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TRWA Provides Emergency Assistance to Systems Impacted by Hurricane Harvey

Posted By Allison Kaminsky, Friday, September 15, 2017

On Thursday, August 24, TRWA activated its Rural Water Emergency Assistance Cooperative (RWEAC) in anticipation of Hurricane Harvey making landfall on the Texas gulf coast.

 

RWEAC is TRWA’s emergency assistance program created to help small and rural water/wastewater systems in Texas in the event of a natural or manmade disaster or other emergency situations. RWEAC is available to help bridge the gap when personnel, equipment and other materials are needed to help protect the health and welfare of Texas communities and customers.

 

Governor Abbott initially identified 30 counties to be in a state of disaster. Our emergency response team reached out to all TRWA member utilities in those counties—totaling 73 systems— to provide information about RWEAC and to anticipate needs as the storm approached. We also reached out to our larger RWEAC and TRWA member network to let them know we were mobilizing and to find out who was available to help and in what way.

 

Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 Hurricane with winds of 130 mph near Rockport, Texas late Friday night. Over the next several days, Harvey moved very slowly, dropping 40-52 inches of rainfall in southeast Texas, causing catastrophic flooding.

 

Our RWEAC first responder team, consisting of seven TRWA staff members, began traveling to our first staging site at Nueces County WCID #3 on Monday, August 28, and spent their first several days in the Corpus Christi area visiting systems, making assessments and providing assistance. They then headed up the coast to our next staging site at Quail Creek SUD in Victoria to continue response efforts in the area, as well as to the north and east of Houston.

 

“Through the efforts of many people, we were able to get situated close enough that we could begin our onsite initial assessments and start coordinating efforts,” said Jason Knobloch, TRWA Environmental Services Director, who acted as the initial incident commander and disaster area manager. “Thankfully, due to lessons learned and proper preparation, the first few days consisted more of calls from people and systems wanting to help than from systems in need. When a need did get reported, it was a rewarding feeling to confidently assure them that they were not alone and we were working with them to resolve their problem. I’m grateful to work with such a committed group of people and member systems that are eager and willing to help wherever they can.”

 

By the beginning of week two, the Governor expanded the number of affected counties to 50, and our emergency response team continued to reach out to member systems in the area. To date, we have contacted over 200 systems in these areas to check on their status, identify those who need help and learn what type of help they may need, whether it be in the form of generators, manpower, equipment, supplies, etc. We have also been working in close communication with TX-Warn, another “systems helping systems” network, and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to learn of affected utilities that may need assistance. 

 

TRWA owns and maintains seven generators as part of RWEAC, funded in part through a United States Department of Agriculture – Rural Development grant and through the TRWA disaster relief fund. TRWA has already helped a handful of systems with these generators, including Maruiceville SUD, the City of Smiley, Cape Carancahua WSC, River Oaks WSC, Nueces County WCID #4 and the City of Woodsboro.

 

Additionally, our larger network of TRWA members and RWEAC participants answered our call and offered equipment, supplies and manpower to help relief efforts. TRWA has been busy coordinating volunteers and resources from these systems. So far, 27 systems have received hands-on assistance from our first responders and RWEAC volunteers.

 

“When we put out the call for assistance, we received an outpour of support, not only from our RWEAC network, but from other organizations, such as the National Rural Water Association, other state rural water associations, USDA—RD, and CoBank. Knowing that we have our larger industry behind us has been so meaningful and heartwarming as we respond to this catastrophe. It really epitomizes what it means to be part of the rural water family,” said Lara Zent, TRWA Executive Director and General Counsel. 

 

For example, Holiday Beach WSC in Fulton requested assistance with finding and fixing leaks caused by power poles lifting and breaking water lines. TRWA identified RWEAC member Jonah SUD as having the appropriate resources available to help. Jonah SUD graciously sent manpower, machinery and materials to help them repair lines and to shut off meters running to damaged homes. Once they completed their assistance efforts, Jonah SUD then went on to help out other systems who needed additional manpower, including Orangefield WSC and Mauriceville SUD. Staff from Walker County SUD traveled to relieve the Jonah SUD volunteers on Thursday, September 7, and continue efforts to help Mauriceville SUD get their distribution system back on line.

 

Another RWEAC volunteer who has gone above and beyond is Allen Knight from North Collin SUD, who has worked with our TRWA first responders at a number of systems, including Mauriceville SUD, South Newton WSC and the City of Bevil Oaks.

 

“We just can’t say enough about all who helped throughout this event. The operators and utility staff who aren’t just employees, but live in the affected communities, worked tirelessly to restore safe water and sewer service even though they too were personally impacted,” said Celia Eaves, TRWA Professional Development and Training Director, who served as incident commander and disaster area manager after the first week of response efforts. “There was a willingness from other utilities to dedicate staff and resources to help their neighbors even though they’re over 300 miles away. It’s taking a collective effort to recover, and it couldn’t have been possible without the hard work and dedication to our industry that all these individuals have demonstrated.”

 

Harvey’s catastrophic impacts will be felt for months to come. As of the writing of this article, many communities east of Houston are still under water, so our team is waiting for the water to recede before traveling to that area and assessing the damage. Our first responders are still out in the field and doing all they can to help these communities get the safe quality drinking water they deserve.

 

Thank you to everyone who has reached out to offer resources in response to Hurricane Harvey. Remember, any water/wastewater utility in Texas can request emergency assistance from RWEAC by calling 1-866-586-6480, a toll free hotline that is staffed 24/7. It is free to become a member of RWEAC—systems can complete their application and mutual aid agreement online at www.trwa.org/rweac.

 

If you would like more information on RWEAC or how to participate in the cooperative, visit our website or you may email us at rweac@trwa.org. You may also donate to our disaster relief fund by visiting www.trwa.org/donations. Together, we can help get these devastated areas back on the road to recovery.

 

 

 

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Tags:  #txwater  emergency assistance  hurricane harvey  rural texas  rural water  RWEAC  Texas water  TRWA  water quality 

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The Top 10 Bills You Need to Know About if You’re in the Texas Water Business

Posted By Allison Kaminsky, Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Texas 85th Regular Legislative Session came to a close on Memorial Day, and just under 18 percent of the 7,051 bills and resolutions that were filed were signed into law. With much fanfare on issues such as immigration and privacy, it would have been easy to overlook other important issues under consideration before the legislature. That’s why the Texas Rural Water Association Legislative Team tracked 638 bills and resolutions across 30 different categories that could pose challenges or offer opportunities for those of us in the water business. Here are the top 10 bills that passed, which will become effective on September 1, 2017 unless otherwise noted.

 

10. HB 1083 by Perez and Rodriguez amends the Water Code to allow the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to authorize an investor-owned utility (IOU) to establish a class of rates for elderly people at a lower rate than other classes, and allows for utilities to establish a fund to receive donations to recover the costs of providing these reduced rates. The new law prohibits recovery of costs through charges to other customers.

9. HB 1508 by Giddings and West amends the Occupations Code to require entities that provide educational programs that prepare an individual for issuance of an occupational license (which applies to TRWA) to notify each applicant of their potential ineligibility to obtain the license if they have certain criminal convictions.

8. HB 2647 by Stephenson and Taylor amends the Public Funds Investment Act to make interest-bearing banking deposits that are guaranteed or insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund authorized investments under the Act, with certain exceptions. This law became effective June 15, 2017.

7. SB 499 by West and Wray amends the Property Code to add the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act. The new law will impact who has the right to property after the owner’s passing, which may impact, for example, who would be entitled to membership in a water supply corporation (WSC).

6. HB 3047 by Dale and Schwertner amends the Open Meetings Act to specify that a member of a governmental body who participates in a meeting by videoconference call shall be considered absent from any portion of the meeting during which audio or video communication with the member is lost or disconnected.

5. SB 564 by Campbell and Capriglione amends Section 551.089 of the Open Meetings Act to allow a governmental entity to discuss in closed session matters regarding security of information resources technology, security personnel, critical infrastructure, and security devices; expanding on an existing provision in Section 55.076.

4. SB 1289 by Creighton and Paddie adds a new provision to the Government Code also referred to as the “Buy America” law. It requires political subdivisions, including water districts, to use U.S. produced steel and iron products in projects financed, refinanced or partially funded by money from a state governmental entity such as the TWDB, but provides some exceptions.

3. HB 1648 by Price and Seliger requires the TWDB to require a retail public utility that provides potable water service to 3,300 or more connections to designate a person as the water conservation coordinator responsible for implementing the water conservation plan and to notify the TWDB Executive Administrator of this person.

2. HB 1573 by Price and Creighton requires the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) to establish rules requiring water loss audits to be completed by a person trained to conduct water loss auditing. The bill requires the TWDB to make training on water loss auditing available without charge from the TWDB's website. The TWDB may provide training in person or by video or a functionally similar and widely available medium.

1. SB 79 by Nelson and Capriglione expands the Public Information Act to allow additional entities, including WSCs, to refer a requestor to an exact internet location or uniform resource locator (URL) address on a website as a method of producing information requested under the Act. The law requires the governmental body to provide the information in another format if the requestor prefers a manner other than access through the internet.

 

The Texas Rural Water Association works hard every day to protect rural Texas’ drinking water. We have resources and expert staff that help rural and small systems with a wide-range of issues, including compliance and legal challenges. We are passionately engaged in representing the interests of rural water at both the state and federal legislative levels. We are here to help ensure rural Texans have access to efficient service and clean, quality drinking water. We represent over 750 small and rural utilities that serve communities that enjoy #qualityontap and #drinklocalwater.

Tags:  #txlege  #txwater  drink local water  legislature  quality on tap  rural texas  rural water  Texas legislature  Texas water  TRWA  water quality 

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White House Proposed Budget Cuts Endanger Rural Water & Wastewater Programs

Posted By Administration, Monday, March 20, 2017

On Thursday, the White House’s fiscal 2018 budget blueprint contained a 21 percent cut to USDA’s discretionary spending. This proposed budget would eliminate the USDA water and wastewater loan and grant program, as well as the water circuit rider program, wastewater training and technical assistance program, and energy efficiency assessment program. These programs have been the lifeline for rural water and small communities in Texas and across Rural America.

Instead, the Administration is placing its confidence with the EPA State Revolving Loan Funds. Approximately 75 percent of State Revolving Loan funding goes to systems serving over 10,000 population. Additionally, in Texas, these funds are primarily allocated to systems with compliance issues, so the larger community of rural water systems would not be able to rely solely on these funds for support.

 

There are approximately 52,000 community water supplies in the nation, of which 92 percent serve less than 10,000 population. In 2016, USDA Rural Utilities Service dedicated their funding exclusively to Rural America — 85 percent of projects were for small communities, with populations of 5,000 or less. The USDA Water and Environmental Program is a vital lifeline for rural residents funding the water infrastructure we rely on today.

 

We urge systems who have utilized any of these programs to get involved. If you have received or plan to receive funding from the USDA for infrastructure projects, benefit from your visits with your circuit rider, or rely on the expertise of our wastewater technicians, then please reach out to your congressional representatives. Tell them that investing in these USDA programs will forward the President’s mission to address the nation’s aging infrastructure in rural communities. Let them know that these programs have been effective for 70 years, that your system relies on them for financial and technical support, and that eliminating them would be detrimental for rural America. Visit http://whoismyrepresentative.com if you need help identifying your representative.

 

Established in 1969, the Texas Rural Water Association is a statewide nonprofit association dedicated to the improvement of water quality and supply in rural Texas. With an active membership consisting of nearly 750 nonprofit water supply corporations, special utility districts, municipal utility districts, small-town water departments, investor-owned utilities and individual members, TRWA members provide water and wastewater service to over 2.5 million customers throughout the state. The Association supports these members by providing them with on-site technical assistance, education and informational programs and representation in legislative and regulatory processes at both the state and federal level.  

Tags:  drink local water  funding  legislature  quality on tap  rural texas  rural water  Texas water  TRWA  USDA  water quality 

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TRWA Office Gets New Mural

Posted By Allison Kaminsky, Monday, February 27, 2017

Austin artist J Muzacz really knocked it out of the park with this beautiful mural he painted in our front staircase. He married our ideas of Texas rural water with his unique artistic vision and came up with this stained glass scene that will inspire our staff and visitors when they enter our office. The next time you're in Austin, please come by to experience it in person!

Thank you to J Muzacz for his hard work, and to SprATX for setting us up with an artist who was a perfect fit for our Association!

Tags:  art  mural  rural texas  rural water  Texas water  TRWA 

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Most People Don’t Know These 10 Things about Being a Water Utility Operator

Posted By Allison Kaminsky, Thursday, February 23, 2017

You may not realize it, but water utility operators play an important role in our society. Every day, certified water operators are ensuring we have safe drinking water by maintaining equipment and processes to monitor and affect water as it moves through the treatment and distribution cycles. The following are 10 things most people don’t know about the occupation that helps ensure our public health, making such a large impact on our lives on a daily basis.

  1. Drinking water operator certification is managed on a state-by-state basis. In Texas, licensing requirements are managed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Operators can be licensed in a variety of areas, including water, wastewater, distribution and reuse.
  2. Texas has required all public water systems to have a licensed operator since the 1950s, though the EPA did not require licensed operators for public water systems until 2001.
  3. Public water system operators must have at least a high school diploma or a GED, as well have required training courses and experience to test for their license. They then must renew their license every three years, requiring continuing education hours to do so.
  4. There are several levels of licensure for being a water operator. As an operator advances from a “D” to an “A” license level, their expertise expands, including a strong working knowledge of math and chemistry necessary to ensure proper chemical dosages.
  5. One major task of water operators is to disinfect our drinking water and maintain a disinfection residual, usually a form of chlorine, in the distribution system. A residual is a low level of the disinfectant that remains in the water after its initial application to protect against waterborne contaminants.
  6. To ensure the water is properly safeguarded, the water operator conducts daily tests to measure the disinfectant residual in the water distribution system.
  7. Water operators must flush all dead-end mains, and also must flush water distribution lines when they receive customer complaints. Once flushing starts, the operator cannot stop flushing until the water is clear and the desired chlorine residual is reached.
  8. Fire hydrants and flush valves are designed to catch “trash” in the water and provide a place to remove this “trash” from the distribution system. This is why fire hydrants and flush valves usually flow “dirty” water when they are first opened.
  9. On a monthly basis, water operators are required to take bacteriological samples from the water distribution system and have these samples tested by a state-approved laboratory.
  10. Operators are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to make repairs and respond to emergencies on the water system.

The Texas Rural Water Association works hard every day to protect rural Texas’ drinking water. We have resources and expert staff that help rural and small systems with a wide-range of issues, including compliance and legal challenges. TRWA provides classroom and online training courses to help Texas water and wastewater operators get the training they need. We are here to help ensure rural Texans have access to efficient service and clean, quality drinking water. We represent over 750 small and rural utilities that serve communities that enjoy #qualityontap and #drinklocalwater.

Tags:  contamination  drink local water  education  quality on tap  rural water  Texas water  water operators  water quality 

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Groundwater Bill Seeks to Protect Water Supplies for Rural Communities

Posted By Administration, Friday, February 17, 2017

The Texas Farm Bureau published an article in its newsletter last week opposing HB 645 and HB 1318, bills filed by Representative Eddie Lucio III aimed at ensuring that rural economies thrive by continuing to be allocated a fair share of their local groundwater supply. The Farm Bureau’s arguments for opposing these bills address issues that are not included in these bills. The bills do not transfer any private property rights or water rights. These bills strengthen current law, while still providing districts with the discretion they need to balance local needs with market demands.  

 

There is a growing trend of groundwater districts changing the rules of the game for rural utilities, threatening their supply of water by restricting the amount of water they can pump based on the amount of surface acreage they own. These bills are a response to that trend. The practice of basing the amount of water a utility can pump on the amount of acreage owned at the well site, which the Farm Bureau is advocating, is not required by law, and most groundwater districts do not currently employ this practice. Historically, groundwater districts have taken into account the needs and rights of rural communities to their local supply of groundwater, and these bills seek to preserve these rights.

 

The Farm Bureau asserts that the property rights of utility customers are being threatened by these bills, but their interest is to maximize profits for large landowners who are working with water marketers to pump water out of the rural areas to sell to the highest bidders — the big cities. This practice will force local utilities to compete for the purchase of water to serve their communities, driving up the cost for their customers. House Bills 645 and 1318 will preserve access to a sufficient supply of affordable water before it is sold to the highest bidder and piped out of their area. Ninety-five percent of rural utilities serve 4,000 connections or less, and these communities already pay higher water rates than the big cities, because they do not benefit from the same economies of scale.

 

Rural utility customers benefit from having access to an affordable supply of water, which adds value to their property and makes the rural economy possible. Rural water utilities are not large landowners, but are required by law to serve communities of landowners who are relying on the local utility to pump, treat, test and deliver their groundwater for their household needs. Representative Lucio’s bills allow groundwater districts to balance the rights and needs of local communities with the rights of landowners to sell their groundwater.

 

Some groundwater districts are not only requiring rural systems to purchase land in order to pump sufficient supplies to serve their communities, but are requiring that the land be adjacent to the well site where they are pumping. In these districts, utilities are held hostage to whatever price the adjacent landowner seeks to charge, driving up costs to customers even further.

 

In northeast Texas, rural utility customers are being approached by for-profit business enterprises represented by big Austin law firms seeking to purchase water from every customer. With a for-profit business purchasing all the groundwater in a community, where will the local utility obtain the supply to serve that community? Will they be competing with Dallas to purchase that supply, perhaps paying double or triple the amount of the original purchase price? How will customers in that area be able to afford water for their household needs that they have “sold”? What will happen to the economies in those areas when they no longer own or have the right to pump their groundwater?

 

Local communities shouldn’t have to compete to purchase their own water resources with the big cities who are looking to these areas for their future supply. HB 645 and HB 1318 do not transfer any private property rights or water rights, but seek to help ensure that rural communities receive credit for the ownership of their groundwater resource that they are relying on their local utility to provide. 

Tags:  groundwater  HB 1318  House Bill 1318  rural water  Texas legislature  Texas water 

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10 Things You Might Not Know about Rural Water

Posted By Allison Kaminsky, Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Updated: Tuesday, December 20, 2016
  1. Ninety-four percent of water utilities nationwide are rural or small municipal systems serving populations of less than 10,000.
  2. Rural water systems are held to the same quality standards as big city systems. They are regularly inspected and are required to resolve any violations in a timely fashion.
  3. Rural water systems are operated and governed by people whose families drink the water every day and by people who are locally elected by their community.
  4. Rural water operators are all professionally licensed and take the same training and licensing exams as operators at larger systems. All water operators are required to take continuing education to make sure they stay up-to-date on rules, regulations and requirements.
  5. Water operators are public servants who take great pride in their work, which is to safeguard the public health of their communities. In rural areas, the operators know their community members, applying that personal knowledge of their neighbors to their daily work.
  6. Every day, someone is watching for changes in complex water delivery systems, making second-to-second decisions about adding essential purifying chemicals, killing pathogens and keeping your family’s water safe.
  7. A large number of rural systems voluntarily participate in source water protection programs, which includes searching for potential sources of contamination and educating customers on practical steps they can take to protect their drinking water supply.
  8. Rural water systems strive to provide high-quality drinking water while also being sensitive to disadvantaged communities and the affordability of water rates.
  9. Most systems have a water loss program where they check for and fix leaks on a regular basis to minimize waste and costs, eliminate potential sources of contamination and mitigate drought conditions. Operators also check meters to make sure customers aren’t losing water on their end.
  10. Rural systems are part of a larger network. All 50 states are served by a rural water association.  These associations provided over 75,000 onsite technical assistance visits and 150,000 hours of training to more than 37,000 utilities in the last year. Rural water association training and technical assistance covers every aspect of operating, managing and financing water and wastewater utilities.

The Texas Rural Water Association works hard every day to protect rural Texas’ drinking water. We have resources and expert staff that help rural and small systems with a wide-range of issues, including compliance and legal challenges. We are here to help ensure rural Texans have access to efficient service and clean, quality drinking water. We represent over 750 small and rural utilities that serve communities that enjoy #qualityontap and #drinklocalwater.

 

 

 

Tags:  contamination  drink local water  education  quality on tap  rural water  source water protection  Texas water  water loss programs  water operators  water quality 

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