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.