Written by: Nathan Ohle
Every time I visit communities that the RCAP network is assisting, I come away inspired and humbled by the impact our work has on people across the country. Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit several communities in South Carolina that our Southeastern RCAP (SERCAP) is working with, and it was immediately clear that our work is making an impact.
While water and wastewater systems are vital to the health and well-being of rural communities, many people do not know the importance of asset management and physically mapping those systems to ensure the community is using its assets effectively. Asset management is a process water and wastewater utilities use to make sure that planned maintenance can be conducted and capital assets (pumps, motors, pipes, etc.) can be repaired, replaced, or upgraded on time and that there is enough money to pay for it. This is one of the most critical areas that RCAP team members aid water and wastewater operators across the country.
Most water operators have a good idea of how the system operates and where each piece of the physical infrastructure lies. However, if something were to happen to that operator, there are many communities that do not have a map of the system that can be accessed by emergency personnel or others to understand how to access and operate the system. Physically mapping a system was once an arduous task, but with new technology and the technical assistance that our Southeastern RCAP provides, communities across South Carolina are now using Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping technology to map every part of their water or wastewater system. This is crucial to ensuring that first responders like firefighters can know exactly where hydrants are located, so operators and maintenance workers can locate a main or valve quickly in the case of a leak or an emergency, so road workers can plan for raising manholes as roads are repaved. GIS also ensures the water operator knows where every pipe, valve, and meter is in case they need replacement.
Using technology like GIS mapping is also a workforce development opportunity. Our Southeastern RCAP was able to recruit James Horton as an intern from a local community college to work and learn from our GIS lead in South Carolina, Kim Rutledge, while assisting with these projects. It was clear that the use of this technology was what interested him in working around water/wastewater, and why he is poised to continue his future in this field. For many rural areas, attracting young people to stay and work in their community is going to be vital to its long-term sustainability, and the water industry is a perfect place to start.
While in South Carolina, I also had the opportunity to visit with the Pee Dee Indian Tribe (PDIT) of Upper South Carolina. There we met Carolyn Chavis Bolton, South Carolina’s only female chief, who has been working with Val Green of our Southeastern RCAP for many years on their water and development issues. With Native American roots of his own, Val’s work with the Tribe has been extensive, and it is evident that he has built a strong relationship with the community members. Examples of the assistance being provided include: working on issues relating to individual home water wells, helping represent the Tribe to the state of South Carolina when their water supply was being contaminated due to agricultural permitting, assisting in construction of a community agricultural enterprise, and in helping the Tribe file a Federal Acknowledgement Petition (FAP) with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to allow the Tribe to become a Federally Recognized American Indian Tribe. When I left South Carolina, I knew without a doubt that our work has had a significant impact on the Tribe and the surrounding community.
By far my favorite days are those where I get to be out in communities, hearing from folks on the ground speak about the work they are doing every day to improve access to safe drinking water, provide opportunities for economic growth, and assist their own communities to improve the quality of life for their friends and neighbors. Our team in South Carolina is working hard every day, and it’s undeniable that the impact is being felt in communities across the state.
Learn more about our Southeastern RCAP, SERCAP, and work being done in South Carolina at sercap.org. If you would like to find out about what assistance is available to you in your community, click here to contact us.