Rural Community Assistance Partnership

Practical solutions for improving rural communities

Popular RCAP Resources for Small Communities

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RCAP's new videos

Produced for:

  • Members of boards of directors/governing bodies of community water systems
  • Decision-makers
  • Managers of community water systems
  • Operators
  • Customers/community residents

Watch the videos:

Other RCAP videos

The Big Guide for Small Systems: A Resource for Board Members

A comprehensive desk reference that is ideal as an orientation and background for new members on the governing body of a small water/wastewater system or as a guide of standards that all elected members (new and veteran) can use.

The guide is divided into three major sections:

Main section:

  • Water and Wastewater Treatment Basics
  • Regulatory Responsibilities
  • Board Business
  • Financial Duties and Responsibilities




  • Example Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
  • Hiring and Terminating Employees and Sample Job Descriptions
  • Sample Policy Statements
  • Emergency-Response Planning
  • Information on Planning
  • Much more

Download the guide and associated files

The Basics of Financial Management for Small-community Utilities

This how-to guide provides an overview of financial management for small-community water utilities, from developing and balancing an expense budget to estimating and collecting revenue. This primer is ideal for a board member of a drinking water or wastewater utility who needs to understand the financial aspects of a utility's operations. The guide explains in very simple, easy-to-understand terms how to read and interpret the common financial statements so more informed decisions can be made with the information that can be gained from them.

The publication enhances:

  • understanding financial statements: income statements, balance sheets, cash flow statements, audit reports and related documents
  • using financial ratios; computing ratios to assess financial sustainability

Download the guide and associated files

New guide on the basics of financial management for small water utilities from RCAP on Vimeo.


Formulate Great Rates
The Guide to Conducting a Rate Study for a Water System

A guide to developing a fair and equitable rate structure in a small drinking water or wastewater system. Walks users step-by-step through various worksheets in a process to calculate rates. Detailed instructions (including calculations) are provided for each worksheet, which can be completed by hand with worksheets provided in the guide or on electronic versions (Excel spreadsheets) of the worksheets. Also provides guidance on financial management of a system related to rates as a system's income stream.

Download the guide and associated Excel files

New guide on setting rates for small water utilities from RCAP on Vimeo.

Companion to the guide:

Formulate Great Rates: A self-guided training to setting rates


This multimedia companion to Formulate Great Rates: The Guide to Conducting a Rate Study for a Water System is designed to help users of the print version of the guide better understand the concepts presented through the expertise of public-sector professionals in an easy-to-use, interactive format.

Getting Your Project to Flow Smoothly
A Guide to Developing Water and Wastewater Infrastructure

A comprehensive guide on all the steps a project owner (governing body of a utility) should go through in planning, designing and constructing infrastructure. A very detailed how-to on all phases of the process. Includes many pitfalls to avoid. Discusses roles and responsibilities of the parties in a project – owner, engineer, inspector, contractor, etc. Discusses securing funding, how to stay organized, how to maintain control of a project.

Download PDF (1.79 MB)

Sustainable Infrastructure for Small System Public Services
A Planning and Resource Guide     

Rather than presenting theories, this guidebook provides information, worksheets, examples, case studies and resources on water conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy resources for small utilities. This planning and resources guide includes a step-by-step process for utility decision makers, staff and community members wanting to operate increasingly efficient utilities. It offers a flexible approach to evaluating sustainable alternatives for utility operations. Updates and expands on an earlier guide published under the same title in 2009 by one of RCAP's regional partners, the Rural Community Assistance Corporation, the Western RCAP.

Download PDF (2.75 MB)

USDA Rural Utilities Service Borrower's Guide
A How-to for Water and Wastewater Loans from USDA Rural Development

Summarizes the managerial and financial requirements for communities that are receiving U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Services (RUS) loan funds for their water or wastewater utility. Focuses on the requirements for submitting management reports and financial statements and walks borrowers through the steps of completing the forms and submitting the reports and statements. Comes with a CD with blank forms that are easy to fill in. Also provides ways communities can monitor the financial health of their utilities.

Download the guide and financial-reporting forms

ARRA Registering and Reporting Guide
for Water/Wastewater Systems with Loans/Grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Rural Utilities Service

Walks communities that received loans of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds through USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) (for water and wastewater projects) through the special reporting processes that must be followed for ARRA funds. Written in clear and understandable language and in a Q&A format. Includes common mistakes to be avoided that the authors have seen in communities they have assisted and many tips for each part of the registering and reporting process to make it easier.

Intended for use by the leader or staff person of a small community water system who is responsible for registering the utility and reporting on its use of ARRA funds with various federal and related agencies.

A hard copy of the guide was mailed free to all communities receiving ARRA funds through USDA RUS in early March (both those communities that have/are working with RCAP and those that are not). For additional copies, click on the link below (only available electronically now).

Download the guide


A Drop of Knowledge
The Non-operator's Guide to Drinking Water Systems

(companion guide below)

Explains in simple, everyday language the technical aspects of drinking water utilities from source to tap. Describes the various components and operations involved in small drinking water systems, including source, treatment and system of distribution to the customer’s home. This guide and its companion (below) are the perfect orientation and background guides for new small utility board members and small community decision makers.

Download the guide and related resources

A Drop of Knowledge
The Non-operator's Guide to Wastewater Systems

(companion guide above)

Explains in simple, everyday language the various components/operations of a small wastewater system from when the customer flushes his/her toilet through collection, treatment, and return to source. This guide and its companion (above) are the perfect orientation and background guides for new small utility board members and small community decision makers.

Download the guide and related resources

Protecting Water Quality by Optimizing the Operations and Maintenance of Distribution Systems

Provides background information on how to maintain water quality in drinking water distribution systems and treated-water storage facilities by concentrating on common problems and challenges and identifying potential improvements and solutions. The primary audience is operators of water distribution systems at utilities that serve up to 3,300 people, but operators of larger systems and other stakeholders may also find it valuable. Focuses on regulatory requirements and best practices of the drinking water community. Is intended to serve as a resource for an individual operator’s study or as a reference text in a classroom or training setting.

Download PDF (9.82 MB)

Security and Emergency Response Planning Toolbox for Small Water and Wastewater Systems

Some state agencies require that small water and wastewater systems create a vulnerability assessment and emergency-response plan. Certification of completing a VA and ERP is also a prerequisite for funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This is a simple, user-friendly resource to help small systems meet these requirements and operate and manage their water and wastewater systems securely and efficiently.

The RCAP Security Toolbox consists of five core modules plus appendices. The core modules are:

  • a simple and practical vulnerability assessment guide for small drinking water and/or wastewater systems
  • emergency-response planning instructions for small drinking water systems
  • an emergency-response planning template for small drinking water systems
  • emergency-response planning instructions for small wastewater systems
  • an emergency-response planning template for small wastewater systems.

The instructions demonstrate how to conduct the procedures, and the templates are blanks, identical to forms in the instructions, that can be printed and completed by hand, or saved on a computer and filled in by typing into the saved document. The templates also contain a page to certify that the process has been completed. The appendices include resources, a glossary, an emergency notification and contact list, an RCAP newsletter subscription form, and PowerPoint training presentations.

Download the parts of the toolbox