Board Building Blocks
BOARD BUILDING BLOCKS
A successful water or wastewater system isn’t just about equipment, water sources, treatment systems or finances. It’s also about who’s in charge. In many cases, water and wastewater systems are run by a board of directors.
This edition of eBulletin will touch on the general responsibilities for these boards, tips on how best to run meetings and the water system and a few resources available to assist board members. These hints, tips and explanations for water board members come in part from Bill Heinrichs at Community Resource Group, the southern affiliate of the Rural Community Assistance Partnership. We also have some useful tips and tools from the EPA and other sources.
Water & Wastewater Board 101
Members of the water or wastewater board serve as the organizers and decision makers, but they also tend to be the peacemakers, supervisors, judges, bankers and bookkeepers.
A water board has five major functions:
- Make sure the system complies with state and federal laws
- Develop and enact policies
- Set an annual budget
- Hire a certified operator
- Keep records.
It’s not an easy job, but done well it can ensure all customers have safe, quality drinking water for years to come.
The most important thing for a water board is to ensure they stay in legal compliance with local, federal and state rules and regulations. Bill offers the Top 10 legal responsibilities every water board member should keep in mind.
1. Ensure your system complies with applicable federal, state and local laws and ordinances.
2. Conduct business only as a board, rather than individuals making the decisions.
3. Avoid any conflict of interest and the appearance of one.
4. Ensure the water system receives, records and spends money according to acceptable accounting, purchasing and record-keeping standards, and that records are available according to state and federal law.
5. Ensure the system revenue covers operations, debt service and reserves.
6. Board members must remain in charge and must direct water system operations.
7. Board members must ensure the system operates within laws and regulations.
8. Board members are legally responsible to protect system assets.
9. Board members must validate all major contracts by giving and recording formal approval.
10. Members must attend most board meetings.
The board is the linchpin of a water system. A good board will keep the system well organized, financially stable and functioning smoothly. But even the best boards need help on occasion. After all, it’s a lot to handle when you consider all the financial, managerial and record-keeping responsibilities.
It’s important to keep things organized, to keep employees and customers informed of any issues and to make sure the system is capable of staying financially healthy. It’s important to discuss issues, conduct business in a timely manner and allow the public the chance to address concerns. Much of this can be accomplished in the board meeting.
Planning It Out
Sitting in a water board meeting may not be the best part of the job, but it’s one of the most important.
Without a majority of members, or quorum, most decisions cannot be made legally. So if you decide to become a board member, it’s a good idea to make sure you’ll be able to attend meetings.
Once there, it’s good to know exactly what needs to be accomplished. The best way to do this is to have a set, written agenda for each meeting.
The agenda serves several purposes. It provides a list of tasks that must be accomplished that night, so nothing is forgotten or left out. It provides better structure for the meeting, giving an idea of how long the meeting might be and whether some tasks should be postponed until the next meeting. It also lets customers know what issues will be discussed about their water or wastewater system. Some customers may then choose to attend and speak during a public comment portion to give opinions about current issues or to make the board aware of new ones.
Finally, a written agenda provides a paper trail for various issues. So if a federal or state agency wants to know when approval was issued to match grant funds, for example, that information can be ferreted out by looking it up on the agenda, then double checking the meeting’s minutes to ensure the vote took place. The minutes, or notes from the meeting, should include details of each agenda item, the points discussed and the result reached, be it a vote or postponement.
Below are links to a few random examples of agendas, just to give you an idea of the typical structure of an agenda and board meeting.
Sea Ranch Water Company Board of Directors agenda
Contra Costa Water District Board of Directors agenda
Department of Water Supply County of Hawaii Water Board Meeting agenda (PDF)
Bountiful Board Resources
So are you a newly appointed board member? Perhaps you’ve been around a while and see room for improvement. Either way, there are plenty of resources available for water and wastewater board members.
RCAP and its affiliates offer free managerial and financial assistance for board members and other water and wastewater officials. In addition to such on-site training, the affiliates often offer special training sessions. CRG, for example, recently held an Advanced Management Training session in mid-June. The session trained board members, clerks and city officials on customer service. Information on such sessions may be posted on the Web site for RCAP or its affiliates.
The EPA provides a Drinking Water Academy, with several classes both online and at various locations that cover all aspects of running a successful water system, from federal regulation refreshers to managerial and financial management training.
Some of the presentations are stored online and can be downloaded as either a Microsoft PowerPoint slideshow or an Adobe PDF.
For faster help, the EPA has a fact sheet that outlines roles and responsibilities of water owners and water boards. The fact sheet is called “Water System Owner Roles and Responsibilities: A Best Practices Guide” and a link is provided below.
You might also check out “Record Keeping Rules: A Quick Reference Guide.” It lets those running water systems know exactly what is required by federal regulations. It also provides tips on record maintenance and security. The link is provided below.
There are other resources available for water and wastewater board members, from descriptions of what the job entails to tools to determine how well things are going.
The National Environmental Services Center offers a self-assessment checklist that applies to board members, city officials and any other decision makers for a small water or wastewater system. It’s a simple set of “yes or no” responses, but those responses in red show where improvement may be needed through additional training, for example. A link to the tool is listed below.
The NESC has other resources for small systems as well, from articles on water board responsibilities to a chart of small system regulations. The information can be found on their Web site, http://www.nesc.wvu.edu/.
The American Water Works Association offers the Public Officials Program for new and current board members. The Annual Conference & Exposition is held each year for public officials, with the latest wrapping up June 12. However, the AWWA has PDF files of some of the presentations on its Web site. These presentations are geared at water officials and cover a variety of topics for board members and other public water officials. The presentations are available on the Public Officials Program page under the Conferences and Education tab.
These are just a few of many resources available to new and existing water and wastewater board members. There are plenty of other ways to train or improve, even doing simple tasks like observing other government meetings, consulting with groups like RCAP or the EPA on how best to solve problems or checking out some of the many books available on running a successful government board. Remember, it never hurts to ask for assistance if needed.
All the meetings, responsibilities, records and tough decisions may seem like a lot to deal with, but it helps to keep in mind the end result – safe, uninterrupted drinking water for every customer.
EPA Drinking Water Academy
Water System Owner Roles and Responsibilities: A Best Practices Guide
Record Keeping Rules: A Quick Reference Guide
National Environmental Services Center Small Systems resources
Self-Assessment Tool for Small Community Decision Makers
American Water Works Association (AWWA)