Shared Solutions Bring Small Yet Meaningful Victories in Regional Collaboration
Regionalization | 3 MIN READ

Shared Solutions Bring Small Yet Meaningful Victories in Regional Collaboration

As an operator, manager, or board member of a small water system, you may feel overwhelmed by the challenges your system routinely faces. While larger systems’ challenges often demand more complex solutions, small victories in regional collaboration can ease the challenges small systems encounter. RCAP has assisted with establishing partnerships among several communities in the last few years to lessen the burden on each individual system’s responsibilities. In these systems, the operators work with other operators in times of need, whether in an urgent situation or on a more routine basis. Here are a few real-world examples that led to solving several challenges.

In a small municipal water authority in Pennsylvania, serving 130 residents, the new operator had no previous operating experience and needed significant guidance to proficiently operate the system. In working with this system, RCAP found the operator the help they needed from a neighboring system’s operator. On a routine basis, the operators would meet to discuss new and ongoing issues with each of their systems. This partnership eventually led to an ongoing working relationship that has proved to be very beneficial to the less experienced operator.

In another part of Pennsylvania, a small non-transient non-community rural water system needed a certified operator for the small filter plant that served their customers to comply with the regulations. The owners of the system were burdened by this task and did not know how to make this happen. RCAP provided a list of operators in the area that were willing to operate the system and assisted in contacting the certified operators identified. Within a few weeks, the system obtained the services from one of the certified operators, which alleviated the non-compliance of the system for not obtaining a certified operator.

In another example, a small water association serving 60 residents in rural Pennsylvania was experiencing significant water loss but did not know the exact location of the leak because the association did not have sufficient leak detection equipment, or the experience needed to operate it effectively. In consultation with RCAP, they found leak detection assistance from a neighboring system. This system was open and willing to assist with their equipment. The leak was located quickly and the repair was completed within two days.

All these examples show how effective regional collaboration can be even at the simplest and most informal level. Even though each solution was relatively small, the collaborations had significant impact on each community. If the first operator had not reached out to a more experienced operator for advice on important issues, where would they be now? If the second system did not collaborate with a certified operator to operate the system and instead continued in violation, what would that have meant for the system and its customers? If the system in the third example did not reach out for help on the major leak, could it have dewatered the system, impacted customers water service, create a financial hardship, or possibly severely impact their distribution system? The truth is that we often do not fully appreciate the value in the small victories of collaborating with one another.

As a manager, operator, or board member of a small water system, what are some challenges your utility will face this year? How might partnerships help meet these challenges? RCAP offers free training and assistance around regional collaboration and has access to partnership tools to help facilitate your potential regional collaboration efforts. Regional collaboration as one tool to build capacity while limiting impacts of the challenges each system faces.

November 19, 2021
The Municipal Authority of the Borough of Midland Benefits From RCAP Technical Assistance
Wastewater | 4 MIN READ

The Municipal Authority of the Borough of Midland Benefits From RCAP Technical Assistance

Midland, incorporated in 1906, is a small town located in Beaver County, Pennsylvania on the banks of the Ohio River. The town was known as one of the early mill towns in Pennsylvania and experienced an early 20th century industrial boom. Midland Steel Works became one of the most profitable businesses in the area and employed many locals.  By 1907, the borough government, fire & police departments, energy and transportation systems were operating. The Midland Water Company was established by Midland Steel to supply the town with water in 1907. In 1911, the Crucible Steel Company of America purchased Midland Steel Works for about $7.5 million dollars and started its expansion. The area experienced exponential growth during that time as population boomed. In 1953, the Crucible Steel Company of America transferred ownership of the water company to Midland, and, today, the Municipal Authority serves Midland Borough, Shippingport Borough, and parts of Industry Borough with water.

When the Crucible Steel Company closed in the early 1980’s, the area and surrounding Boroughs all experienced economic decline. The resulting economic decline in the area has brought with it a population decline that affects Midland’s water utility financially. Since the mill closed operations; the water treatment plant remains oversized in relation to the amount of water it treats.  There is significant concern about aging infrastructure and the state of deterioration on the part of the Municipal Authority*. For example, the Municipal Authority needs to update and replace the electrical wires and panels for both the water and wastewater system.

In addition, there are other components to the wastewater system that must be added, repaired, or replaced. Also, the Municipal Authority wants to close some dead ends in the distribution system to improve the water quality. The Municipal Authority wishes to update their utility maps as the existing maps are now very old and hard to read and understand.

RCAP Solutions staff started working with the Municipal Authority of the Borough of Midland in 2018, and it took some time to fully understand the magnitude of the need for technical assistance in this area. Because the Municipal Authority was planning to make updates to the water and wastewater system and the plant supervisor was close to retirement; it was very important for the system to have updated maps. The RCAP TAP worked with the supervisor in the field to collect all the GIS Data, and the RCAP GIS Specialist prepared the new maps for the water distribution system. Such maps include the location for the booster station, a new section of the distribution system, pump stations, and the Shippingport interconnection line.

After completion, RCAP was able to verify and confirm the locations of the assets with the supervisor. Also, the RCAP Pennsylvania State Lead initiated discussions with the Municipal Authority and the Borough regarding the wastewater collection system data and potential GIS solutions.  RCAP Solutions staff have all worked collectively to support the Municipal Authority with information on the overall project development process, including financing options, asset management, GIS software options and licensing, and community advocacy issues. RCAP Solutions helped the community to identify different options for the financing of future updates in the water treatment and distribution systems.

After evaluating all the options, the Authority decided to apply to USDA and started an online application through the RD apply process. RCAP staff continued support on the application process, providing long distance assistance to the Municipal Authority during the COVID-19 pandemic. This assistance included issues involving the Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) number for RD Apply and explaining the application, the process to the Authority.

With RCAP’s assistance, the Municipal Authority of the Borough of Midland has new and accurate maps with information about hydrants, hydrant valves, the booster house, water feed stations and water valves in the main line. In addition, the community identified the right financial option for the necessary improvements at both the water and wastewater plants. RCAP believes the community has made excellent progress to improve their overall financial, managerial and technical capacity. RCAP Solutions staff were pleased to be able to utilize USDA technical assistance and training funding to assist this community with several financial and managerial tasks. The community is also pleased to be moving in the right direction on necessary improvements.

*Source: Tales of Midland’s 20th Century Golden Period June 6, 2017 in the Beaver County Times News

November 19, 2021
Navigating Income Surveys During COVID-19

Navigating Income Surveys During COVID-19

Income surveys are tools that funders use to determine a community’s median household income (MHI), which affects eligibility and favorability of terms for grant and loan packages. To ensure confidentiality, most funders require a third-party entity like the Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC), the western RCAP, to conduct the survey. Income surveys usually happen in two phases: a paper survey mailed to rate payers’ homes, followed by at least one round of door-to-door interviews with households that did not respond by mail. As an RCAC technical assistance provider, I’ve helped to conduct income surveys.

In August 2020, the US Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA RD) asked RCAC to perform an income survey in Panhandle Village, a very small community near Rathdrum, Idaho. Panhandle Village was seeking infrastructure funding from USDA RD and the Idaho Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program to update its drinking water distribution system.

There were 50 active residential water connections at Panhandle Village, and CDBG requires an 80% response rate for the survey, based on system size. This high response rate is often hard to achieve. To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic made it unsafe for technical assistance providers (TAPs) and community members to travel and complete the door-to-door interviews. These interviews are often critical to collect the required number of survey responses, and RCAC has not conducted many income surveys of this size without needing to go door to door.

Nevertheless, the RCAC staff put their heads together to develop a methodology that would satisfy the funding agencies and gather the necessary responses.

Pandemic-Specific Problems

COVID-19 presented several challenges to conducting the income survey:

We were unable to host public meetings to answer questions about the survey and the process. Doing public outreach early and often is critical for generating survey participation, and in-person presentations are traditionally the most effective way to garner local support.
Without the option of going door-to-door, we needed another way to connect with all rate payers directly for follow-up. For example, if not all rate payers had email addresses, we could not send the survey via email. The team also discussed an electronic survey, but neither the agencies nor TAPs had a framework or format to perform secure online income surveys, so that was not feasible. The issue with access remained, as not every home had internet access.

COVID-19 also impacted the U.S. Postal Service and, for many reasons, caused serious delays in mail delivery. Since CDBG requires an 80% response rate within 75 days to consider the survey valid, these mail delays were a major hurdle.
Some residents reported they had lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and had either retired or begun receiving unemployment. This meant their reported income for the previous year was not representative of their current or expected future income.

Creative, Collaborative Solutions

RCAC worked closely with funders to identify creative solutions that would yield a valid survey. We also worked with community leaders to develop new strategies to generate buy-in and enable timely responses from ratepayers.

While I worked in close communication with Panhandle Village representatives to track survey responses and focus local outreach to non-responders, the water system’s board members reached out to people they knew personally. The community seemed supportive, but time began to run out while we waited for surveys to arrive by mail. To address this issue, I conducted phone interviews with several residents to achieve the 80% response rate before the 75-day deadline.

Our team also sent out three rounds of mailers (instead of just one) with an extra week built into the deadline, to accommodate mail delivery delays. The funders adjusted their requirements to support phone interviews in lieu of door-to-door interviews. Lastly, community leaders made phone calls and went to the homes of people they knew to encourage residents to complete the survey.

Thanks to these combined efforts and solutions, we succeeded in conducting a valid survey before the deadline!

Future Considerations

As with many other processes and systems, COVID-19 revealed weaknesses within the standard median household income (MHI) process. Fillable forms or online surveys may be a future option, although they need to be considered alongside lack of internet access and the ability to maintain confidentiality. Many rural areas do not have broadband or any access to the internet. Even in communities with internet access, like Panhandle Village, many residents do not have internet in their homes. Equitable access to the internet ought to be considered when evaluating traditional mail and in-person income survey alternatives.

November 19, 2021
To Flush or Not to Flush: Grinder Pumps In Low-Pressure Systems
Wastewater | 5 MIN READ

To Flush or Not to Flush: Grinder Pumps In Low-Pressure Systems

Low-pressure systems operate like normal sewer systems. They take in the normal waste from a home and/or commercial building, but before transferring it straight to the treatment plant, it makes a stop through a grinder pump. A grinder pump is kind of like your garbage disposal. This high-powered pump can run by an “on/off” sensor level switch or a float system. Once the pump kicks on, it grinds up solids before pumping waste out through the discharge line. Toilets, baths, showers, household sinks, dishwashers, and washing machines are all examples of WASTE that the grinder pump needs to handle—it has a big and important job to do.

A grinder pump station/unit consists of a basin that houses the pump, where an inlet from the home/building enters. This pressure system consists of a pumping station “grinder pump unit” on each property (could be shared), which is connected to a discharge line that is connected to a network of force mains. Those lines then transfer the wastewater to lift stations and/or treatment plant.

Like a Garbage Disposal Except…

Now, most manufacturers will tell you that their grinder pump is made to grind up a beer can. However, in my experience working with grinder pumps as an operator in the field, I learned that was just a sales pitch–these pumps are powerful, but not that powerful.

A grinder pump station/unit is kind of like your garbage disposal, but stronger. Grinder pumps are 1-2 Horsepower (HP) or more and garbage disposal are about ½ HP. They are also designed very similarly – a grinder pump is facing downwards and the garbage disposal is upwards. Consider the times you turned on your garbage disposal to find something was down in there that wasn’t supposed to be!  We’ve all seen what our garbage disposal has chewed up, whether we wanted it to or not! The main difference between them is that our garbage disposals are eating up and discharging the waste as we control the running water, whereas the waste from our homes are filling (settling/floating) into a basin where the grinder pump sits quietly until the level of the waste triggers the pump to kick on. We try to manage what we put into the garbage disposal, because we know what can happen, and we operate it manually. But many homeowners may not even be aware they have a grinder pump and how it needs to be cared for until it needs to be fixed. With a grinder pump, what we flush is out of sight, out of mind and when the grinder pump clicks on is beyond our control!

The Problem with Floating 

When items have time to settle, they have a better chance of being chewed up and pumped out by the grinder pump without issue. Since the grinder pumps operate on levels, anything that stays afloat will continue to collect. That means that if you then add grease, powder detergents, etc. to what is already floating, you are forming a solid which may create challenges in the grinding process. Most problems that occur with grinder pumps are due to unwanted items being placed, thrown, flushed, etc. into the sewer system.

To avoid and prevent problems to the grinder pump including blockage and damage to the system itself, it’s important to help educate our communities on what can’t be flushed down the drain.

A DO NOT Flush List 

Below is a basic list of common items you SHOULD NOT put and/or place down/into the sewer. Please note that this list can also apply to those served  by a public sewer with or without a grinder pump, as well as to individual septic systems:

Diapers (children or adult)
Disposable Wipes (even if they say “FLUSHABLE”)
Baby Wipes
Paper Towels or Rags
Feminine Hygiene Products (even if they say” FLUSHABLE”)
Lubricating Oils
Dental Floss
Cotton Balls
Abrasive Materials including Gravel, Sand, Aquarium Rocks
Coffee Grounds
Kitty Litter
Seafood Shells
Flammable Materials
Strong Chemicals
Gasoline or Diesel
Gutter Connection
Sump Pump Connection
Storm Water Runoff

A Few Helpful Additional Notes for Technical Assistance Providers (TAPs), Operators and Property Owners on Grinder Pump Stations:

Allow access to grinder pump station/unit at all times.
Do NOT cover vent to pump station/unit.
Do NOT cover pump station/unit lid.
Do NOT turn off the power to the pump station/unit.
Always call Digsafe at 811 before digging!
If you lose power, notify your utility ASAP!

If you do go on vacation or this is a vacation home:  Flush the system before you leave to prevent clogs in the pump when you return! 

Run water into the grinder unit until the pump kicks on.
Turn off the water going into the grinder unit, allowing the pump to run until it shuts off automatically.
If you disconnect power, please notify all your utilities.

Teaching, educating, and simply knowing your system can make a huge difference for everyone.

November 19, 2021
A Sneak Peak of RCAP’s 2021 National Conference
Information | 5 MIN READ

A Sneak Peak of RCAP’s 2021 National Conference

From August 17-19, 2021, The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) will be hosting our annual National Conference. The National Conference is an opportunity for the regional affiliates that make up RCAP’s network, made up of more than 300 Technical Assistance Providers (TAPs) to come together and share their knowledge and experiences to better serve rural communities across the country. The Conference also coincides with the celebration of National Water Quality Month to emphasize the importance of clean, safe water in our communities, homes, and environment. The various learning tracks of the conference cover topics such as operations, regulations, management and finance for water, wastewater, and solid waste as well as sessions on some of RCAP’s newer rural endeavors including economic development and community facilities that all tie back to the larger issue of water quality and the quality of life in rural America.

To better understand what to expect at the National Conference, we sat down with Lisa Fought, Training and Technical Services Specialist,  one of the main planners of the event. As a former TAP with the Great Lakes RCAP, the Great Lakes Community Assistance Partnership, Lisa has experience as both a participant and planner of the National Conference.

For those unfamiliar, what is the RCAP National Conference?

The National Conference aims to provide best practices and training to the people who are on the ground, in communities, doing the work. We have so few opportunities to come together across the regions and this is a chance to connect with people doing similar work all across the country. The National Conference is also a showcase of the depth and breadth of experience and knowledge we have across the network. We have over 3000 TAPs on the ground doing this work in all 50 states and U.S. territories. It is a reminder, on a national scale, of just how amazing the people who work for the network are.

When you were a TAP, what was the National Conference like for you?

When I was a TAP, the biggest benefit of the conference for me was the networking. It is an opportunity to connect with the other TAPs as well as staff from the National Office. TAPs can feel isolated because a lot of us work remotely. I worked remotely for twenty years. The face to face (and virtual) connection with people is really important.

What is your experience like now as a member of the National team?

I now have an appreciation for the amount of effort and work that goes into planning the conference. I see that the National Office is really trying to address the needs and wants of the people in the field. That’s not an easy task because you have 300 different needs and wants. We really try to be conscious of what everyone wants to get out of the conference.

What is it like having to plan a Virtual Conference?

A virtual conference allows for potentially all TAPs to participate whereas, in person, regions may have a limited amount of travel funds to send participants. The networking and intra-personal elements can be harder remotely, though we are doing our best to set up virtual networking opportunities. Some people are also fatigued from having to connect in this way for over a year, but we’ll see what happens as the COVID-19 pandemic clears and play it one day at a time.

Are there any sessions or elements of the Conference you are particularly excited about this year?

All of them! Every session we have this year has relevance to someone. We try to provide a menu of choices for people to participate in a variety of sessions. Coming in as a new TAP years ago, I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so it can be hard to choose with so many great options.  We have some really amazing staff across the country who were willing to take the time to design and deliver a session (or more), and it just demonstrates again the depth and breadth of knowledge we have in this network.

This year I’m really looking forward to interacting with everyone in the field. I’m interested in hearing the different experiences, reconnecting, and creating a space to tap into each other’s knowledge. Everyone has their own specialties and sharing this allows us to best serve the communities we’re working with.

Do you have any guidance for first-time attendees to help them maximize their conference experience?

We hope everyone will have patience. Since the conference is virtual, it’s possible (probable) we may have some technological glitches. Attendees should also be willing to listen and learn from presenters and one another. It’s important to highlight that, even though someone may be new to RCAP, that doesn’t mean they are new to this arena. Everyone comes to this network with their own set of skills and knowledge to share that the rest of us can learn from. I’m really hoping to have active and engaged participants this year because that makes the conference so much more meaningful for everyone.

Learn more about the National Conference and its speakers and sponsors here. Follow along on Twitter with the hashtag #RCAPNationalConference.

November 19, 2021
Planning and Preparing for Natural Disasters: Lessons From a Mutual Aid Network In Florida
Information | 4 MIN READ

Planning and Preparing for Natural Disasters: Lessons From a Mutual Aid Network In Florida

In the last few years, hurricane season has become even more active and dangerous. September is National Preparedness Month and offers a powerful opportunity to encourage planning and preparedness for natural disasters, especially as they increase in frequency and intensity, by sharing examples of how different states are managing this.

Florida has implemented the Florida Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (FlaWARN) to help in the recovery of water and wastewater utilities after storms. FlaWARN is a mutual aid network to help utilities during man-made and natural disasters.

Mutual aid agreements are an effective regionalization approach that all utilities can participate in. Some utilities have had a fear that by signing a mutual aid agreement, they are agreeing to accept assistance from anyone that offers it or are obligated to assist if requested. None of these things are true. They actually serve to assure assisting utilities that if their help is accepted, they will be reimbursed for it down the line. 

FlaWARN coordinates and pairs utilities that have need for support during a disaster with those utilities that can offer assistance through their Water Tracker program. Systems register with FlaWARN as a member and file a signed mutual aid agreement with the organization and then have access to this innovative tool. Florida is demoing the tool for other states in the hope that they can modify it to meet their local mutual aid and disaster response needs. It can be used for any type of emergency not just hurricanes and also was heavily utilized throughout the COVID 19 pandemic.

Once a disaster has been declared, FlaWARN staff enter the event into the FlaWARN database. Member utilities are notified through the system that this has occurred. Members can opt out of receiving notifications for any event at any time. After the event, utilities in need of assistance can make a request. The needs go out as notifications that assisting utilities can respond to.  Their responses also go out as notifications. Additionally, systems can go to the FlaWARN website directly to see what is needed.

As an example of how this works, during Hurricane Michael in 2018, the following post was made:

Hurricane Michael

Need: Port St. Joe – Cape San Blas Wastewater and Liftstation

Florida Rural Water Association 
Posted by Dyana Stewart (DJS) Oct 24 12:29pm

Update 11/2/18 DJS per Scotty Phillips: City of Tallahassee delivered (3) 6″ bypass pumps and Wewahitcha delivered (1) 4″ bypass pump on 10/31/18.

New Need Update 10/30/18 10:13 DJS: (4) 6″ bypass pumps that can connect to 4″ male quick clamps

Update 10/24/18 2:14pm DJS: Regional Utilities is onsite and will take the lead, but more assistance is needed.

10/24/18 12:39pm DJS: System is needing crews to help repair WW line from Port St. Joe to Cape San Blas in wet area.
3500 Linear Feet (LF) of 8″ C900 Green sewer pipe
(25) 8″ restraint fittings
(10) 8″ hymax couplings
(25) 8″ EBBA megalugs with bolt kits
(8) 8″ Ductile Iron Mechanical Joint (DI MJ) caps
(8) 8″ DI MJ 45°
(8) 8″ DI MJ 90°
3500LF green trace wire
100′ 1 1/4″ construction well point PVC screen

Contact: John Grantland, 850-XXX-XXXX

Each disaster event helps Florida learn and explore ways to improve the system. For example, during Hurricane Michael in 2018, a persistent problem in response was a miscommunication and flawed incident command. In an effort to address these issues, during the following 2019 hurricane season, the state divided itself up into zones with a key utility agreeing to be the lead for their zone during the event. This will hopefully alleviate miscommunication, such as those that occurred during Hurricane Michael, and provide better incident command. It is through suggestions provided by utilities that make this mutual aid network a success which is critical when a natural disaster hits.

Most states have a WARN where systems can help one another in their time of need and do so in a way that will allow them to be adequately reimbursed for their efforts. To find a WARN in your state, you can check out EPA’s website.

November 19, 2021
Be Proactive: The Importance of Regular Wastewater Lagoon Maintenance
Wastewater | 4 MIN READ

Be Proactive: The Importance of Regular Wastewater Lagoon Maintenance

There are over 8,000 wastewater lagoons permitted to treat raw sewage in the United States. Most wastewater operators will tell you that the low operation and maintenance (O&M) cost of a lagoon is a significant advantage over a package plant or other mechanical treatment process. But it’s important to note that low O&M costs should not equate to no O&M. The key to keeping O&M costs to a minimum is to be proactive with your maintenance instead of reactive.

Lagoons tend to be more neglected than other types of wastewater treatment facilities. “Out of sight, out of mind” seems to be the common philosophy among many wastewater operators. The problem with this is that without regular inspection and proper maintenance, the lagoon will fail, and the community’s wastewater will not be adequately treated. This can lead to compliance issues when the effluent doesn’t meet the permit limits, and even public health issues if untreated wastewater flows into public streams.

One’s O&M needs will vary depending on many different aspects such as the type of lagoon, the size of the facility, how many cells the lagoon has, the type and amount of waste you are treating, and the equipment used in the treatment process. Even though it’s not required in many states, we highly recommend that an operator does a daily inspection of the facility.

Performing Daily Inspections 

In the daily visit to the wastewater treatment facility, the operator should inspect the lagoon for scum, grease clumps, and other floating items that can block the pipes.

The operator should also be aware of any new or unusual odors that could indicate a problem in the treatment process, such as a malfunction of an aerator or chlorinator. Odors can also indicate an algae overload, an influx of septic water from the collection system, illegal dumping, a dead animal, or many other things that might require additional investigation/action. Plus, if your pond is near any residences, odor control must be a priority.

Other things to do during the daily inspection include:

Inspect and clean the bar screen at the headworks
This will prevent unwanted solids from entering the lagoon from the collection system

Check for blockages by confirming flow into the facility and between cells of the lagoon
Pipes can collapse and cause a blockage
Pipes can be blocked by animals including turtles or a build-up of solids
Inspect aerators and curtains/baffles to confirm they are anchored in place as designed
Weather can damage these devices by moving them around and interrupting power service, which interferes with their effectiveness in the treatment process

Check the chlorine pump/feeder, including any chemicals fed in the treatment process
Check site for gas chlorine leaks
Ensure the supply of chlorine and other chemicals is sufficient

Make sure the chlorine contact chamber is clean and free of any sludge or debris
Too much sludge can lead to sludge bulking in the chamber, causing high total suspended solids (TSS) levels and other parameter deviations

Maintaining the Landscape

Maintain the grass on the levee/dike/berm on a regular basis, depending on your location and the time of year. Cutting the grass around your lagoon regularly is extremely important to prevent the clumping that occurs when you allow grass to grow very tall before you cut it. Clumping can lead to erosion because of uneven grass coverage. The grass on that levee should look like a well-groomed lawn!

Repair any holes in the levee as quickly as possible.

Do not allow trees to grow on the levee/dike/berm. Their roots can penetrate the levee, causing costly damage. When possible, remove any tree within 50 feet of your lagoon. Trees can block natural airflow, which can affect the dissolved oxygen (DO) transfer in the lagoon, which in turn can affect the health of the bacteria in the lagoon.

Other Maintenance

Aerators and curtains/baffles should be serviced regularly as required by the manufacturer.

Last but not least, check the fence around your facility. There should be no holes in the fencing and no evidence of burrowing under the fence. Always lock the gate when you leave the site.

Taking these steps will ensure that the O&M costs of your lagoon remain low, and the facility continues to operate in top shape.

November 19, 2021
Five Core Questions to Answer for Effective Management of System Assets
Asset Management | 5 MIN READ

Five Core Questions to Answer for Effective Management of System Assets

Asset management is more than simply “managing one’s assets.” Asset management goes beyond managing capital equipment (pumps, motors, etc.) and taking care of equipment. More accurately, asset management is a comprehensive, integrated process for maintaining system infrastructure assets and equipment for the most effective, least-cost allocation of resources, in order to sustain the utility over time.

If you read that and say to yourself, “I’m already doing that,” you’re probably right, at least in part. True asset management takes more into account than just equipment alone; it looks at each piece of equipment in a big-picture, “whole life” way that includes planning, financing, assessing risks, maintaining it, record-keeping and prioritizing replacement. Asset management may seem time-intensive and costly, but it is a long-view investment that has helped many communities save money over the long term. By being proactive versus reactive and not waiting until something breaks to replace it, systems are able to often able to provide more affordable, reliable service with fewer negative impacts for customers and/or service interruptions.

Asset management looks at every aspect of an asset during its entire life span from planning and design to obsolescence and removal. To do this requires asking and answering five critical “core” questions, identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


Answering these questions requires a full inventory of the system, in as much detail as you can manage, along with an assessment of the condition of each piece of equipment and the consequences to the system if that piece of equipment should fail. The inventory step is probably the most labor-intensive, time-consuming part of the process. Risk and condition assessments require two judgments to be made: what is the likelihood of an asset failing, and what will it mean to the system if it does fail? Each asset’s risk assessment must be based on two components: the likelihood of and consequences of failure. The risk of failure coupled with the age and expected life of an asset are what help to determine the asset’s condition and priority for potential action.


Level of Service (LOS) goals should be measurable, attainable and realistic while just far enough ahead of the present reality to represent a target requiring effort. LOS goals should be stated in quantifiable terms. To say, “I want my system to be run in the most efficient way possible,” might be a simple mission statement, but there is no way to measure performance or achievement of that goal. A more measurable goal might be, “I want the system to be run with no more than 1 (or 2, or 3) water outages in a 12-month period.” That can be both measured and achieved.


Here one should juxtapose the results of the risk assessment with information such as the level of redundancy for an individual asset, whether a bypass or an alternative is available or whether it can be repaired or re-built instead of replaced. All these issues, along with the likelihood and consequences of an asset failing, go into determining how critical an asset is to the system.


Answering this core question requires some knowledge of more than just what a piece of equipment costs to install. One must also have some idea of the asset’s operating costs over its useful life, as well as some way to estimate the cost to remove or rebuild it when that useful life is over. If an asset has a maintenance contract, that contract amount is part of those life cycle costs. If, however, the asset is a piece of pipe, then the minimum life cycle costs might amount to almost nothing over the life of the pipe. The point is that different assets will have different cost centers as well as different life spans.


Answering this question requires an examination of the reserves available for self-funding asset restoration/rebuilding/replacement, as well as adequacy of revenues over time. It’s important to remember that funding, in this context, pertains to the dollars needed to maintain the level of service goals that have been set as well as the cost of asset maintenance and replacement. Anything less than the levels needed for both functions could mean that the system is not operating on a sustainable basis. And in these days of scarce funding, sustainability is everything. Outside funding programs rarely fund all of a replacement or upgrade project.

Whatever your funding plans are for sustaining your system, having a plan in place is a large part of the battle. Asset management is the campaign itself. A key part of the strategy is engaging decision-makers and building buy-in for proper asset management and investments that may need to be made. The campaign can succeed with a sound plan, based on solid management practices, starting with these five core questions.

Search EPA Publications online by topic or title:
EPA STEP – Simple Tools for Effective Performance – Guides:
“Asset Management: A Handbook for Small Water Systems”
“Strategic Planning: A Handbook for Small Water Systems”
“Taking Stock of Your Water System: A Simple Asset Inventory for Very Small Water Systems”

Other EPA Guides:
“Asset Management for Local Officials”
“Asset Management: A Best Practices Guide”
CUPSS Software

September 28, 2021
Cybersecurity – Are You Prepared?
Infrastructure | 4 MIN READ

Cybersecurity – Are You Prepared?

By now, many of you have heard of the cyber attack on the water treatment facility in the City of Oldsmar, FL on February 5, 2021.  You can view the city’s press conference at

The event consisted of unauthorized remote access to the utility’s supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system where an intruder altered the amount of sodium hydroxide, raising the dosage by a factor of 100. This could have led to thousands of people suffering from sodium hydroxide poisoning, which includes: lung inflammation, throat swelling, burning of the esophagus and stomach, severe abdominal pain, vision loss, and low blood pressure, according to the University of Florida Health System. Fortunately, the water treatment operator on duty noticed the intrusion and corrected the issue before the change was able to take place. According to a release from the FBI:
“The cyber actors likely accessed the system by exploiting cybersecurity weaknesses including poor password security, and an outdated Windows 7 operating system to compromise software used to remotely manage water treatment. The actor also likely used the desktop sharing software TeamViewer to gain unauthorized access to the system.”
What would have happened if the operator was not on duty or did not notice the change? Would downstream monitoring and other alarms have detected this change before water quality and public health were impacted?

Has your system evaluated cybersecurity? Would you be able to prevent and/or respond to this type of attack?

Cybersecurity is one component of the risk and resiliency assessment (RRA) and emergency response planning (ERP) processes identified in America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (AWIA). The goal of the RRA and ERP process is to assess potential risks and then develop plans to respond. As shown in the recent case at the City of Oldsmar, water systems are vulnerable to cyber-attack. Awareness and planning are needed to protect against these vulnerabilities. RCAP, through its regional partners, has assisted a number of water and wastewater utilities in developing the EPA-compliant RRAs and ERPs required under AWIA.

One of the key components in addressing risk and resilience is training to raise awareness and identify potential actions to be taken to protect water systems. Under an EPA cooperative agreement, RCAP and its partner, American Water Works Association (AWWA), developed the AWIA Small Systems Certification Program.  This program consists of 5 eLearning modules. All are available free of charge to small water utilities at

Course 1: Introduction to Resiliency and America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 – EL272 – As the introductory course in the Small Systems Resiliency Certificate Program, this course introduces the requirements for water utilities established by America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (AWIA) and defines how the certificate program can help small systems to meet those requirements.

Course 2: Operational Measures for Resiliency – EL273 – The second course in the Small Systems Resiliency Certificate Program, the course content covers each aspect of security, field assessments of critical assets, and operational resiliency.

Course 3: How to Develop a Risk and Resilience Assessment – EL274 – As the third course in the Small Systems Resiliency Certificate Program, the course guides small systems through developing a Risk and Resiliency Assessment (RRA) with an RCAP/AWWA worksheet designed for small utilities.

Course 4: How to Develop a Small System Emergency Response Plan – EL275 – As the fourth course in the Small Systems Resiliency Certificate Program, the course guides small systems through developing an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) with the EPA ERP template.

Course 5: Cybersecurity for Water Systems – EL276 – The fifth course in the Small Systems Resiliency Certificate program explains the importance of cybersecurity best practices for critical infrastructure and demonstrates how AWWA’s water sector cybersecurity risk management guidance and tool can help a utility identify gaps in current cybersecurity practices.

The cybersecurity module is currently geared towards water systems of all sizes but is being modified by RCAP and AWWA to better address the needs of small communities. A draft of the revised module should be available for release by the end of March.

While the eLearning modules provide the essential knowledge for addressing AWIA requirements and can be used by some facilities in developing plans, additional training and technical assistance is often needed to help small communities conduct these assessments and develop complimentary ERPs.  RCAP can provide this training and technical assistance. When needed, RCAP and its partners can also provide more in-depth cybersecurity training and analysis. The process consists of assessing the current use of technology; evaluating the controls and practices to identify, protect, and detect threats to their cyber systems; and where to go for more support.

For more information, contact Jeff Oxenford, RCAP Director of Training and Technical Services at [email protected] or (720) 353-4242.

August 18, 2021