MsRWA bridging the gap between rural Miss communities and USDA

msusdaGREENWOOD, Miss. — On April 4, 2013 Mississippi Rural Water Association Executive Director Kirby Mayfield, Wastewater Technician Larry Bratton, Circuit Rider Tom Abernathy along with Trina George, state director for USDA Rural Development in Mississippi, and a host of USDA staff and partners attended “A day with USDA:  Accessing Opportunities in Rural America” at Leflore County Civic Center in Greenwood, Miss. The event presented by Congressman Bennie Thompson in conjunction with Alcorn State University Extension Service .  This is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “StrikeForce” initiative.

Congressman Thompson welcomed attendees and partners to the event.  He assured the attendees the USDA will do more to partner with local and state governments and community organizations on projects that promote economic development and job creation.  This one day event is a way to increase partnerships in financially challenged Mississippi communities.

Also in attendance was Acting Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development, Judy Canales, as she travels the US promoting revitalizing rural America.  Ms. Canales also worked with the USDA during the Clinton administration as well.  Mr. Mayfield took the opportunity to speak with her regarding the MsRWA’s role in assisting municipal and rural utilities in Mississippi.

MS Rural Water Association is a sounding board for many mayors, managers, aldermen, board of directors, and operators across MS.  As our Circuit Riders, Wastewater Technicians, FSA Source Water Technician and Training Technicians travel across MS, they heard mayors, managers and other community leaders voice their opinion on issues facing their communities and utility systems.  They see the USDA loan and grant program, as well as the training and technical assistance provided by the MsRWA as a vital tool.  With the MsRWA’s assistance it allows them the help needed to provide the communities they serve with safe, clean, and affordable drinking water and wastewater.

Mississippi Rural Water holds conference, honors Senator Cochran

cochranJACKSON, Miss. — The 2013 Mississippi Rural Water Annual Technical Conference was held March 25th thru the 28th. It was held at the Mississippi Trade Mart Building in Jackson, Miss. This conference, the largest of its kind in the state and one of the largest conference’s in MsRWA history, was attended by approximately 950 attendees. Along with the large exhibit hall which consisted of 140 exhibitors, the conference also had water and waste water training along with Board Management training.On Wednesday, March 27th, the annual catfish luncheon was held. Special guests attending the lunch were many of the State Legislators, Public Service Commissioner Lynn Posey, staff members from the PSC, MS Department of Health, Rural Development, Department of Environmental Quality, staff members from several Senate and Congressional Offices, and many others.

However, the guest of honor went to longtime Senator Thad Cochran. Serving on the Appropriations and Agriculture Appropriation Committee’s as Chairman and as Ranking Member.  Senator Cochran has always been a true supporter of Ms Rural Water Association and National Rural Water Association’s efforts.  He is always at the forefront insuring appropriations funding for water and wastewater is a top priority. He has always supported the training and technical assistance programs provided by the National Rural Water Association and its State Associations.  He is always an advocate for what we do and realizes the importance of the commodity we provide. He was also instrumental in getting the Source Water Protection Program started at the national level as well.

During the luncheon, Mississippi Rural Water Association along with a unanimous consent of the MsRWA Board of Director’s, staff and members awarded Senator Cochran and made him an Honorary Lifetime Member of the Mississippi Rural Water Association. The Association also dedicated the 2013 MsRWA Conference in his name.

Mississippi rural water responds after tornado

RAYMOND, Miss. – Kirby Mayfield was in Washington, D.C. for the Rural Water Rally when he learned that a tornado was cutting through Mississippi. He immediately called his staff of water professionals, and had them prepare to offer assistance to affected water utilities.

“I got the phone call at 10 p.m. in Washington,” said Mayfield, the executive director of the Mississippi Rural Water Association. “I notified my staff and they started making calls behind it.”

In the past, disaster response activities were coordinated by Mayfield, but this was the first time that Circuit Rider Randy Turnage would be responsible for leading the response. Mississippi rural water activated the Rural Water Emergency Assistance Cooperative at 1:30 p.m. on February 10th in preparation for the severe weather. Once the tornado moved through, Turnage and circuit riders Charles Odom and James Benefield began contacting systems affected by the storms.

“We contacted nearly every system that could have been damaged,” Turnage said. Some of the utilities had to be contacted in person the following day.

Lamar Park Water and Sewer suffered the worst damage. When Benefield visited the system, it was running on generators and had numerous leaks. Wes Hodges, the water system operations specialist, has been working to repair the system despite losing his home in the storm.

Odom responded to several utilities to assist with locating and repairing leaks. Flooding damaged lines in several systems, leaving customers without water of limited the ability of the utility to restore service. Odom located leaks at M&M Water Association and Copiah Water Association, and they were quickly repaired. A larger leak at the Whistler Water Association was at a river crossing, the size and location of the leak making it difficult to repair immediately. Odom arranged for the adjacent Clara Water Association and Bucktunna Water Association to provide aid until the leak could be repaired.

Padalino remarks a highlight of rally opening

cropWASHINGTON, D.C. — John Padalino, Administrator for the Rural Utilities Service, spoke in the opening of the 2013 Rural Water Rally that was held Feb. 11-13 in Washington, D.C.  Padalino has long been considered a friend of Rural Water because of his early work in the industry and his work with RUS. The administrator’s comments were very well received by the water professionals in attendance. Video of the speech and Padalino’s speaking notes are presented below.

John Padalino Speaking Notes

Good Morning!

It is great to be speaking with you here in Washington DC; being with the “water folk” is like a family reunion! I bring greetings from President Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Rural Development Undersecretary Dallas Tonsager; I want to thank President Anderton, and Executives Rob Johnson and Same Wade for inviting me to speak with you today.

As this is Rob Johnson’s last Rally – I want to thank him for his service and leadership! You have shaped this organization and the rural water industry for the better. And you will be missed!

As I watched the Super Bowl last week, I turned my attention to the commercials. One stood out to me—and maybe to you, too. The commercial with Paul Harvey talking about why God created farmers. As he talked about the hard work, long hours and leadership it takes to be a farmer, it struck me that they could make a similar commercial for rural water and waste operators and managers. So before I begin my formal remarks I want to say – THANK YOU for all that you do on behalf of rural America.

I would also like to acknowledge all of the veterans here today and THANK YOU for the sacrifices you have made on behalf of all of us here today!

Sometimes we need a reminder of what is really important. A signpost that forces us to stop and take note of the road ahead and the impact of the choices we make on the future. Hurricane Sandy has been a good reminder that water is important.

  • Water is a symbol of a community’s vitality.
  • Modern, reliable water and waste service makes it possible for families to survive and stay healthy, for schools and hospitals to serve and businesses to succeed.
  • If water works, everything else is possible.

Rural water operators understand this and take their responsibilities seriously.

  • In the midst of disasters like Sandy, they go above and beyond the call of duty.
  • When Super Storm Sandy hit Long Beach Township New Jersey in October, the community of 3,000 was forced to deal with an incredible disaster.
  • Work to keep service online began long before Sandy ever showed up on any radar, with the hiring of qualified staff, the development of an emergency response plan and other preparatory activities.

When the storm initially knocked out power on the island, pre-existing natural gas generators allowed the plants to stay online. As the storm progressed and the island was evacuated, shutdown procedures for all but two of the plants were implemented.

Sandy caused significant damage.

  • Damage to the distribution system.
  • Sandy tore apart water mains and shredding fire hydrants.
  • One well went underwater and was contaminated.
  • Buildings were damaged.
  • The island was covered in sand and salt water—in some places up to five feet deep.
  • Movement on the island was severely restricted, and many times the water and sewer crews had the only equipment on the island that could move.
  • The water was so deep that even bulldozers struggled to make it through.

Michael Clark, Assistant Water Plant Operations Specialist, was among those worked to assess and repair the damaged system.

  • Going house-to-house and risking their lives in the process.
  • Worked 12 to 20 hours for 35 days straight to bring the system back online.
  • Even helped rescue stranded residents and bring them to safety.

The New Jersey Rural Water Association provided generators and circuit riders to assist in the effort. New Jersey Circuit Rider Dave Lester helped work on compliance issues with the system, and get a two-week boil order lifted.

Today, service is substantially restored and long-term recovery for the Township is well underway.

Stories like this remind us how important investment in rural systems is to the communities we serve and to the people who live in them.

  • Investment in constructing the physical infrastructure
  • Investment in planning and preparatory activities
  • Investment in training and technical assistance; and
  • Investment in a qualified workforce.

These investments create sustainable systems

  • equally capable of serving the daily water and waste needs of rural families and businesses,
  • facing disasters like hurricane Sandy, and
  • providing economic opportunity for rural areas for years to come.

These investments are not optional.

At Rural Development, we understand this, and are proud to play our part in ensuring that the network of rural water and waste systems is strong and sustainable.

In FY 2012, Rural Development invested

  • over $1.4 billion
  • in 845 water and wastewater projects in rural areas nationwide
  • will benefit nearly 2.5 million rural residents.

We also continued the build-out of our Recovery Act projects.

  • Pleased to report that 97% of the projects are to bid point or beyond.
  • 362 projects are completed—that’s 208 more than last year at this time!
    • The first project completed was in Missouri
    • Two states, Nevada and Rhode Island have completed all of their projects.
    • Michigan has the highest number of projects completed at 36, followed closely by South Dakota at 32 (88% of their projects).
    • Thanks to these and all of the states for moving these much needed project ahead.
  • Nearly 400 more are in active construction, many of which will be completed this year

Projects like the Ozark Mountain Regional Water Project.

  • Regional system is bringing safe, reliable water to thousands of rural residents across four counties.
  • Project is set to be completed this summer, when all 19 small rural water systems it will serve are connected.

Large and small, all of our ARRA projects will provide critical infrastructure and economic opportunity to rural America.

In addition, we invested over $38.5 million in technical assistance and training activities that resulted in:

  • Nearly 100,000 technical assistance calls completed by Drinking Water and Wastewater Circuit Riders,
  • Thousands of rural board members and operators trained; and
  • New tools and guides developed to help rural systems.

We continue our focus on sustainability:

  • Hosting workshops for rural systems to help them assess their current status; and
  • Developing strategies to increase sustainability.
  • Working with our partners to promote sustainability.

Special thanks to Michigan Rural Water Association ED Tim Neumann, and Georgia Rural Water Association ED Jimmy Matthews for hosting two of our sustainability workshops and providing input on our guides and tools.

Our team of talented and dedicated staff, led by our Assistant Administrator, Jacki Ponti-Lazaruk, is working hard to continue our 75-year tradition of serving the needs of Rural America. Our role is no less critical today than it was seven decades ago. A strong rural water network leads to a strong Rural America. A strong rural America leads to a stronger America, where food, energy, goods and services are plentiful. Rural communities continue to seek funding to build, expand and modernize water and waste infrastructure. Our backlog of applications exceeds $3 billion. (Funny that that number never seems to move for very long.)

However, the environment in which we will conduct our work has changed.

  • I don’t have to tell you that competition for federal dollars is high, and federal agencies are being asked to do more with less.
  • We saw a change in staffing as the result of two buy-out exercises designed to address operational budget cuts.
  • To continue to meet the critical infrastructure needs of rural communities RUS must not only adapt to the changing environment, but transform into an agile and more advanced service provider.
  • have challenged each of my Assistant Administrators to find ways to streamline our processes and maximize the use of our limited resources, so that we can continue to meet our commitment to serve you.

In the year ahead that will mean:

  • training field staff in new and innovative ways,
  • working to standardize and automate preliminary engineering reports across all federal and state funding agencies,
  • working our federal partners at EPA and other agencies to streamline or standardize the environmental information required for federal and state water funding.
  • streamlining our Emergency Water Grants regulations, and
  • working with our field offices on ways to more efficiently deliver our programs.

We want to hear from you as we go through our transformation.

  • We want—we need—to hear your recommendations.
  • Jacki and I want to work better, faster and smarter, and appreciate your expertise as we move toward our goals.

Here are some specific areas where input from partners like you will be invaluable.
How can we:

  • better target our funds where they are needed most and can have the greatest impact;
  • continue to advance our sustainability initiatives;
  • get the word out on why rural water is so important!
    • Your very own Sam Wade has been leading the charge on this – – Sam, Thank you! RUS looks forward to continuing our work on this front!
    • Tennessee Rural Water Association does a great job as we saw at the NRWA conference this fall. Their pamphlet on the impact of rural water is a great tool that can do much good.
    • It would be great to see similar efforts in every state!

At RUS, we will measure our success based on three factors

  • Connectivity
    • Is every rural American connected to clean, safe, affordable drinking water?
    • Are the projects we have funded being completed in a timely manner so that rural residents and businesses can benefit from access to modern, reliable infrastructure.
    • Ultimately, do we reach those most in need and where the greatest impact will be felt?
  • Capacity
    • Have our efforts not only increased access to infrastructure, but are they enabling rural communities to act in ways that position them for the future?
    • Did we facilitate leveraging of funding, programs and other assistance by rural communities to advance their goals?
  • Creativity
    • Have our efforts lead to creative solutions for our rural communities? Are rural communities taking advantage of the latest technologies to compete locally and globally? Do they know how Rural Development can help with advanced manufacturing, smart grid, alternative energy, in addition to water conservation, improved water quality and delivery?
    • Have our efforts lead to more sustainable rural communities?

We know our efforts help provide clean water to our cities. More than 88 percent of our fresh water first falls on private lands in rural America before entering the water supply. This raises the stakes for the work our rural water systems do, as well as the conservation efforts our farmers and ranchers carry out every day.

As Secretary Vilsack has noted, Rural America is critically important to our nation.

  • With 98 percent of Americans living off the farm and more than 80 percent living in metro areas, we need to tell our story proactively and often.
  • We can’t afford to allow rural communities to be left out or left behind, particularly here in Washington.
  • The work carried out by rural Americans stands as the backbone to the strength of our nation.

All of us depend on rural America for food, water, energy and much more – and too many folks around the country don’t realize or appreciate this.

As many of you know, I was first a water guy. And I am honored to be serving as the RUS Administrator. As Administrator, I will do everything in my power to ensure that our water programs succeed. Not because of the program’s history, but because of its impact on the future. I look forward to working with you and the communities we all serve in the year ahead!

Thank you!

Prairie du Sac wins taste test; almost skipped competition


PRAIRIE DU SAC, Wis. – The staff of the Prairie du Sac water system watched the live video feed of the Great American Water Taste test, not even knowing they had made the five finalists. By the end of the ceremony, the Wisconsin village’s water had been judged the nation’s best-tasting.

“It was a good day, that day,” said Public Works Director Pat Drone. “I was surprised. It was a great honor.”

The gold medal at the taste test was especially-surprising, since Prairie du Sac nearly skipped the state drinking water test.

“I wasn’t going to send in a sample this year,” Drone said.

He explained that delivery issues had prevented the samples from Prairie du Sac or the near-by village of Bloomington from completing in the Wisconsin taste test. The two villages had not had a sample in the taste test at the same time.

“He said ‘You have to bring a sample,’” Drone said of the Bloomington public works director. “’We have to see who’s water is best.’”

Prairie du Sac won the state competition as won the golden medal award for best tasting water in the nation during the Great American Water Taste Test, held on Feb. 13 at the Rural Water Rally in Washington, D.C.

The utility draws its water from three wells to supply 1,800 customers. The newest well, Number Four, came on-line in 2012, with the original Number One well capped and out of service. The records are not clear, but it appears the water utility has been in operation since 1914.

“A lot of people have mentioned how good the water tastes, even before the competition,” Drone said.

He said he has no proof, but he credits the water’s good taste to the village’s choice of disinfection and the hard work of its employees.

“I don’t like chlorine, so I’m glad the village board decided to go with UV,” he said.

After consulting with experts the board decided to use UV to disinfect water as it was drawn from the wells.

“We still use chlorine to flush the system, which we do twice a year, but out of the ground we use UV,”  Drone explained.

He also gave credit to the water department staff and village board for their hard work in ensuring Prairie du Sac has the highest quality water on tap.

“It falls back on the village board and all the employees,” he said. “Our operations specialists, Rick Rothman and Mark Young do a very good job. They are very conscientious.”

Because of that wok and those decisions, Prairie du Sac can claim it has the best tasting water in the country. It’s a title the village employees look forward to upholding.

“We’re all very excited,” Drone said.

Prairie du Sac wins Taste Test

IMG_3686WASHINGTON, D. C. – The Village of Prairie du Sac, Wis. won the golden medal award for best tasting water in the nation during the Great American Water Taste Test, held on Feb. 13 at the Rural Water Rally in Washington, D.C.

The City of Emporia, Kan. won the silver medal and the City of Pisgah, Iowa won the bronze. The Village of Roscommon, Mich. and the Village of Trenton, Neb. were the remaining of the five finalists selected from entries across the nation. Each state rural water association hosts a state-wide drinking water test and the winners are eligible for entry in the nation-wide test.

The winners were chosen from a panel of judges, including, Dr. Andrew Sawyer, the Deputy Director of the EPA Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water; John Padalino, Administrator of the Rural utilities Service; Carlisle Clarke, a member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee staff; Lorene Wasland, a South Dakota resident and wife of NRWA board member Larry Wasland; and Brett Challenger from CoBank.

The NRWA holds the Great American Taste Test annually as part of the Rural Water Rally in Washington, D.C

NRWA Open 2013 Rural Water Rally

IMG_3635(crop)WASHINGTON, D.C. – Leaders of the National Rural Water Association opened the 2013 Rural Water Rally during a session held on February 12.

The opening session began with speeches from NRWA President Doug Anderton. Anderton emphasized the need to build relationships with new representatives and to continue emphasizing rural water’s grassroots message.

Senator Mark Pryor from Arkansas and Rural Utilities Services Acting Administrator John Padalino also spoke.

The opening session also include “Memories” with NRWA CEO Rob Johnson and John Montgomery. Both were involved early in NRWA’s development and both are planning to retire in the near future.

More updates, including video from the event, will be available at a later date.

Long Beach Township keeps water running after Sandy

LONG BEACH TOWNSHIP, N. J. – When Super Storm Sandy hit Long Beach Township in October, the small community was forced to deal with an incredible disaster.

“The first high tide was about three feet of water,” explained Michael Clark, an Assistant Water Plant Operations Specialist. “At that time we were still in pretty decent shape.”

The tide receded, though it had already knocked out power on the island. The township operates multiple water plants to supply clean drinking water to over 3,000 residents along the island. Those plants had natural gas generators that allowed them to remain operational after losing power.

Except the storm was only beginning.

“The second high tide was over four feet,” Clark said. “After that, it got pretty crazy.”

With Sandy approaching shore, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie issued a mandatory evacuation on October 28. With water and sewer staff facing evacuation, the township began to shut down all but two of its water plants. The Long Beach Township is located on Long Beach Island, a barrier island with ocean on one side and a bay on the other. A dune system covering roughly 18 miles of shore was all that protected the island from the on-coming storm.

“It destroyed the dune system, except for a short stretch where the Army Corps of Engineers had done some work,” Clark said.

The impact on the water systems was devastating.

“Our ocean-front distribution system was destroyed,” Clark said. “The storm pulled water mains out of the ground and tore them apart; it shredded fire hydrants.

“We had one well that went underwater and was contaminated by saltwater intrusion.”

Several buildings were damaged, though they remained standing, they were riddled with stress fractures and will have to be replaced or refurbished in the future.

The island was covered in sand and salt water, in some places up to five feet deep. Movement on the island was severely restricted, and many times the water and sewer crews had the only equipment that could move. The water and sand was so deep that even bulldozers struggled to make it through.

“We’d get calls at the police station that someone was trapped,” Clark said. “We’d drive our front-end loaders up to the front door and the people would ride in the scoop back to the station where the Army could evacuate them.”

“We chuckle about it now, but it was pretty nerve-wracking at the time.”

The crew began work immediately assessing and repairing the tangled water mains and replacing the hundreds of damaged services throughout the island.

“We were going house-to-house,” Clark explained. “There was water in a lot of crawl spaces and lots of downed power lines.”

The situation was so dangerous that several crew were electrocuted, though none seriously. “It was very dangerous, but thank God everyone made it home every day,” Clark said.

Roughly 30 Public Works and Water and Sewer employees worked for 35 straight days, most 12-20 hour days, to bring the system back on-line.

“Several of us started rewiring electrical to all the buildings,” Clark said.

Many of the buildings at the township’s water plants were constructed in the 1950’s and their electrical wiring was installed under the floor, too low to survive the storm surge.

Soon after the relief effort began, the island’s natural gas service had to be cut. Severe damage to the island’s natural gas lines created another potential hazard. Cutting off that service, though, eliminated the township’s natural gas generators.

The New Jersey Water Association helped located portable diesel generators for the plants when gas service to the island had to be cut, stopping the townships natural gas generators.

“We were able to help them get portable, diesel generators,” said NJWA Executive Director Rick Howlett.

“They were a big help,” Clark said.

NJWA Circuit Rider Dave Leister also helped work on compliance issues with the system, and helped get the two-week boil order lifted. The association, a member of the National Rural Water Association, also provided manpower, assisted in coordinating with state agencies, and even recreating critical paperwork for the utility.

“A lot of our paperwork was stored in filing cabinets,” Clark explained. “The storm dumped them upside down and the paperwork ended up destroyed or washed out into the ocean.”

“They were a big help coordinating with the state and the DEP, doing the legwork that allowed us to stay out in the field,” Clark added. “We would call them with a problem, and within a few minutes they would come back with a solution that would have taken one of our guys hours to organize.”

Now, the utility is mostly back to operations. There are a few connections that have to be repaired and the township is making plans for future repairs to damaged buildings.

“We just try to make each day a little better than the last day,” Clark said.

Duncan Receives APWA Award

MILDORD, Del. — The Delaware Chapter of the American Public Works Association has named Rick Duncan, the executive director of the Delaware Rural Water Association, as the Public Official of the Year in a ceremony in Dover.Duncan was recognized for his efforts in water operations specialist certification and training. He was lead efforts to create the nation’s first mobile training unit and the founding of an ASSE-certified Backflow prevention course at the DRWA Training Facility. Duncan was also recognized for his work as a water operations specialist, Selbyville Volunteer Fire Chief and Selbyville Town Councilman.