The online RCAP Resources Library has a variety of resources that are useful to small, rural drinking water and wastewater systems.
Each year, there are big deadlines that must be met and often are dreaded because they involve some serious number crunching. For individuals, it’s income tax season. For county governments, it’s property tax billing and collection. For water systems, it’s the CCR.
The Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) is due to customers and state regulators by July 1.
It’s easy enough to create a standard CCR with just the information required by the Safe Drinking Water Act. But opportunities exist to do so much more with the CCR. It gives water systems a chance to reach out to customers and let them know just how hard their system is working to provide safe, clean drinking water, and today there are technologies available to help you do that in broader yet easier ways.
In this edition of eBulletin, we’ll give you a few suggestions on ways to get your CCRs to your customers. We’ll tell you how to produce reports they can understand more easily, using tools such as web site “translators” or glossaries included with the CCR. We’ll also make a few suggestions on how to smooth out the rough spots of your CCR report.
The CCR came from the 1998 Consumer Confidence Rule, which has been tweaked several times since its inception. The basics, however, are still around. Water systems with at least 15 service connections or 25 customers must distribute Consumer Confidence Reports to customers.
Here are the basics of what you are required to have in your CCR.
The regulations state that “good faith” efforts must be made to distribute this information to all customers. That can include mailings, ads printed in newspapers and posting the information in public buildings such as city or town halls or libraries.
The EPA has several resources on the CCRs, including the actual regulations behind the CCRs and tips on what to include. A link is available below.
The EPA also can help with creating your annual CCRs. They offer several tutorials, suggestions, resources and tools to help water systems with the annual reports.
One such tool is the CCRWriter, a basic program that helps you write up your report. The program is available for Windows systems (not Macintosh compatible) and is available on CD by calling the Safe Drinking Water hotline at 1-800-426-4791.
The EPA also recommends an online tool called the CCR iWriter. You must sign up on the Web site to access this tool. Once completed, the online software will help you create your CCR.
Links to both are available below.
Requirements dictate that the CCR be distributed to every customer. One of the most common ways to do this is by including them in water bills. But some water systems use postcards instead of bills in envelopes, so including a CCR isn’t possible. Others have moved many of their customers to online billing and given them the option of not receiving a paper bill.
In such cases, there is an option available that ensures your customers get the CCR, but also that they’ll be able to access it anytime they would like.
Put it on the Internet.
Water systems that have their own web sites can add CCRs to the site. You can do it one of two ways: Either code the CCR directly onto a web page by typing or pasting all the information on the page directly, or simply upload the file to your web server and provide a link on your main page allowing customers to download the CCR report directly.
It seems simple enough. But what if you don’t have a web site? Maybe you’ve been thinking of getting one, maybe you’d love to be able to provide information to your customers about the water system in general, as well as providing instant access to the CCR. But you wouldn’t know HTML coding from World War II message encryption.
Actually, there are dozens of tools available online to help you build and store web sites.
There are plenty of free web site builders available. Doing a Google search of “free web site builder” brings up dozens of potential programs. You will have to be careful, though. Some of the sites offer free sites, but they nickel and dime you on things like templates. The templates are made to be easy to edit and to give your site a very professional look. But one site, for example, offers the web site builder for free but charges $40 for each template.
Others offer free services but require registration. Webs.com is an example of such a site. It offers basic free pages that can be built right on their site, or you can opt for premium service, which include web pages without embedded ads, special e-mail addresses or custom domain names (such as www.yourwatersystemname.com).
Sites like Webs.com and other places that offer free web site builders have pros and cons to each of them. The best solution is to just explore each site and find which one is the best fit.
Of course, you can always opt for box software. Web.com offers its software in a box for as little as $9.99. Intuit, known for its Quicken financial software, has Website Creator 2009 for less than $100. Or you can go all out with the professional web site creator from Adobe Systems, Dreamweaver, which is a whopping $400.
Yeah, free is better.
Whatever you decide, there are plenty of free and paid programs available to help you create a web site quickly and easily. You’ll need a place to store your Web sites, but places like AT&T Yahoo or GoDaddy.com offer web site storage, or “hosting,” for a variety of monthly or annual prices, as well as included web site builders.
Once your basic site is up, don’t’ forget to add one more page – a page for the CCR. Make sure you link it to someplace where it can be accessed easily, such as the main page or within the main menus of your web site. You can either type the CCR directly into the Web page or just provide a link to the file, so consumers can download it and read it. Make sure the link is something compatible with most computers, such as Portable Document Format, or PDF. Newer versions of Microsoft Word and other word processors will convert files to PDF.
You could outsource it. No, not recycling the paper in the “round file.” Hire someone to build a site or add your page. There are plenty of web site services out there, from professional companies to your office clerk’s teenage son who freelances so he can pay for the prom. The possibilities are endless, but the results are simple: Your customers and potential customers will have information on your system available to them anytime from nearly anywhere.
There is a final option. If your system really wants a website and you need some help surfing the options, send me an email and I will try to help. You can click on the “email the editor” link and drop me a note, plea for help, or other general comments on the eBulletin if you so choose.
A few examples of online CCRs are available below. Rio Linda/Elverta Community Water District in California provides links to PDFs of their CCR. Colebrook Water Works in New Hampshire, however, chooses to display the full report right on the web page.
One of the biggest problems with CCRs is that the actual reports read to the general public “like ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics,” according to the web site All-About-Water-Filters.com. Admittedly, terms like MCL and Cryptosporidium can seem a bit daunting to the layman.
There are a couple of web sites available that provide “translations” of CCRs so the public can better understand the terminology. All-About-Water-Filters.com has such a page on their web site. The site gives a good tutorial, in English instead of hieroglyphics, and offers tips to help customers understand what all those numbers and fine print mean.
The site is an example of a great “extra” you can provide for your customers. While it’s easy enough to just send the straight CCR, why not go a step further for your customers? Include a flier or letter briefly explaining what each section of the report means. It doesn’t have to be in tiny detail. General explanations are fine. For example, explain why it’s important to know the source of their water supply. Explain what the MCL is and the goal levels. More importantly, explain whether there is any danger in any violations found.
It also doesn’t hurt to explain some of the terminology. Something like Cryptosporidium sounds pretty scary, and “parasite” sounds even scarier. So explain what it is and how likely the chance is your customers might get it.
Here’s another idea: Put the numbers into perspective. For example, you might explain that a slight violation of a certain contamination was equal to half a teaspoon of dye dumped into an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Most of your customers won’t get milliliters and parts-per-million. They will, however, understand that your contamination equals an ice cube being tossed into Lake Michigan.
Below is a link to All-About-Water-Filters.com’s tutorial.
All-About-Water-Filters.com CCR Translation
Customers who look at the CCR will want to know one thing – what does all this mean to me? More specifically, am I getting good, clean, safe drinking water all the time, and if not, then why not?
The CCR may be meant to alleviate concerns, but it also could raise them. Take time to explain certain elements of the CCR. This is especially important if your CCR lists several violations. Such revelations may concern customers. Explain to your customers why those violations occurred. Were special circumstances involved that could explain the violations, such as excessive runoff from unusual amounts of showers or thunderstorms during a certain period? Or overflow from melting snow or flash floods? Are the violations because a piece of equipment failed, such as a main break or a pump shutting down? Did the violations happen while equipment was being upgrade? Mention the steps you took to take care of the violations. Did you issue boil orders? Did you replace faulty equipment quickly? Did you upgrade the system to better serve your customers?
In short, help your customers understand the FULL story. Otherwise, they may look at the CCR and think they aren’t getting the services for which they are paying.
If your CCR says there are no violations, then take time to let your customers know. You do a great job. There’s no harm in bragging about it. For one thing, it will let customers know how hard you are working to make sure they have safe water all the time. It also may soften the blow if you have to raise water rates later. Residents might be more forgiving of higher rates if they know how hard their system is working to keep up with ever-changing regulations and to ensure nothing less than the safest water possible is making it to their homes.
If you are struggling with your CCR requirement, you can use the “Ask the Expert” feature on this site to contact one of our water and wastewater technical professionals located in your region for help.