Rural Water Restoring Water after Hurricane Matthew

iupufrtioyDUNCAN, Okla. – State Rural Water Associations in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina are assisting water and wastewater systems damaged by high winds and floods created by Hurricane Matthew.

Matthew passed along Florida’s Atlantic coast starting on Oct. 7 and moved north before turning further out to sea. High winds and flooding resulted in a reported 33 deaths and left over 2 million people without power. Early estimates place economic losses from the storm at $4-6 billion.

Rural Water Associations began contacting systems after the storm to offer assistance and perform damage assessments. The most common problem reported is power loss. Flood waters are also complicating relief efforts. Systems that had prepositioned, off-site generators have reported difficulty in reaching those sites to start the generators. Others utilities have operating generators but are struggling to keep the generators fueled.

hurricane_matthew_composite_radar_08-10-2016_1458utcAs flood waters recede, associations are expecting to gain access to more utilities and receive more requests for assistance. Based on past storms and early damage assessments, the rural water staff are planning to receive requests for assistance to repair damaged pipes and distribution systems, replace shorted-out electronics and disinfect contaminated wells.

Rural Water has become a leader in providing emergency assistance to small water systems. Rural Water Associations offer a range of emergency response services that include emergency training, loaning generators and equipment, on-site technical assistance and incident reporting. Utilities can also apply for short-term, low-interest loans from the National Rural Water Association’s Rural Water Loan Fund.

Rural Water Associations have also been coordinating their efforts with other state and national agencies to provide prompt assistance to all affected communities. Georgia Rural Water Association Executive Director Jimmy Matthews praised the cooperative efforts of all the agencies affiliated with the Georgia Emergency Management & Homeland Security Agency in being prepared for the hurricane.

“GEMHSA’s Atlanta Command Center has been coordinating the rapid response and recovery to the power outages and flooding,” he said.

Rural Water Associations Brace for Hurricane Matthew

matthewDUNCAN, Okla. – Rural Water Associations in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina are preparing for the landfall of Hurricane Matthew. The National Hurricane Center is predicting that the center of the storm will pass close to the Atlantic coast, possibly making landfall in Florida, as a Category 4 Hurricane. Matthew is expected to bring winds over 75 miles per hour and a storm surge of at least five feet.

Various areas of the three states are under voluntary or mandatory evacuations.

The Florida Rural Water Association, Georgia Rural Water Association and South Carolina Rural Water Association have all begun making preparations to respond to high winds and floods caused by the storm. Associations coordinate with their state emergency management agencies and with their Water/Wastewater Agency Response Networks, or WARNs.

Rural Water staff began contacting utilities in the storm’s projected path, alerting them to the potential danger, advising on preparations and informing them of the emergency response services available after the storm. Associations are positioning equipment and personnel in locations that will allow them to remain safe and quickly respond after the storm passes.

Successful 2016 WaterPro Features Games Show, New Sessions and Agency Partnerships

img_0016DUNCAN, Okla. – The National Rural Water Association’s WaterPro Conference in Orlando, Fla. has been rated as one of the association’s most successful conferences.

This year’s conference drew over 2,000 water professionals from across the nation, and drew high praise on post conference surveys. When asked to rate how likely they were to recommend the conference to a friend of colleague, 42.86% responded with 10, the maximum score, 68% responded with 8 or higher.

“I felt like it was the best venue and had the best content for attendees since I have been attending!” One attendee wrote. img_9994crop

The 2016 conference debuted the new Are You Smarter Than a Circuit Rider? gameshow, where conference attendees partnered with randomly-drawn Rural Water staff to answer questions about drinking water, wastewater, regulations, utility management and the water industry. HD Supply Waterworks sponsored over $14,000 in prizes for the gameshow. The winning Circuit Rider earned $7,000 for their State Association and the winning attendee won a $7,000 credit with HD supply Waterworks for their utility.

The contest drew an energetic crowd that filled the seating area and spilled into standing room around the edges. Are You Smarter Than a Circuit Rider? received a 100% score in WaterPro app, with all respondents indicating that watching the show was time well spent and that they would like to see the event at future conferences.

“It was a great idea!” A viewer responded. “I loved that it was right after lunch, it kept the energy up through the conference.”

img_0168This year, WaterPro also featured new physical security courses from trained professionals that have audited small water systems. Presentations included real-world demonstrations of how an attacker could easily bypass locks to gain access to valuable utility equipment, important water facility infrastructure and dangerous chlorine chemicals. The session was so popular that a repeat presentation was added. All attendees rated the session as a five, the maximum score, in the WaterPro App.

“Educational, fascinating and entertaining class,” one attendee wrote.

“Please have him back next year,” wrote another.

The presenters also hosted a Lockpick Village in the Exhibit Hall – a hands-on demonstration and networking area that allowed attendees to learn about the weaknesses of common locks and discuss security issues.

This year’s conference again showcased Rural Water’s strong partnerships with funding and regulatory agencies.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing $283 million in 168 projects to improve water and wastewater infrastructure across the country.

“Strong infrastructure is critical to keeping America’s communities of all sizes thriving, and USDA is proud to partner with the National Rural Water Association to help improve the livelihood of our smallest towns by providing access to reliable water and wastewater systems,” said Vilsack. “Projects like these are critical to the economy, health and future of rural America, and today 19 million residents now have improved water and wastewater services in their communities thanks to investments USDA has made since 2009.”

img_9973USDA Rural Utilities Service Administrator Brandon McBride made the announcement on Vilsack’s behalf at the WaterPro conference. Jacqueline Ponti-Lazaruk, Assistant Administrator of the RUS Water and Environment Program spoke about service improvements USDA is making to the loan application process. She also announced that water and wastewater loan interest rates are at a historic low and are expected to fall even further on October 1.

“It’s a great time to apply for an infrastructure loan to improve your community,” Ponti-Lazaruk said. “Long-term, low-interest loans are available for drinking water systems, sanitary sewage disposal, sanitary solid waste disposal and storm water drainage in rural areas.”

As with previous years, the RUS presentations received high reviews with all attendees awarding the session the maximum score of five or a four.

“Thank you for the excellent information and continued motivation,” one attendee wrote about the session.

Peter Grevatt, Director of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, and Andrew Sawyers, Director of the EPA Office of Wastewater Management, gave presentations and answered questions about EPA programs and the latest regulations. Both engaged the audience in a discussion about their experiences at their utilities, after the increased level of public interest due to recent events highlighted in mass media.

The EPA session also received high marks, with 80% of attendees rating the presentation as a five or a four.

“Informative and timely presentations,” said a review. “Best of the conference.”

After a successful 2016 conference, NRWA is making preparations for the 2017 WaterPro Conference, to be held Sept. 18-20 at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nev.

Fletcher Elected NRWA President; Directors Voted to Executive Board

img_0152ORLANDO, Fla. – Steve Fletcher of Illinois was elected as the President of the National Rural Water Association during meetings held at the WaterPro Conference in Orlando, Fla. Fletcher was inaugurated during a luncheon on Sept. 14.

Fletcher will lead an executive board that includes Senior Vice President Steve Wear of Arkansas, Vice-President David Baird of Delaware, Secretary Kent Watson of Texas, Treasurer John O’Connell, III of New York, Immediate Past President Charles Hilton of South Carolina, and board members Phillip Combs of Tennessee, Wilmer Melton, III of North Carolina and Glen Womack of Louisiana.
“My original board of directors encouraged me to participate in water organizations to promote our system,” Fletcher said. “I believe that this is the pinnacle of that effort for myself and the Washington County Water Company.”

Fletcher has been the Manager and Operator for the Washington County Water Company since November of 1981. The WCWC is a not for profit rural water system that serves 5,800 customers in seven counties across southern Illinois.

Fletcher has been a member of the Illinois Rural Water Association since 1986 and was elected as the state director to the NRWA board in 1999. He was elected to the NRWA executive board in 2008.

In addition to his work in rural water, Fletcher has also been a police officer for Nashville, Ill. since 1987 and serves as the Chief Deputy Coroner for the County of Washington. His family is active with St. Paul’s United Church of Christ.

He enjoys spending time with his family, especially his grandkids, as well as playing golf, fishing and deer hunting. Fletcher has been married to his wife Jane for 41 years. His son, Brian Fletcher lives in Nashville, Ill. and has two daughters, Lainey and Briley. His daughter Tracy Thessing lives with her husband Ben in Mascoutah, Ill. with their daughter Finley and son Fletcher.
Steve Fletcher will serve as president of NRWA, the nation’s largest water utility association with over 30,000 members. He will be one of the voices representing Rural Water at industry events, with government agencies and in the halls of Congress.

“I am truly humbled and honored to be NRWA President,” he said. “There is nothing above being president of the greatest water organization in the country, maybe even the world. I will work hard to continue the success that my predecessors have achieved.”

Hilton Named NRWA’s Man of the Year

Oimg_0063RLANDO, Fla. – Charles Hilton was named the National Rural Water Association’s Man of the Year during the annual Tribute to Excellence awards ceremony, held on Sept. 13 at the WaterPro Conference in Orlando, Fla.

“The Man of the Year award is presented to an individual or an organization that have gone “above and beyond” the normal scope of activities and support for Rural Water across America based on their loyalty, dedication and outstanding contributions to the Rural Water cause,” said Paul Fulgham, chair of the NRWA Awards Committee.

Hilton has served as president of the NRWA board since 2014. He began his career in Rural Water in 1974 and has been the general manager of the Breezy Hill Water & Sewer Co. in South Carolina for 27 years. Hilton has served on the board of the South Carolina Rural Water Association in numerous positions, including as president.

Schwartz Wins Cronquist Lifetime Achievement Award

img_0061ORLANDO, Fla. – Dennis Schwartz was awarded the Clark Cronquist Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Tribute to Excellence awards ceremony, held Sept. 13 during the WaterPro Conference in Orlando, Fla.

“There are people in our midst who have worked tirelessly, almost their entire lives, to benefit rural and small systems,” said Paul Fulgham, chair of the National Rural Water Association’s Awards Committee. “We are thankful to each and everyone of you for your work and support of Rural Water.”

Schwartz is retiring from Rural Water after a long and distinguished career.

Schwartz was the General Manager of Shawnee County Rural Water District #8, for 37 years.  He served on the Kansas Rural Water Association Board of Directors for 37 years, holding several offices including serving as president several times.  Dennis has served on the Board of Directors of NRWA for 39 years, serving as president from 2000-2002. He has served on the Water Industry Coordinating Council, National Drinking Water Advisory Council and the Kansas River Basin Advisory Committee, to name just a few.  He is an accomplished photographer and resides in Topeka with his lovely wife, Sharon.

The Clark Cronquist Lifetime Achievement Award was named after one of NRWA’s original board members, who served over 30 years on the NRWA board.

City of Vassar and Centerville City win Environmental, Energy Efficiency Awards

img_0071ORLANDO, Fla. – Two cities earned recognition during the annual Tribute to Excellence awards ceremony, held on Sept. 12 during the WaterPro Conference in Orlando, Fla. The City of Vassar, Mich. Won the Environmental Achievement Award and Centerville City, Utah won the Energy Efficiency Award.

“Utilities members have always been the true environmentalists and the 1st line of defense to protect our environment,” said Paul Fulgham, chair of National Rural Water Association’s award committee. “In addition to implementing some unique educational activities, Vassar established a line item in their budget so that they have money each year to use toward environmental protection efforts.

“Vassar established a Wellhead Protection Committee to assist the city with WHPP Information in their Consumer Confidence Report, providing educational giveaways for school children, groundwater models for schools, water and wasterwater plant tours and drinking water placemat design contests.”

img_0077The purpose of the Energy Efficiency Award is to recognize a water or wastewater system, on a national level, who has demonstrated exemplary initiatives, projects, or education on the critical role of the utility in Energy Efficiency to the public.

“Centerville City is changing the way things are done! They recognized the potential and need for energy conservation and saving on their system and went to work to make the change necessary,” Fulgham said. “By implementing 15 energy efficiency and water saving strategies, they have realized a savings of over $262,000 per year in energy, water and power costs.”

Both cities are members of their state rural water association.

Texas Wins State Association of the Year at Awards Ceremony

img_0075ORLANDO, Fla. – The Texas Rural Water Association received the State Association of the Year award at the annual Tribute to Excellence awards ceremony, held on Sept. 13 at the WaterPro Conference in Orlando, Fla.

“The most prestigious and most honored award is the State Association of the Year,” said Paul Fulgham, chair of the NRWA Awards Committee. “It is presented to the state association that projects a team effort in all areas of professional association operations and membership service.  The State Association of the Year has excelled in all categories of the award and this is only accomplished by teamwork, strong leadership and member support.”

“With an active membership of 750 utilities providing water and wastewater to over 2.5 million customers throughout the state, this state is able to offer many resources and programs to benefit their members,” Fulgham said. “Last year, this association trained over 5,100 individuals in all aspects of water and wastewater management through classroom and online courses, regional workshops and conferences.”

The South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems won the award for Outstanding Achievement in Communications, Publications and Public Relations.

“In addition to their quarterly magazine, South Dakota also publishes a consumer magazine and 3 digital newsletters that create a unified voice for rural water in their state,” Fulgham said. “Their website features an interactive map of rural water systems, online class and event registration, digital magazines, services and fees, live Facebook and Twitter feeds, as well as history, staff contacts, and promote NRWA Affinity Programs.”

The Ohio Rural Water Association was awarded for Outstanding Achievement in Legislative Initiatives.

“Ohio is dedicated to make sure members understand the importance of legislative work,” Fulgham said. “Their legislative work is always reviewed, discussed, and analyzed by their members while educating and informing their members about legislative issues that are important to rural water.”

The Missouri Rural Water Association won the award for Outstanding Achievement in Technical Assistance for their work in responding to severe floods.

“December 30, 2015 saw three days of non-stop rainfall that completely flooded a water plant, threatening the water supply for 20,000 residents,” Fulgham explained. “While waiting for the waters to recede at the plant, levels in storage tanks dropped rapidly as customers placed high demand upon water reserves.
“Missouri’s Circuit Riders worked through the holidays, spending hours of time away from their families to ensure the town had safe, quality drinking water quickly and efficiently.”

The Rural Water Association of Utah was awarded the Outstanding Achievement in Training award.

“Working with a variety of state and federal agencies, allowed Utah to plan a deliberate system from simply providing CEU credits, to carrying out a comprehensive educational program that moves our entire industry toward common goals and objectives,” Fulgham said. “Utah trains thousands every year with their incredible training programs.”

The Wisconsin Rural Water Association won the Outstanding Achievement in Member Services award.

“Taking care of members is their number one priority, and the strength of the association is directly related to the strength of their members,” Fulgham said.

Winners of all awards are selected from state associations that submitted an application. Each submission was rated individually by each committee member with the names and locations redacted to make scoring as anonymous as possible.

The awards committee also includes Roger Freund from Wisconsin, Ed Savage from Vermont and Dennis Nadeau from New Hampshire.

NRWA Opens 2016 WaterPro Conference in Orlando

img_9950ORLANDO, Fla. – The National Rural Water Association opened the 2016 WaterPro Conference with a morning session on Sept. 12 in Orlando, Fla. The opening included speeches from NRWA President Charles Hilton, Rural Utilities Service Administrator Brandon McBride and NRWA CEO Sam Wade.

The speeches examined the past, present and future of Rural Water, highlighting accomplishments and raising concerns for the future.

President Hilton, who describes himself as a nerd and an organic chemist, raised concerns about both rural America’s declining population and its diminished influence in national politics. He does see Rural Water as a way to sustain rural communities.

“We’ve discovered that if we put the proper utilities in, and we do the things the cities do, we can keep our children at home,” he said. “We can bring back jobs to Rural America.”

When communities have the utilities and infrastructure in place to support growing business, they can leverage other advantages like lower costs and a rural population to create jobs.

“We’re finding out that industries like to hire rural folks,” Hilton explained. “Why? Because of their work ethic.”

Hilton sees Rural Water as a mechanism to support other small communities. He explained that his motivations have always been deep and more personal.

“My dream, always, was when my daughter graduated college that she would come home and stay there,” Hilton said. “I’m proud to say she lives a quarter of a mile from me, and is on the same water system that I’ve managed for the last 38 years. But without water that is available in those areas, and without the jobs that are available because of the water lines and sewer lines, she would not have stayed home. She would have to go somewhere else.”

While Hilton sees the power of water infrastructure to strengthen small and rural communities, he recognizes significant challenges for small utilities.

Using a personal example from his own utility, Hilton explained how maintenance, regulatory costs and public health compete for limited finances and limited attention. Hilton’s South Carolina utility had planned to extend service to a very rural, very low income community. The concern was that the corrosive water from their residential wells and the pipes in their old home would lead to lead and copper contamination. It was a good project for public health but it would be financially difficult.

“If I could borrow the money for a thousand years I could never afford to pay it back,” Hilton said for the project. “It was just something, we would have to do.”

Those plans were complicated by an unexpected microbial monitoring violation.

“Last year I had my first MCL violation in a number of years,” Hilton explained. “It cost me a quarter of a million dollars to fix it. Fortunately, our utility is strong financially, we pulled it out of reserves and we fixed the problem.”

Unfortunately, correcting the MCL violation pulled resources that were planned for new service to the small, needy community.

“I had to take money out of that project and put it into [the MCL] project,” Hilton said. “Did I do the right thing? Well I did what I had to do.”

Hilton emphasized the primary responsibility of the water industry was to protect public health. He wondered though, how difficult it would be for utilities to expand service, when many of them struggled to maintain the infrastructure they had; or how they could bear an increasing regulatory burden when treatment was already so costly.

“It is a difficult time that we live in,” Hilton said.

“I truly believe because of the people in this room, that we will meet these challenges.”

img_9972Administrator McBride opened his speech by highlighting the success of USDA’s partnership with Rural Water. Rural Water borrower delinquencies are at historic lows, including 10% that are more financially stable than three years ago. Numerous systems have also improved their energy efficiency through a Rural Water energy audit program.

All of these programs provide services to rural communities that are often taken for granted.

“A lot of times, the things that we do at RUS, are things that people take for granted: they take for granted that when you flip the switch the lights come on, that when you open the tap they’re going to have safe drinking water and increasingly they expect, they’ll be able to get online and check their Facebook,” McBride said. “All of those things, if you grew up in a rural community, you know not to take for granted.

“The work you all do each and every day is important and I appreciated your efforts.”

McBride also lauded Rural Water’s efforts in emergency response, including recent floods.

“The work that you all do in responding to emergencies can’t be overstated. It’s so important,” he said.

Rural Water’s work in the field is complimented by efforts in advocating for rural and small utilities. These are important activities for Rural Water moving into the future.

“What happens in rural, is important to what happens to our national economy,” McBride said. “You all have a responsibility not only to work with your water systems and serve your local communities but to make sure there is a rural voice heard in Washington D.C.”

img_9978Chief Executive Wade opened his speech from a quote from Edmund Burke: “People will not look forward to prosperity, who never look backward to their ancestors.”

He then spoke about Rural Water’s ancestors, beginning from eight states in the late 70s to a nation-wide organization that represents over 30,000 member utilities in all 50 states. To explain that success, he used a quote from Marvin Scherler, the first NRWA president, that was printed in a 1981 publication.
“We are occasionally asked why NRWA is successful. It’s not a secret. It’s the same plan we employ in business, in our lives and in other avenues we are concerned about. One of the ingredients is total commitment. This commitment is fueled by our persistent and dedicated pledge to help people obtain a dependable supply of safe water.”
“That commitment and that pledge is just as strong today,” Wade said.

Florida Rural Water Responds to Hurricane Hermine

img_0725TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With Hurricane Hermine swirling in the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Rural Water Association started making preparations for the storm’s landfall. The association’s effort kept water flowing despite widespread damage and power loss.

Hermine was the first hurricane to make landfall in 11 years. During that time, Rural Water has been enhancing its ability to respond to disasters. FRWA offers rapid response and recovery training to utilities. FRWA and the Florida’s Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network, or FlaWARN, has also assembled a supply of emergency generators, bypass pumps and other equipment for use in emergencies.

“FRWA and FlaWARN equipment is being staged near the predicted impact zone,” Gary Williams, FRWA executive director said on the Thursday before landfall.
Staged equipment included 20 large generators, 10 small generators, two 6-inch bypass pumps, three four-inch trash pumps and a trailer equipped with tools, radio and satellite communications, and sleeping accommodations for emergency response personnel. All the FRWA equipment is equipped with GPS locators to improve management and prevent theft.

High winds and heavy rain uprooted trees and destroyed power lines. The storm knocked out power to over 325,000 people, including 58% of the homes in Leon County, 80% of the City of Tallahassee itself.

“We’re utilizing our local staff to perform damage assessments,” Williams said. “Our standard operating procedure is to have daily assessments completed by 4 p.m.”
Once systems were assessed, the appropriate personnel and equipment were dispatched to assist. The primary issue was power, and FRWA had its full inventory of generators in the field by Saturday.

“Fuel could become a concern if power remains off for a couple of days,” Williams said.

hurricane_hermine_radar_0608utc_02sept2016FRWA staff continues to support systems with generators, managing fuel and moving them to other utilities when the power is restored. Technical staff are also assisting systems damaged by wind and water.

“Systems along the coast continue to struggle maintaining water pressure with washed out lines and leaks,” Williams said. “They are all partially or fully operational.”

Only a few utilities lost water pressure, and FRWA assistance was able to quickly return them to operations. Some systems issued precautionary boil orders but most of those in contact with FRWA never lost water.

“The water industry has demonstrated great resiliency, preparedness and response,” Williams said.