SPECIAL REPORT: Rural Water Districts Lead in Sustainability Partnerships

The National Rural Water Association’s Advancement and Sustainability Institute recently conducted a blind survey to determine the prevalence and nature of partnerships in the water industry. The purpose of the survey was to provide an empirical foundation for discussions taking place within governmental entities at the state and national level.  This was a blind survey of water utilities with 3,073 respondents providing a 98% confidence factor.

The National Rural Water Association’s position regarding consolidation and partnerships is that the most effective and sustainable solutions are made by local decisions to address local concerns considering all options. These results provide a snapshot of the depth of cooperation between utilities to address sustainably and utility-specific concerns.


Respondents governmental structures consisted of 68.43% municipal, 21.31% non-municipal such as districts, co-ops regional systems or special service districts and 10.25% privately owned. These responses immediately reveal that community water supplies, regardless of government structure, are engaged in mutual support of neighboring entities.

Shared Services

Respondents indicated that non-municipal systems are more-deeply involved in support partnerships, both providing aid to and receiving aid from their neighbors. This increase could be contributed to the smaller populations serviced and the larger areas of service provided by districts as opposed to a small community water system. This is reflected by 67% of non-municipal entities, such as districts and co-ops, responding they either receive or provide services to and from other entities as compared to 47% of municipals and 25% of privately owned entities.

Types of Services Provided or Received

The wholesale of water is the predominant shared service.  In districts with large service areas they may buy wholesale on one end of the system and sell to another entity on the opposite end.  These are typically long-term agreements to ensure continuity of service.

Emergency connections between systems is prevalent and a common safeguard where applicable.  This type of partnership provides a mutual benefit to both entities.

Contract operations and management options are elected by entities for various reasons and issues.  Issues resulting in these types of contract services are system specific.

Other types of services tend to be informal such as borrowing a piece of equipment or asking for some help to perform a task.  These informal agreements are relationship based between staffing of entities.  The data of this survey indicates this type of partnership is more pronounced in private entities.


The vast majority of community water supplies (54%) serve populations of less than 500. These systems are the essence of Rural America, they support the infrastructure that the nation depends on that has a direct impact on the nation’s economy. They support agriculture for food production, energy production and our natural resources as well as the general public traveling the highways and byways of our nation.

These responses document the efforts that local communities undertake to ensure their systems remain sustainable and provide a safe quality water supply to their customers. The local decisions of sharing services, consolidating with a neighbor or contracting out operations should not be forced or made lightly. The system, as a first step, should undergo a complete system evaluation from a third party who does not stand to benefit from their recommendations. In the medical field, there may be a variety of treatments for a condition, but the procedures selected must match the needs of each individual case. Similarly, the decisions on the operation of water and wastewater utilities should be tailored to meet the concerns of each individual case. State Rural Water Associations provide a comprehensive evaluation of affordability, operational revenues versus expense and liquidity ratios as a foundation to consider various options available. The options can range from a policy or operational change to contract services or consolidation to name a few.

These types of local decisions being made at the local level are also documented by the reduction in the EPA community water system inventory which has declined by 3,805 entities since the year 2000. Contact your State Rural Water Association to consider your sustainability options or visit www.nrwa.org

The Water Industry Advancement & Sustainability Institute is a 501(c)(3) established by the National Rural Water Association

Alaska Rural Water Assists Community When a Leak Threatens to Drain Reservoir

SAXMAN, Alaska – When a leak threatened to drain the reservoir and leave the city of Saxman, Alaska without water, the Alaska Rural Water Association helped connect a new service line and provided leak detection to reduce water usage.

“I got called in to do an emergency leak detection because they were losing about 115,000 gallons per day, and the plant barely makes that,” said Sarah Ramey, an ARWA Circuit Rider. Circuit Riders are roving water experts that provide training and technical assistance to several communities.

The Saxman reservoir has a limited capacity after a landslide filled it with rocks and debris. The system struggles to treat enough water to meet demand. A major leak can threaten the water supply, and the city’s remote location can make it difficult to receive replacement parts.

“If they get compromised, they’re days away from being out of water,” Ramey said. “A lot of these villages are so remote that they don’t have access to repair parts. Sometimes we get a request to assist with a tank cleaning, and the community doesn’t even have a power washer.”

Saxman is located on Revillagigedo Island in southeast Alaska. Before she took flight into the area, she called the nearby Ketchikan Public Utility to get repair bands and other equipment.

“They gave us everything we would need,” Ramey said. “It’s awesome when the utilities come together to help one another. A repair band could take up to three weeks, even on a rush order, if the utility has to purchase it.”

When Ramey arrived, the system Operations Specialist took her to the general area of the leak. Water had surfaced and was running down a reservoir access road, threatening to wash the road away. Ramey started using acoustic leak detection equipment to listen for the sound of the leak.

“It started raining, which made it much more complicated,” Ramey said.

Even in the rain, the Circuit Rider was able to locate the leak and mark it for repairs. The assistance helped save Saxman at least $10,000 in lost water and potential road repair. It also prevented the community from losing water service. The community’s small reservoir still posed a problem, and Ramey would return to Saxman to help provide an additional water source for the city.

“Sarah helped when Saxman added a second raw water line,” said Phil Downing, a water professional that worked in Alaska’s Remote Maintenance Worker program and as a contractor for Saxman. “They needed another water source because the reservoir was drying up.”

Ramey worked with state agencies to get a nearby unnamed creek recognized as a source. Then she oversaw part of the work when crews began laying the line to the creek.

“It was complicated – laying lines through the trees and joining pipe,” Downing said. “It was the kind of thing I could do, but there was only one of me.”

Completing the new line helped provide additional capacity and security for Saxman.

“I really enjoyed working with her,” Downing said. “She is a great asset to the community. She was very positive, very professional, she took instruction well and she could take the lead.”

“She is very highly thought of by the Saxman administration because she is so helpful.”

Iowa Rural Water Assists Community with Water Chemistry; Reduces Nitrites and Saves Money

WELLMAN, Iowa – When the City of Wellman, Iowa started showing high levels of nitrites in their water, assistance from the Iowa Rural Water Association helped adjust the system’s water chemistry, removing the nitrites and saving money.

“When I first started working with Wellman, they had two wells and one was bad,” said Joe Finch, an IRWA Circuit Rider. Circuit Riders are roving water experts that provide training and technical assistance to communities.

The problematic well was high in ammonia and naturally-occurring bacteria.
“The well had a lot of bacteria,” Finch said. “The transmission line was becoming restricted with bio growth.”

Unfortunately, the system’s permit was for two wells with their water blended. Finch worked with the utility, their engineer, and the Department of Natural Resources to amend their permit for one well. The remaining well still produced too much ammonia, but with levels that could be managed with changes to the existing treatment process. “We are unique in that we’re still small enough to have a limited staff and a limited budget, but we still have a very complicated treatment process,” said Tim Garrett, Water Superintendent for the Wellman waterworks.

Wellman’s system was designed to pre-chlorinate the water before the iron filters. The water was then dechlorinated before passing through reverse osmosis membranes, because the membranes couldn’t be exposed to chlorine. The process was not producing the desired water quality.

“We ran into a high nitrate MCL,” Garrett said, referring to the Maximum Contaminate Level standard.
The system would produce too many nitrites and still showed high ammonia levels after the filters were backwashed.

Finch took a mobile water testing lab to Wellman and ran a series of tests throughout the system. After examining the tests, he determined that the pre-chlorination was inhibiting the growth of the nitrifying organisms used to remove the ammonia. He advised turning off the pre-chlorination and the sodium bisulfate pump used to dechlorinate before reverse osmosis.

Finch and Garrett then started a process to track the water’s chemistry as it moved through the treatment plant.

“We both knew what we wanted to do,” Garrett said. “We set up a data-tracking system that allowed us to test and track the water as it moved through the plant daily.”

Finch created a Dropbox account where Garrett could upload the results of daily tests. Then each of them could monitor the results and start making changes. As the changes affected water quality and chemistry, they could identify them and make any corrections needed.

“You don’t want to fix one problem and create another one,” Finch said.

The pair monitored reports for pH, chlorine residual, ammonia, total dissolved solids, nitrites, nitrites and Langelier index, a measure of the water’s corrosion potential. Finch was especially cautious of monitoring the water’s corrosion, to prevent any heavy metals from dissolving in the water.

“It took a while for the biological process to catch up, but eventually it worked,” Finch said.

The changes have made the Wellman plant easier to operate and more efficient. In addition to higher water quality, the community is saving on reduced chemical use and longer RO membrane life.

“Joe has been a big help,” Garrett said. “When you have a small staff it’s nice to have an extra person to reach out to.”

Rural Water Loan Fund Helps Small System Repair Well After Lightning Strike

Rural Water Loan Fund

Want to learn more about the Rural Water Loan Fund? Read more in the upcoming August issue of Rural Water magazine or Click Here

LEAF, Miss. – When a lightning strike damaged Well Number 3 for the Leaf Water Association in Leaf, Miss. it created a financial emergency for the small utility. A loan from the National Rural Water Association’s Rural Water Loan Fund helped the system make affordable emergency repairs to the well.

“We had a lightning strike that split open the steel pipe and damaged the pump at the well,” explained Leaf Water Association Treasurer Pam McClendon. “We were in a bind and we needed help.”

The repairs were estimated at over $140,000, well above the funds the system had on-hand.

“We didn’t have the funds and there were no grants available,” McClendon said. “We decided to try something other than the bank because the interest was so much higher.”

The water association contacted the Mississippi Rural Water Association and began investigating the National Rural Water Association’s Rural Water Loan Fund. The Rural Water Loan Fund is a funding program specifically designed to meet the unique needs of small water and wastewater utilities. The RWLF provides low-cost loans for short-term repair costs, small capital projects, or pre-development costs associated with larger projects. The RWLF was established through a grant from the USDA/RUS, and repaid funds are used to replenish the fund and make new loans.

“We decided it was a good investment, working with rural water,” McClendon said.
The RWLF is designed to have a simple, easy application process.

“I went on-line and filled out the application,” she said. “It was very easy, and I corresponded with NRWA several times. Everyone was very helpful.”

The loan was a huge benefit and allowed Leaf Water Association to make emergency repairs to their well.

“We were just so glad to get it fixed,” McClendon said. “When we learned the loan was approved, I jumped up and gave a shout.”

McClendon considers Leaf’s Rural Water Loan a success and is very happy with the program.

“It’s an awesome program for small, rural communities like Leaf,” she said. “We were not put on the back burner because we were small.”

Florida Rural Water Assists Community Battling Leaks

TALLAHASSE, Fla. – The Florida Rural Water Association recently assisted a community, battling numerous leaks that forced the city’s water pumped to double their production to maintain service.

“The story begins when the city comes to the Florida Rural Water office to borrow a leak detector,” said FRWA Executive Director Gary Williams. “We asked if they needed help along with the leak detector and they said only the equipment was needed.”

The city had isolated the leak, but they wanted to disrupt the service of the fewest possible customers. The leak was pinpointed to a galvanized line that only affected three customers. The community ran new service to those customers and retired the galvanized line.

“That was a great decision, because the line ran under a state highway and this was not going to be the last time they had problems with that old line,” Williams said.

At the same time, a large leak started somewhere in the city. The demand at one of the city’s northern wells spiked from 300,000 gallons per day to 600,000. The city tried to locate the leak, but as the demand approached 750,000 gallons per day, they contacted FRWA for additional assistance.

Williams and one other Florida Rural Water staff member went to assist the city. As they were assisting the city, the leak detector loaned to the community failed and had to be sent off for repairs. Even with the set-back, the rural water experts are able to quickly begin locating leaks in the community with other Association leak detection equipment.

“We first located a leak on a galvanized line, but it turned out not to be the big one,” Williams said.

They later traced a leak to a six-inch PVC line near a storm sewer. That leak was the large leak that was creating such excessive demand and the storm drain allowed it to escape without surfacing. FRWA experts also found another two, smaller leaks in the city before completing their assistance.

“We were taking pictures of the storm drain and leak repairs when the city asked ‘What are you doing? We don’t want to be on the cover of the next FRWA magazine,” Williams said. “We decided to keep them nameless so this run of bad luck doesn’t continue.”

Independence Day Celebrations Would Look Much Different Without Rural Water

Today, people across the United States will celebrate the founding of our nation, most with some combination of barbecue, parades, flags, family and fireworks. The Rural Water Family prides itself on both its love of country and dedication to community. The efforts of the water industry often go overlooked, but before this holiday season, take a moment to consider that our Independence Day Celebrations would look much different without Rural Water.

One of the hallmarks of Independence Day celebrations are fireworks displays. The American Pyrotechnics Association estimates that more than 14,000 professional firework displays light the skies on July 4. Another 238 million pounds of amateur fireworks are launched from backyards, parks and streets across the country. The same water utilities that provide quality drinking water are also the primary source of water for fire fighters to combat the estimated 16,000 fires started by fireworks every year.

Benchmarks vary by jurisdiction, but one standard requires water systems be able to supply an extra 250 gallons per minute over the utility’s maximum daily rate, sustained for at least two hours. That’s the rough equivalent of the daily water use of the average house every minute. Rural Water professionals make roughly 30,000 on-site technical assistance visits annually, that include everything from hands-on repairs and leak detection to managerial assistance and rate studies. Rural Water also trains over 100,000 utility personnel every year to ensure communities can provide both the quality of water necessary for drinking and also the quantity needed for fire protection.

Many people will choose to celebrate Independence Day at a lake, river or outdoor location. AAA estimates that at least 42 million people will travel over 50 miles to celebrate Fourth of July, and many of them will do so at lakes and rivers. Lake Mead, by itself, is expected to host over 100,000 visitors for Independence Day, according to the National Park Service.

The lakes and streams that host these Independence Day celebrations are protected by Wastewater Operations Specialists and Source Water Protection Specialists across the country. Wastewater treatment prevents gallons of waste and sewage from pouring into lakes, rivers and streams every day. Rural Water make roughly 20,000 on-site technical assistance visits a year to wastewater systems to help them maintain proper function. Rural Water Source Water Protection Specialists also created plans that provide additional protection from “non-point sources” that include runoff, drainage and seepage. These efforts help preserve the environment and keep lakes, rivers and streams safe for swimming, boating and fishing.

Rural Water also helps preserve the American cookout. Agriculture is one of the largest consumers of water and it is an industry overwhelmingly located in rural areas. Access to clean, reliable, and affordable water helps produce the 150 million hotdogs, 190 million pounds of beef and 700 million pounds of chicken consumed on Fourth of July.

The National Rural Water Association and all the Rural Water Family wishes everyone a happy and safe Independence Day celebration. NRWA hopes that you will also not forget the role that Rural Water plays in serving and protecting our communities on July 4 and every day of the year.

Sizing a VFD: 2 PM CST August 2

Sizing a VFD: 2 PM CST August 2
Register Now

Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) have been and continue to be used in many applications within our water and wastewater treatment plants. Applied correctly and the simple VFD will extend the life of your aging infrastructure and even reduce energy cost. Properly selecting a VFD may not be fully understood and this presentation will help demystify VFDs, providing a better understanding as to where and why you would use them. Attendees will cover:

•             The “Don’ts” such as don’t size the drive on Hp alone and Don’t forget the system voltage

•             The “Remember To things like” – location, altitude, enclosures

•             Uh – OH’s like long motor leads and non-invertor motors

•             Maybe a little single phase talking or off the power point topics like harmonics

•             And certainly, during the course we will cover some problem areas and even troubleshooting


About the Presenter

Larry Stanley was raised and educated in the coal fields of rural West Virginia, earning a BSEET degree from Bluefield State College in West Virginia. He has more than 30 years of experience working with all aspects of design, application, and installation of AC drives and soft-starts. Stanley developed and maintained the drive support group for a major manufacturer from 1985 to 1997. He moved into a Senior Field Engineer’s role in 1997, and since then, supports applications including commercial, municipal, hot ladle, distribution conveyance, food and beverage, and more.

Unfiltered Episode 3 – Circuit Rider Program

In this episode of Rural Water’s Unfiltered, host Michael Preston sits down with Missouri Circuit Rider, Joseph Anstine, and Oregon’s Program Manager and Circuit Rider, Heath Cokeley, to discuss the vital services, technical assistance and training provided to rural water and wastewater systems everyday through the well-established NRWA Circuit Rider program.

Illinois Rural Water Circuit Rider Locates Leak in Unmapped Water Main

TUSCOLA, Ill. – When a 120,000 gallon-per-day leak threatened to disrupt service in Tuscola, Illinois, the community turned to experts from the Illinois Rural Water Association to locate the leak.

“They couldn’t keep up with the demand and they were losing water from the tower,” said Chuck Woodworth, an IRWA Circuit Rider. “They would have run out of water in two days.”

A Rural Water Circuit Rider is a roving water expert that provides training and technical assistance to utilities. Woodworth has previously provided leak detection for Tuscola, city of 4,600.

“They were looking for heavy flows in the sewer main because they couldn’t find any water on the surface,” Woodworth said. Usually the pressure from such a large leak pushes water to the surface, unless it has another place to drain.

After searching the town, Woodworth and Dewayne VanCleave, the Tuscola Systems Operations Specialist, located a manhole with water flowing into it.

“There was water pouring in through the seams,” Woodworth said.

Woodworth used a computerized leak logger to pinpoint a possible location. They consulted the system’s pipe maps and tried to narrow down the leak’s location on the nearest water main. Except when the Circuit Rider tried to confirm the location with a ground mic, he couldn’t hear a leak. There was clearly a leak near the manhole, but there was no leak audible on the nearest mapped water main. The only option was to start searching for another source.

“I started using the ground mic to sweep the area,” Woodworth said. “I found and marked a leak sound.”

He and VanCleave consulted the system map, but there was no main listed at that location.

“I used a subsurface material locator to confirm there was a line in the area,” Woodworth said.

The material locator uses UHF radio waves to measure changes in material density.

With the ground mic and material locator indicating the presence of a leaking main, VanCleave decided to excavate the area.

“Within a couple of scoops from the backhoe, water started coming out of the ground,” Woodworth said. “Normally maps are close, but in this case, it was 20 feet off.”

Locating the leak in the unmapped main saved the community thousands of dollars and prevented the water pressure from dropping low enough to require a boil order.