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

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

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

Crews laying new water main.

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

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

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

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

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

Repairing water lines near newly-patched road.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


USDA Awards $6 Million to Develop a National Apprenticeship Program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presenter: Brad Lewis, F&E Payment Pros

NRWA Launches Savings Engine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Water Helps Port St. Joe Recover from Hurricane Michael

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The community was devastated after Hurricane Michael made landfall.

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

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

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

LRWA turning on meters covered in debris.

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

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

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

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

Georgia Rural Water Restores Water in Bainbridge After Hurricane Michael

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s an App for That: Case Study of a Utility Using GIS & Mobile Deployment for Daily Operations: 2 PM CST Nov. 8

There’s an App for That: Case Study of a Utility Using GIS & Mobile Deployment for Daily Operations:  PM CST Nov. 8

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This webinar will demonstrate how Berea Municipal Utilities incorporates GIS and mobile deployment within daily operations to support work across their organization:

• How convenient would it be if there was an app that would automatically calculate water loss or even calculate the amount of chemicals the Water Treat Plant is feeding into the water system? Berea Municipal Utilities uses Survey123 for ArcGIS to do these pre-calculations.
• Monthly cutoffs for nonpayment is never a fun task and often times can be challenging. Berea Municipal Utilities has made this daunting process seamless by using ArcGIS Online to support real time communication between the field crews and office.
• Need to streamline asset inventory and inspections. Why not use Collector for ArcGIS and Survey 123 for ArcGIS to make your work easier?

Join this webinar to learn more about how mobile apps have increased efficiency and communication at Berea Municipal Utilities.


Clay White is the GIS Coordinator / Project Manager for Berea Municipal Utilities. White is a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University. He has worked as the GIS Specialist for Madison County Fiscal Court providing GIS services to over 15 agencies; in addition to being the GIS Specialist for Madison County EMA/CSEPP. He has also assisted the Kentucky State Police with various cases. In 2013, White became the GIS Coordinator for Berea Municipal Utilities where he built and established GIS within the daily operations; and in 2016 Berea Municipal Utilities GIS was a contributing factor in receiving the KY/TN Small Utility Water Distribution Award.

Kevin Howard is the General Manager of Berea Municipal Utilities.

Mississippi Rural Water Aids Hurricane-Ravaged Callaway

CALLAWAY, Fla. – The streets of Callaway, Fla. are lined with piles of debris with power poles and transformers crumpled in the ditches. There is no electricity, but aid from the Mississippi Rural Water Association has helped restore water service and prevented sewer backups in the storm-ravaged community.

MsRWA technicians check a water meter crushed by falling tree.

“Well, we had this hurricane,” said an overwhelmed Bill Frye, public works director for Callaway. “We were completely without power. Uprooted trees pulled up the service lines.”

Without electricity and damaged water lines, the community was completely without water. The power outage also prevented the town’s wastewater lift stations from moving sewage to the treatment plant, risking backups and overflows.

Mississippi Rural Water’s assistance prevented the disaster from becoming a public health threat. It was assistance that Callaway didn’t even know was available.

Tom Abernathy connects an emergency generator.

“I didn’t even know this was a resource that was available,” Frye said. “The director of Bay County Utilities, where we buy our water, he put me in contact with FlaWARN.”

FlaWARN is an emergency response mutual aid network coordinated by the Florida Rural Water Association. The WARN contacted the emergency response professionals from MsRWA and asked them to assist Callaway. They arrived with emergency generators and trained water and wastewater professionals.

“We started shutting off meters and looking for leaks,” said Joe Grammer, an MsRWA Circuit Rider. “You have to isolate the damaged areas so that we can maintain pressure in the rest of the system. “

Parts of the city had significant damage, with uprooted trees pulling up service lines and debris crushing water meters.

“We also marked valves and tried to clear debris away from hydrants so that clean-up crews could avoid them,” said Rickey Parker, an MsRWA Wastewater Technician.

MsRWA’s Tom Abernathy helped connect emergency generators to the wastewater lift stations and wire the sensors so that the pumps would run automatically.

“They’ve been a big help in restoring water and keeping the sewer from overflowing,” Frye said.

Callaway was housing several of its city employees in the community center. Many of their homes were damaged and they were still working to keep the city operating and trying to restore services to the community. MsRWA connected an extra generator to the center to provide lights and air conditioning for those staff.

“They’ve been great,” Frye said. “The guys from Mississippi are all real pros.”