Newsletter - Spring 2012

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Tightening the Belt One More Notch

Shaun Fielder, Executive Director

All of you should be aware at this point we have experienced another program reduction here at VRWA. Our sole remaining source protection program, as managed by Liz Royer, ended back in January. Liz wrapped up work with VRWA on February 24 on good terms and all of us wish her the best. For any of you that we assisted on source protection plans over the past 10 years, one of Liz's last assignments was to prepare and distribute an electronic copy of the most recent plan we have assisted your system with. It is rewarding to note VRWA distributed these to over 160 systems via mail. Remember, updates to source protection plans are due every three year period and even though we don't have an individual specifically dedicated to source protection plan work, VRWA is still able to offer certain source protection planning services including processing of updates on a fee basis. One other staffing change is that Paula Jackson ended work with VRWA on April 2.

In regards to our other team members and programs, our USDA circuit rider programs as managed by Brent Desranleau, Wayne Graham and Aaron Perez remain in place. They continue to offer services at no direct cost to those systems eligible for Rural Development funding. In addition, Phil Acebo continues full time work on various water operator training. While we await word on national program funding, we hope to secure several other sources of training program support to keep the full complement of continuing education training coming to all public water system operators. We recently determined in 2011 that VRWA provided 68% of all water operator continuing education training in the state. We are doing our best to keep those low-cost training opportunities coming to you.

All these recent program reductions have been very challenging for sure, and our efforts to secure other funding support is ongoing. This includes our most recent visit to Washington, DC to meet with Vermont's Congressional delegation. Congressman Welch, Senator Leahy and Senator Sanders continue to support rural water and we are hopeful final appropriations levels for rural water program funding for FY 2013 will lead to reinstatement of several of our recently lost programs.

All of you out there know the value brought to the table by various services we have assisted your system with over the years. In regards to that value, we thank all of you that took time out from your busy schedules to provide a letter of support to be specifically directed at EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson requesting EPA to direct already allocated funds to rural water programs. As of press time, we have received over 200 letters of support. The comments on the value and need of the services VRWA has offered through various programs are very much appreciated. We are in contact with NRWA to determine final strategy to deliver all these items to EPA and to strengthen bid opportunities for related work at the national level.


Lessons from Irene

Aaron Perez, Water Systems Specialist

On August 28th 2011, as Vermonters we faced the worst flooding since 1927. The infrastructure in most of our towns has grown substantially since then, which has increased our vulnerability to this type of natural disaster. During the weeks following Irene, I spoke with a number of water operators around the southern part of the state. Their experiences, while all different, had many common lessons that can be used to help prepare us for future disasters.

With just about every town having multiple water lines running alongside-or over-rivers and streams, the need for accurate mapping as well as a strong maintenance program has never been greater. In some towns, the sudden loss of a single river crossing was enough to create a total loss of pressure to their systems. Being able to locate and shut down these lines was critical to returning service quickly.

Knowing where all of your system valves are located and having mapping that is accessible and easily read by someone who is not familiar with your system is essential. Wastewater operators, highway workers, private contractors and others all contributed to helping get some of these systems up and running, so having information that can be shared in a easy-to-use format is very important.

Knowing that river crossing isolation valves in your system all work properly is important. However, in some cases, the isolation valves themselves had been washed into the river, so you need to know that all the valves in your system work properly. I know there are many towns that are hesitant to work old valves in fear that they may cause problems. During disasters like this, you have to be able to isolate portions of your system quickly and possibly for a long duration. Just remember that creating a problem by working on an old valve under conditions in your control is far preferable to doing so in an emergency.


What is a "Good Price" for Water & Wastewater Service?

Shaun Fielder, Executive Director

The question comes to us more and more these days; what is a "good price" for water or wastewater service? In fact this was a key point discussed at the recent Budgets and Rates course we offered in conjunction with Aldrich + Elliot, PC down in Hartford, VT in early March. The costs and fees associated with providing water and wastewater service are as varied as the systems across our state. The variation in pricing is significantly different based on the number of factors. These include information such as connections served, complexity of the system including treatment and distribution network, capital improvement needs, consulting fees, testing fees, and many other factors as examples.

This hopefully isn't news: if the income from rates covers expenses for the budget year, then the rates are likely set accordingly. Let's not forget that your planning process should incorporate the future needs for your system, not just the one year look ahead. Recognizing there are many standards in regards to financial processes for a given water and wastewater system, having some reserve and covering future capital improvements should be a goal each budget year. As an aside, the money dedicated to future improvements is sometimes referred to as a sinking fund.

I suggest not using this term due to the negative connotation it projects. This could be interpreted to mean we are putting money aside for a project that is sinking. Not the best way to promote a future needed improvement on your system.

Some of the additional pointers discussed in our Hartford training by Wayne Elliot and Don Phillips (Don came out of retirement to assist us and we thank him). In this time of tight budgets and cost increases, all of us in the water and wastewater industry need to do a much better job promoting the value of the commodity and services we provide. One simple effective approach is to compare our prices with other utility costs on a month per month basis. I know promoting a monthly cost is not currently the industry standard. Most systems charge on an annual, semi annual, or quarterly basis. Promoting the monthly cost will involve some extra effort but the cost comparison will be powerful.

Consider the monthly fees we all pay for phone, internet service, satellite or cable TV, and electricity. I know in many Vermont households each of these commodities run $50 to $100 per month. The majority of the water and wastewater systems in Vermont have monthly fees that are well below these other utility costs.

To answer the question, what is a good price? Sorry there is no quick and easy answer. I suggest the following: if that price covers system costs in order to keep safe drinking water flowing to the tap and/or the toilet flushing, that is a good price.


News On Tap

VRWA Support Letters to EPA

Thanks to all of you who provided letters of support requesting that EPA direct previously allocated funding back to rural water for much needed training, technical assistance and source protection planning services. VRWA received over 200 support letters from Vermont systems supporting rural water program funding via the EPA budget.

Annual Conference

Our Annual Conference is set for May 2 and 3 at the Lake Morey Resort. All of us at VRWA look forward to another successful event starting with our annual golf tournament on the afternoon of May 2 and training and vendor show on May 3. We are pleased to announce that Rusty DeWees, aka The Logger, will join us again this year to provide our lunch time entertainment on May 3.

A registration form has been included in this issue (see page 5). Please copy for each attendee and submit with payment by April 15th to take advantage of the earlybird rate.

You may also register by visiting us at vtruralwater.org

Newsletter Changes

News Leaks will now be produced and mailed three times annually. The second and third issues will arrive in the mail early August and October, respectively. As always, we continue to post the latest news and announcements on the home page of our website: vtruralwater.org

VT DEC Forms Advisory Committee To Review Wastewater Certification Rules

The Watershed Management Division has set up a group of industry representatives to assist with review of the wastewater certification process. Wayne Graham is representing VRWA in these meetings. The primary objective of the committee is to review the wastewater certification process, therefore protecting the integrity of the wastewater profession.

On another note, the Watershed Management Division has decided to allow certain web based trainings to be accepted for wastewater credit hours. Preapproval by Andy Fish (802) 338-4838 will be required.


Letters

Graniteville Fire District #4
PO Box 206
Graniteville, Vermont 05654
February 17, 2012

Attn: EPA Admin. Lisa Jackson

This Fire District has been a member os VRWA for over twenty years. We utilize the continuing education offering and the technical services provided by the Association.

The Fire District is a full service water system that serves a population area of approximately 700 people in Barre Town, Vermont.

Each year, we have a need for technical support to locate leaks in water lines on two to five occasions, and the VRWA has specialized equipment to assist in this process. We also have staff training provided by VRWA. Another area of technical support is service on instruments at our water treatment plant, such as chlorine pumps, turbidity meters, water meters, etc. Without these services, we would have to invest expensive equipment and staff that is used infrequently.

The funding upport to VRWA is very important to the continued services we receive.

Sincerely,
Andre Rouleau, Operator and Prudential Committee Member.


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