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EPA Hosts Webinar to Showcase Small System $15 Million Award Winners

On September 5th, EPA hosted a webinar that featured National Rural Water Association (NRWA), Texas Engineering & Extension Service (TEEX), Rural Community Action Partnership (RCAP) and New Mexico Environmental Finance Center (on behalf of all EFCs), the organizations that have been awarded a total of $15 million to provide training and technical assistance to small drinking water and wastewater systems in the coming year.

Each of the awardees spent time describing their organizations and their proposed approach to supporting small system training and technical assistance needs. Each also promised to reach out to state drinking water programs to identify state-specific needs that could become part of the TA providers’ strategic approach.

Bill O’Connell (NRWA) explained that his organization will focus on training and onsite technical assistance visits with small systems in support of the “technical capacity” component of the award. As part of that process, NRWA expects to meet first with designated state primacy agency contacts to identify state-specific priorities for rules & regs, technical issues, and source water protection efforts. These meetings are designed to result in a state-specific operating plan within 45 days of the program start date. The goal, nationwide, is to achieve approximately 7,000 hours of classroom training within a larger target of more than 17,000 hours of training and technical assistance to increase the number of small systems meeting SDWA requirements.

Robert Stewart and Debora Patton (RCAP) described several discrete projects that combine to support their goal of meeting tribal and small decentralized wastewater systems and private well owner needs. Stewart, RCAP’s Executive Director, spoke of his organization’s plans to devise specific onsite assistance and training for small publicly owned treatment works as well as for decentralized wastewater systems. For private well owners, RCAP envisions hosting six regional training conferences and a series of webinars that focus on private well issues such as sampling protocols, basic groundwater hydrology, and water well construction and operation. RCAP also plans to create a decision-support tool for private well issues such as those highlighted above. Patton spoke about support efforts to develop tribal utility managerial and financial capacity through education, direct assistance, and facilitation of internal networks between tribes and tribal stakeholders. This is being characterized as the Tribal Utility Governance or TUG Program. The foundation for much of this work will be creation of new working groups under the auspices of the Native American Water Masters Associations.

Focusing on “managerial and financial” assistance needs, Heather Himmelberger described how the entire EFC Network will work with small systems to tackle issues such as asset management, financial planning and rate setting, regional collaboration, energy efficiency, water loss, and identification of multiple funding sources such as the DWSRF, CDBG grants, and USDA Rural Development support programs. As a first step, the EFCs plan to meet with each state to identify their priorities and discuss issues such as high priority systems, the ability to provide CEUs, best locations for meetings, and the most effective means of notifying systems of available opportunities.

Finally, James Fischer spoke about the TEEX history and role as a longstanding trainer in areas such as public works, safety & health, and emergency services. Sharing the “technical” training focus with NRWA, TEEX (part of Texas A&M University) plans to consult with EPA Regions, states, and territories on training priorities, content, locations, and possible recipients of direct assistance. They expect to develop state-specific workplans in coordination with NRWA to avoid conflict or duplication of effort.

More information on the grant awards and early planning efforts may be found in the attached EPA Press Release. As well, each of these organizations will be participating in the ASDWA Annual Conference (October 15-18) in Little Rock, Arkansas. By that time, they will have been in touch with most state drinking water programs about collaboration, coordination, and identification of priority approaches and will be able to provide more details about their proposed training and technical assistance strategies.