut off it was gone.”

They adjusted the valves to accommodate the flow and keep the pumping running.

“They started gaining pressure almost immediately,” Lemoine said.

The community still had several leaks from customers with frozen pipes under their homes. The plan was to cut off water to the largest users after 10 p.m. and restore service at 6 a.m. It would allow the tanks to fill overnight and provide service until customers could get their leaks repaired. LRWA’s assistance didn’t just restore water service, it improved the basic functions of the utility.

“The Mayor texted me a few days later and said the system was running as good as it ever had,” Lemoine said.

Lemonie next assisted the Village of Waterproof, La., which started losing water after the hard freeze and led to several breaks under homes in the community.

“It’s an older town with lots of homes on blocks instead of a concrete slab,” Lemoine explained. “When they opened up the valves, they would immediately lose all the water in the tower.”

The first step was to turn off all the valves to let the tower fill. Once the tower was full and providing pressure to the distribution system, Lemoine sectioned the town.

“We went through town opening and closing valves,” he explained. “When we found high demand at a house, we asked if they were running a tap. It they were we asked them to please turn it off. If not, they had a leak and we turned off the service until they got the leak repaired.”

It’s the same procedure that LRWA uses after hurricanes.

Leaks and broken pipes led to disruptions in Mississippi. Charles Odom, a Circuit Rider with the Mississippi Rural Water Association assisted the Poplar Springs Water District and the Hiwannee Water District.

“To say that we were in dire straits is an understatement,” Perry Lee, President of the Poplar Springs Water District said in a letter. “The cold weather we were experiencing at that date was the coldest I can ever remember.”

Odom received a call from the Poplar Springs President after several customers were without water for two days. Utility personnel suspected the outage was caused by a large leak caused by a recent hard freeze.

“I started checking pressure and cutting off valves,” Odom explained. “The information I was seeing was more likely a restriction than a leak.”

Odom would connect a pressure gauge to the distribution system and open or close valves to observe changes in pressure.

“I was connected to a house upstream and when we opened the valves the pressure stayed the same,” Odom said. “If it was a leak the pressure would have dropped.”

His search eventually located an unknown valve near a creek.

“We found a valve no one knew about,” Odom said. “The stem had dropped into the valve, causing the obstruction.”

Replacing the valve restored water service. All the repairs were completed in less than a day.

“I am extremely aware that this weather front caused many problems for many systems,” Lee said. “I could not have asked for a more prompt response considering the circumstances.”

The Hiwannee Water District had a line break that left roughly 272 people without water for four days. The situation was complicated because the utility’s two longest-serving System Operations Specialists were off work because of health – one following a stroke and the other heart bypass surgery. The utility was already operating on lower than normal pressures because one of its tanks was out of service for painting. Fortunately, Odom was familiar with Hiwannee.

“I’m real familiar with the system because I’ve hunted leaks there before,” he explained.

Several customers had line breaks on their side of the meter. Odom spent two days turning off valves and searching for leaks. The search finally located a broken two-inch line down a dead-end road.

“It was not buried deep,” Odom said.

Once the line was repaired, the system could maintain the pressure needed to provide water to all their customers.

Rural Water Gives Hope to Puerto Rican Utilities Without Water for Months

NARANJITO, Puerto Rico – The Las Cruces water system in Naranjito, Puerto Rico lost power when Hurricane Maria made landfall on Sept. 20, 2017. The system was without power for over 100 days before officials from the National Rural Water Association arrived to assess the system.

“They were the first to visit us, they were our first hope,” said Jose Marquez, a Las Cruces official. “We’ve been waiting for months.”

The Las Cruces system provides water for 300 homes and one church. The system was initially damaged earlier in Sept. by Hurricane Irma. Repairs were made to the system’s submersible pump, but Maria destroyed the power grid before the repairs could be tested.

“We need power,” Marquez said. “Finding a generator locally is difficult because of the demand.”

Without power, the residents have been forced to carry in water from other locations.

“We have a lot of old people here and children,” Marquez said. “They can’t always travel to get water.”

In some communities, residents are turning to natural water sources, sometimes with serious effects.

“A lot of people are going to springs to get water, some are even bathing in the springs,” explained Kirby Mayfield, Executive Director of the Mississippi Rural Water Association and one of the Rural Water experts providing assistance to Puerto Rico. “We came to one community where everyone had diarrhea and stomach pains because no one had advised them to boil the water.”

“We told them about appropriate boil water procedures.”

Assistance to Las Cruces, like many of the utilities on the island, is complicated by the mountainous terrain.

“Most of those water systems are in the mountainous region of Puerto Rico,” Mayfield said. “The only way to get water is to drill a well at the bottom of the mountain and pump the water to tanks at the top of the mountain.”

Even if the system has a generator, the terrain can make it difficult to service.

“A lot of the roads in the mountains are barely wide enough for a truck,” Mayfield said. “It’s not a situation where they can run a fuel truck to keep the generator supplied.”

Rural Water officials assessed the Las Cruces system and sized an appropriate generator to operate the system. They passed the information to the EPA. The work will not be complete, even with a generator from the EPA.

“These tanks have been empty since September,” Mayfield said. “The lines have been empty since September. When they have pressure again, the tanks need to be inspected and the entire distribution system will need to be disinfected. We need to make sure they can provide good, safe, potable water.”

NRWA sent a water system Disaster Recovery Team Puerto Rico in early January through a grant from USDA Rural Development. The initial visit was to assess the needs of small systems located throughout the island and establish logistical support for future assistance. Emergency power generation for these water systems is currently the responsibility of USEPA through a FEMA mission assignment. NRWA expects to provide ongoing support with the help of USDA. For more information on the status of Puerto Rico’s water systems, visit

Public Assistance- Rebuilding Communities After Disasters Part 1: 2 PM CST February 14

Public Assistance- Rebuilding Communities After Disasters Part 1: 2 PM CST February 14  Register Now

About the Series: The Public Assistance program is a federal disaster grant assistance program for state, tribal, territorial, and local governments, and certain types of Private Non-Profit organizations that provides assistance for debris removal, life-saving emergency protective measures, and the repair, replacement or restoration of disaster damaged publicly-owned facilities, and facilities of certain PNP organizations. Additionally the PA program also encourages protection of these damaged facilities from future events by providing assistance for hazard mitigation measures during the recovery process. This training series will provide an overview of the PA Program and eligibility for this type of financial assistance.

NRWA Opens Call for Abstracts for 2018 WaterPro Conference in Fort Worth, Texas

DUNCAN, Okla. – The National Rural Water Association has opened a call for abstracts for the 2018 WaterPro Conference, to be held Sept. 17-19 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Experts interested in presenting on topics related to water and wastewater operation, utility management, utility board management, financial management or source water protection can submit abstracts through the on-line form here.

All abstracts will be reviewed by Conference staff. Speakers may be contacted to ask for additional information on the presentations submitted. Speakers will be contacted about speaking opportunities if their presentation is selected.

Further details about the conference can be found at

Rural Water Assists City When Water Tanks Run Dry

WHITE BIRD, Idaho – When their water tanks suddenly went dry, the City of White Bird, Idaho called the Idaho Rural Water Association for assistance.

“They thought there must be a big leak somewhere,” said Kevin McLeod, an IRWA Circuit Rider. “They said the water just disappeared.”

McLeod gathered some tools and equipment, then drove to White Bird.

“I contacted Kevin that morning and explained to him our situation,” City Clerk Sandra Murphy explained in a letter. “He was here on the ground within hours, bringing with him specialized equipment and years of experience.”

McLeod spoke with the Mayor, Clerk and Water System Operations Specialists, and looked over the utility’s maps and documents. He examined the wells, which were working but produced very little water.

“We decided to close everything off, so the tanks would fill enough to conduct leak detection,” McLeod said.

They next day, McLeod and White Bird examined all the system’s valves and started searching for the leak. McLeod activated IdWARN, a mutual support network that allows rural water systems to aid each other. Volunteers from neighboring systems came to assist the effort and potable water trucks began hauling in water to help refill the White Bird tanks.

“I was impressed with the locals and their willingness to assist,” McLeod said. “Even a retired operations specialist who just happened to be in town that joined the effort for a few days.”

After a day of leak detection, they could not locate the leak and the tanks had run dry again. McLeod located an air compressor and started pressure testing the system to search for the leak. The next day, they finally located the leak in a fire hydrant. The leak was estimated to be at least 70 gallons per minute.

“The valves for that hydrant must have been closed, because I was connected to it before,” McLeod said.

Once the leak was repaired, they chlorinated and flushed the system. Tests revealed there was no contamination, and the city’s boil order could be lifted.

“I cannot express enough gratitude for Kevin’s over-the-top, quick response and his hard work in finding us a solution,” Murphy said. “I really believe that having IRWA and the IdWARN system was crucial to our success in restoring drinking water to our beloved town.”

NRWA Announces First Webinars of 2016

NRWA has announced the first webinars scheduled for 2016.

January 7, 2016 at 2 p.m. central: Forming Responsible Management Entities for Septic System Owners. Register Now

This webinar will present the benefits of Responsible management Entities (RMEs) homeowners using septic systems. The presentation will discuss the costs and benefits of RMEs and the options available. As many as 26 million homeowners living in subdivisions, mobile home parks or small communities use septic systems without a centralized sewer treatment plant. RME’s range from home owner associations that use regular pumping schedules to a systems using low pressure lines to move grey water to a centralized drain-field.


February 18, 2016 at 2 pm central : Introduction to Sustainable Utility Management for Small and Rural Water and Wastewater Systems. Register Now

This webinar will provide an introduction to Sustainable Utility Management and provide information on the 10 key management areas. The presentation will also include information to help address small water and wastewater system management concerns and improve system operations.


February 25, 2016 at 6 pm central (10 am Hawaii & 9:00 am Guam): SDWA Compliance Issues for the US Territories. Register Now

This webinar will explore the unique challenges of Safe Drinking Water Act compliance for territorial utilities. Systems in the Territories often must provide service to dispersed rural communities with limited employment opportunities and a low tax base. Rural water has a long-standing relationship with these systems, providing technical, managerial, financial and emergency response assistance.