New Research Prioritizes 10 Lessons Learned from Rural Water and Wastewater Partnerships

March 26, 2020 | Blog, General RCAP News, Regionalization

Media Contact: Kinsey Brown

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March 12, 2020 – Washington, DC – The Rural Community Assistance Partnership, Inc. (RCAP), released a new report, “Resiliency Through Water and Wastewater System Partnerships: 10 Lessons from Community Leaders,” which looks at community utility partnerships from a rural and tribal perspective. As small communities across the country seek solutions for common economic, operational and compliance challenges, this research highlights the experiences of those who chose water and/or wastewater system partnerships as a solution. Some systems are collaborating to build capacity and become more resilient, enabling them to successfully sustain their systems not only financially, but technically and managerially, for years to come.

The report highlights 10 lessons from community leaders who undertook and facilitated regional collaboration, also called regionalization, projects – the successes they saw, the challenges they overcame, and the difficult questions they faced throughout the process. This research highlights:

• How two systems – one with excess capacity and one without enough capacity – partnered to combine drinking water treatment efforts after a voter mandate.

• How a tribe and regional council of governments brought resources to bear for two communities to form a regional entity with the help of external facilitation.

• How leaders went out of their way to ensure all communities were involved in governing the new entity because they believed it was important for success and fairness.

• How communities built trust that is crucial to effective regional collaboration projects and more.

RCAP unveiled this research with more than 70 community and partner participants on March 11 in State College, Penn., at its second Regional Collaboration Summit, hosted in conjunction with RCAP Solutions, the Northeast RCAP. Partnerships highlighted in this research fall along a wide spectrum of regionalization options – ranging from informal collaboration to restructured utility ownership and governance.

The RCAP Network serves as a neutral third-party, helping communities explore and pursue regionalization if they so choose. With that in mind, RCAP spoke with community leaders and utility operators and managers from across the country, to learn what they think other community leaders and members should know about the process of partnering. RCAP also tested findings at the inaugural Regional Collaboration Summit in October 2019 in Springfield, Ill. The resulting lessons show the experiences of communities as large as 6,000 and as small as 200 residents in California, Florida, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota.

“With 97 percent of the country’s more than 145,000 public water systems and 72 percent of its 15,000 wastewater systems covering communities of 10,000 residents or fewer, it is imperative to understand the realities facing rural and tribal systems across the United States. This report, “Resiliency Through Water and Wastewater System Partnerships: 10 Lessons from Community Leaders,” fills an important gap in the growing conversation on system partnerships,” said RCAP CEO Nathan Ohle. “By focusing on learning from small, rural and tribal communities, we were able to understand regionalization at a very human level. We hope in the future community leaders will use these practical lessons and key questions as they develop partnerships, especially if system collaboration is part of their plan of action to improve quality of life for their citizens.”

The report also highlights multiple drivers of regionalization efforts and the barriers communities might face. Drivers include cost considerations and regulatory pressures, among others. Barriers the report discusses include local politics, lack of trust, and fear of the unknown. This research goes into detail for solutions to addressing each barrier associated with regionalization, and highlights real-world examples from rural communities across the United States.

This research accompanies and was informed by the RCAP Network’s on-the-ground technical assistance provided to small, rural and tribal communities. To further serve these communities, RCAP will release a second research report later this year detailing policy and governance mechanisms that support and incentivize greater collaboration.

Read the full report here.


About RCAP: RCAP is a national non-profit network providing opportunity, assistance, and practical guidance to small communities in all fifty states, U.S. territories, and tribal lands to ensure access to safe drinking water, sanitary wastewater disposal, and economic prosperity for all rural America. RCAP Regional Partners who employ more than 200 technical assistance providers who work directly with small, rural and tribal communities include: Communities Unlimited, Great Lakes Community Action Partnership, the Midwest Assistance Program, RCAP Solutions, the Rural Community Assistance Corporation, and Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project. To learn more about RCAP, visit