Happy National Small Business Week!

ImageEvery year since 1963, the President of the United States has issued a proclamation announcing National Small Business Week, which recognizes the critical contributions of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners.

More than half of Americans either own or work for a small business, and they create about two out of every three new jobs in the U.S. each year.

As part of National Small Business Week, the U.S. Small Business Administration takes the opportunity to highlight the impact of outstanding entrepreneurs, small business owners, and others from all 50 states and U.S. territories.  Every day, they’re working to grow small businesses, create 21st century jobs, drive innovation, and increase America’s global competitiveness. For information about activities and resources available to your small business, please visit www.sba.gov/nsbw/nsbw.

Did you know RCAP Solutions Financial Resources offers small business loans?  Through the SBA Microloan Program, RCAP Solutions offers low interest loans to support small businesses not eligible for loans through traditional resources, primarily in Central Massachusetts. Loans are typically issued for for working capital, machinery, equipment, leasehold improvements, business acquisition, expansion, real estate acquisition, furniture and fixtures.  RCAP Solutions Financial Services is the only certified SBA micro-lender for Worcester County and was named the “Top Microlender of 2011” by the Massachusetts SBA.

For more information on our Small Business Loan Program, please visit our website or contact Ili Spahiu, Small Business Development & Loan Manager at ispahiu@rcapsolutions.org or 978-630-6635.

National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week November 10 – 18, 2012

Each year, one week before Thanksgiving, National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness co-sponsor National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week. During this week, a number of schools, communities and cities take part in a nationwide effort to bring greater awareness to the problems of hunger and homelessness.

For more information, including events that are going on in your area, please visit: http://www.nationalhomeless.org

Doing More with Less

Scott Mueller, Director of Community Resources and Chief Rural Affairs Officer

In these challenging times, communities at the local level have to do more with less.  Largely due to the federal funding crunch, communities across the northeast are struggling to maintain their current way of life.  With federal funding cuts occurring and more potentially on the way, more pressure is being put on state programs, which in turn push the responsibilities down to the county, town, and village levels.  In addition, job loss and housing foreclosure are on the rise, leaving residents in small rural communities strapped to pay bills and provide the necessary revenues to support their water and wastewater systems.

A current trend amongst localities is to search out ways to bolster their local economies, provide steady jobs, and sustain their quality of life.  Many are finding that there is a direct link between economic development and infrastructure.  Most businesses require potable water and wastewater disposal facilities in order to operate.  Larger employers often require much more, including transportation links, 3 phase power, and telecommunications trunks.  With less funding available at all levels, establishing or maintaining these facilities is becoming even more challenging.

RCAP Solutions’ Technical Assistance Program and its experienced TA providers know this current economic trend all too well.  Almost all of the 120+ communities we work with are experiencing financially difficult times.  As we ramp up our 2013 program year, we are pleased to be able to provide services again in our core areas, even though we have also experienced the impact of funding reduction and as communities move to become more self reliant and sustainable and less reliant on the state and federal government.

Many of our base level services are free to the community, depending on the level of eligibility.  However, we will still offer services to those seeking assistance under our Direct Contracting program, which can often blend grant-based services for a nominal fee.

This year, in conjunction with USDA Rural Development, the US Health and Human Services, and the US Environmental Protection Agency, we will be focused on assisting communities through these difficult times with on-site technical assistance and training in a number of areas.  These include project and asset management, funding acquisition, and education and training programs geared towards giving communities the tools they need to get through these fiscally challenging times.

While things are tight on the funding front, there are many opportunities that communities may take advantage of that can help them to operate their systems and maintain water quality – all while doing more with less.

To find out more about these services please contact Scott Mueller, Director of Community Resources and Chief Rural Affairs Officer at (315) 482-2756 or smueller@rcapsolutions.org.

Federal Funding Outlook

Ari Neumann, RCAP Policy Director

Amid the electoral fury heading toward the November presidential election, Congress and President Obama still have a busy legislative agenda left to tackle this year, which has broad implications for rural water and sewer programs.

The most pressing issue facing Congress is reauthorization of the Farm Bill. Current law is set to expire on September 30, and unless there is some resolution before then, many of the programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (USDA-RUS) will be eliminated or have their funding authorizations rolled back to levels not seen for decades. In June, the Senate passed a bipartisan reauthorization bill by a vote of 64-35. The House Agriculture Committee passed a bipartisan bill (voting 35-11 in favor) in July, and we are now waiting for the full House to begin debate on the bill.

Depending on the outcome of the election, Congress will likely hold a “lame duck” session this November and December to resolve the issues remaining on its schedule. The two big items left are the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts (set to expire on Dec. 31) and the impending sequester set up by last year’s debt-ceiling deal. The sequester is an across-the-board cut of nearly 8% to non-defense, non-entitlement programs and a 10% cut to security programs (including both defense and homeland security). These cuts are in addition to the billions of dollars that have already been cut from domestic, non-defense programs. The cuts were originally set up as an incentive to get the parties to come to agreement on long-term deficit reduction, but if Congress fails to act before January 1, the cuts will take effect in 2013.

If the sequester hits, rural water and sewer funding at USDA-RUS will be cut by nearly $40 million, and capitalization grants for the State Clean Water and Drinking Water Revolving Funds will be cut by roughly $115 million and $71 million, respectively. Cuts of this magnitude would severely restrict the amount of funding available to rural water and sewer systems for improvements necessary to protect public health and the environment. In addition, the cuts would mean the loss of an estimated 9,500 jobs, primarily in construction, that would be created or saved by maintaining current funding levels.

For utilities, all of this means that there are likely to be fewer federal resources available for your systems in the coming years, regardless of what happens in the election. Whether deficit reduction comes through the sequester or a long-term agreement between the parties, the federal budget as a share of the national economy is almost certain to shrink over the next decade. That will mean less money from the federal government for water infrastructure and an emphasis on direct and guaranteed loans, rather than grants.

RCAP Solutions is the Northeast affiliate of the six-member national RCAP Network, (www.rcap.org) which focuses its interests on rural water-related and infrastructure issues. As such, we provide services in all six New England states, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Puerto Rican Community Barrio Mamey Recognizes RCAP Solutions for Outstanding Assistance

By Josefa Torres, District Director for Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands, RCAP Solutions

Community History

Comunidad Barrio Mamey is a very small rural community water system, located in the town of Patillas, Puerto Rico. When the community was incorporated in 1971, it served drinking water to 27 families with a surface water source.  The water system currently has 96 connections and is run primarily by volunteers. When the government agencies EPA and PRDOH required the Barrio Mamey aqueduct to comply with drinking water regulations established in the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the community didn’t know where to start. In addition to this, they were also confronted with meeting the drinking water demands of a growing community.

Due to community noncompliance of the Surface Water Treatment Rule (SWTR), an Administrative Order (AO) was issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and refers to RCAP Solutions to assist community to reach compliance.  The community contacted RCAP Solutions because they needed to improve their water facilities since they were using an unfiltered surface source and a well that couldn’t satisfy the demand of the community.  They also had to comply with the EPA AO.

After much time and effort, RCAP Solutions was able to provide the community with the assistance necessary to comply with the DW regulations and ultimately allowed the system to meet compliance with the SDWA.

RCAP Staff Members Scott Mueller (far left), Josefa Torres (3rd from left) and Juan Campos Collazo (far right) pose with members of the Barrio Mamey Community

Community Award

Every year at the USEPA, AWWA-PRWEA and PRDOH DW Annual Conference, awards are given to Non-PRASA drinking water systems in three categories.  At different times, Barrio Mamey Aqueduct has obtained an award and actually is the only community that has obtained the award in each category. They received the Non-PRASA third place award for: Work and Community Organization in 2008; the second place award for: Significant Improvements Towards Compliance in 2011 and this year they gained the first place award for: Safe Potable Water.

In gratitude of the assistance provided by RCAP Solutions Puerto Rico staff members Josefa Torres and Juan Campos, the community presented them with a recognition plaque during the Conference Award Ceremony.

RCAP Solutions Acknowledgment

“In recognition for your work and effort performed during this time for our community of Barrio Mamey, Río Chico Sector. Your endeavor and faith do not have limits to reach and achieve success to have quality water. Many thanks and lots of success, given today, May 9, 2012 at San Juan PR Convention Center.”

Barrio Mamey Community member, Mrs. Sharon Kidwell addressed the audience stating, “When RCAP Solutions began assisting us with our drinking water several years ago, we didn’t know how an aqueduct should be run, how to supply safe drinking water, or how to meet local and federal regulations.  Through the years and with Josefa and Juan, the community received drinking water regulatory advice, technical assistance, and the necessary education and trainings workshops.  Their expertise and experience has enabled us to find affordable solutions to our water infrastructure needs that will support economic growth in our community. Our aqueduct has benefited from the knowledge, guidance, and assistance provided by both.  RCAP Solutions assistance has helped our community to gain the knowledge and skills needed to increase and meet the drinking water standards of the SDWA. By receiving this assistance, I have to say on behalf of Mamey community that our aqueduct is actually in complete compliance with the PRDOH, EPA, PRDNR, PRDOS and other government agencies. Josefa and Juan have played a major role in the success of receiving the first place award this year.”

Joesfa Torres at Puerto Rico Water & Environment Association Annual Conference & Technical Exhibition

Hilsdale’s Non-Traditional Wastewater Solution

Candace Balmer, Community Development Specialist, RCAP Solutions

Hilsdale, NY Town Supervisor Art Baer

Art Baer simply wasn’t going to take no for an answer.  After all, anyone who played ball in the park behind the Town Hall knew that, when retrieving a foul ball, tread carefully and pray the ball had landed on dry ground.   For many years, the odor that wafted through the small downtown hamlet of Hillsdale, NY was familiar like a smelly old friend: the unpleasantness was the standard back drop to an otherwise enjoyable experience.

As a newly elected Town Supervisor, Art Baer knew that he intended to solve this problem that plagued his picturesque community.  And although the problem was by no means news, proposed community-wide wastewater solutions had been voted down more than once in past years by locals who took pride in their self-sufficiency.  But something had to be done.

The Supervisor knew that, at the end of the day, it was mostly about money.   So together, with a newly-invigorated ad hoc wastewater committee, led by Town Councilman Augie Sena, Art and the Town set about researching affordable community wastewater alternatives and how they might be able to pay for it.

The Town was fortunate in their choice of engineer, Clark Engineering, owned by Mary and Doug Clark of New Lebanon, NY.  The Clarks understood that small-community wastewater needs such as Hillsdale’s, allowed for a flexible approach and, ultimately, a non-traditional solution.

Small-Diameter Collection

The collection system is non-traditional in that it is not the standard gravity-fed piping network.  In a gravity collection system, to obtain enough pitch to keep wastewater flowing downhill by gravity to a central treatment plant, the pipes end up being buried pretty deep.  In contrast, a small-diameter collection system does not transport solids: only the separated liquid waste is moving through the pipe network, allowing the collection pipes to be shallower and to follow the contours of the land.

The solids are separated first in standard septic tanks located on individual properties.  Even in this, the Hillsdale system was creatively designed.  Because of the small lot sizes and the need to replace aging and sub-standard septic tanks, the new tanks are in several instances shared by two or more properties.

Packed-Bed Filter Treatment

Hillsdale Wastewater Plant, Hillsdale, NY

The treatment system itself is also non-conventional.  Eight packed-bed filters are installed flush with the ground surface, occupying less than 1 acre of land.  Each filter essentially consists of a large fiberglass box containing about 20 man-made sheets over which wastewater is distributed.  The innovation represented by these sheets is their surface area – they provide 5 times more surface area than the sand in a typical recirculating sand filter.  This means lots more space for micro-organisms to live and do the work of breaking down the wastes in the wastewater.

The non-woven textile sheets also have a much greater void space and water-holding capacity than sand, so wastewater loading rates can be increased much more.  Years of independent testing has reliably demonstrated loading rates 12 times higher than the loading rate for a recirculating sand filter: 60 gallons per day per square foot versus 5 gallons per day per square foot.  This is why the treatment system requires so little land.

Two large collection tanks at the head of the system serve as equalization basins, that is, they collect and store the wastewater so it can be steadily applied over time, instead of being subject to the peaks and valleys of home water use over the course of a day.   The boxes are uniformly dosed with wastewater.  Wastewater is distributed over the filter media via a series of spray nozzles on a timed schedule.

Low Profile

The entire facility, including a storage shed and sub-surface disposal in large leach fields, fits on less than 3 acres.  Siting a treatment plant can be the most challenging element of a new wastewater project.  The compact design and low visibility can be a real advantage for communities with challenging site constraints.

Municipal Commitment

Admittedly, there were bumps in the road.  The town had determined to supply new septic tanks as part of the overall collection system and had secured a Community Development Block Grant to help pay for the tanks of eligible homeowners.  Little did Art and Augie suspect, when they applied for the grant, that they would find themselves walking up and down the streets of the hamlet with a printer and a 250-foot extension cord in a supermarket shopping cart collecting the required paperwork from individual homeowners who had not yet come forward with their documentation.  They even brought a translator along to ensure they had successfully reached all homeowners.

In fact, the Town went out on a very big limb.  They had discovered that they were going to need help from more than one funding source to get this project off the ground.  Their two best sources for low-interest loans and grants were USDA Rural Development and the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (CWSRF).  However, the project priority ranking system that was used for CWSRF monies was heavily weighted toward upgrading existing facilities.  New systems simply did not score very high.  If, however, the Town were under a Consent Order from NYS DEC to solve their wastewater pollution problem, they could get a high enough score to boost their project above the funding line.  The Supervisor requested DEC to put the Town under Consent. This effectively required them to solve their wastewater problem within two years or face enforcement action and penalties.

Ultimately the project was funded through a combination of CWSRF zero-interest loan, USDA RD grant and low-interest loan, a Community Development Block Grant, a grant from the private Rheinstrom Foundation, and town and other local contributions.  Other partners that helped make the project go were the Columbia County Housing Authority who wrote the CDBG application, and RCAP Solutions who helped the town investigate and document funding eligibility.

Affordability is Key

Initially the project was estimated to cost about $1.8 million.  When bids came in over $2.4 million, the town scrambled to obtain more money from their funding partners.  They were successful and ultimately, they were able to keep user costs down to their target cost of $45 per month, per household.

The system has been operating since 2008.  At an educational gathering and tour of the system, organized by RCAP Solutions on behalf of municipal officials, Wastewater Operator Shad Pulver, spoke of his experiences operating the system: “Honestly, the most challenging part has been wrestling with the lock on the gate.”

Delivering Leadership and Quality Economic Development Training Programs

Sukhwindar Singh, Director of Education and Training with RCAP Solutions

Introduction of New Utility Services to Promote More Effective Utility Management and Enhance Local Planning

Tom Fishbaugh, Certified Wastewater Operator takes Amp reading at PA facility

RCAP Solutions and its National RCAP partners continue to forge relationships that allow us to offer more diverse technical assistance services and trainings for communities and systems on infrastructure planning, basic regulatory compliance, and technical, managerial and financial issues.  We feel such services improve the public health outcomes of the residents within these communities who derive drinking water and wastewater services from these utilities.  These services can also provide invaluable information and resources to utility managers and their staff.

If you are a community or utility concerned with increasing customer bills, utility budgets, energy usage, repair and replacement of assets, funding and financing for projects, please visit www.rcapsolutions.org/education_training.htm and www.rcap.org to learn more about the training tools and resources we can leverage within your community.

Plant Superintendent and Chief Operator for Earnhart Hill Regional Water and Sewer District

This year trainers from RCAP Solutions, Inc. and the Ohio Great Lakes RCAP are partnering on new initiatives to bring ASHRAE Level II Audits and GIS Mapping/GPS Services to selected utilities within our region.  We offer an overview here and highlight our ongoing training services further in this article.

Energy audits vary in depth and ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers) has defined three progressive levels of audits:

The Level I Audit is a “simple or preliminary audit” that is a brief review of the site or facility, defining the type and nature of the energy systems and/or possibly a review of the facility’s utility bills with recommendations that are not detailed.

ASHRAE Level II Audits are more detailed and consider the facility envelope, heating, lighting, ventilation, air-conditioning systems, and energy consumption in detail.    The ASHRAE Level II Audit is not considered an investment grade or capital intensive audit yet it seeks to identify all practical energy conservation measures for a facility that meet the owner’s constraints and economic criteria.   A financial analysis is performed based upon implementation costs, operating costs, and attainable savings.  RCAP is fortunate to have a professional engineer and Certified Energy Auditor on staff to conduct the ASHRAE Level 11 Energy Audits.  To date close to 35 of these audits have been conducted for utilities across the country by RCAP staff.

The ASHRAE Level III audits are definitive and require intensive engineering, economic

RCAP Staff participate in “Train the Trainer” classes for level II Energy Audits

analysis and building simulations.  The latter is considered an Investment Grade or Capital Intensive Audit.  For additional information please visit www. ashrae.org  or consult with your RCAP technical assistance provider.

In the Fall of 2011, some of our RCAP Solutions staff attended an intensive three day field-based training on Energy Audits in Columbus, Ohio.  As a part of this training, several utilities were visited and Director of Education and Training, Sukhwindar Singh also offered a presentation on the topic to all of our community development staff and provided references and materials.  The next step was to identify utilities that were interested in participating as part of a free pilot.  Live webinars were employed utilizing two trainers- one from Great Lakes RCAP in Ohio and one from RCAP Solutions in Pennsylvania to jointly present to communities, utilities and other institutions on either the benefits of the ASHRAE Level II audits and/or the benefits of a GIS Cooperative Services.   These trainings were hosted in communities and at local planning offices.

Three presentations to selected utilities on Energy Audits were offered in December of 2011 after some possible systems were identified jointly by the local Pennsylvania office of RCAP Solutions and the Bedford County Planning Commission.  The pilot was offered at no cost to the utilities and information was gathered by RCAP Solutions staff to conduct ASHRAE Level II Energy Audits for the three participating utilities.  End products for the participating utilities will be recommendations for improvements to overall energy intensive procedures at the utilities.  Final updates and community presentations will also occur with utilities and boards.  The total population reached by this pilot will be in excess of 2,000 households and it is expected that there will be cost-savings that are passed onto the customer.

Community development staff within RCAP Solutions has also obtained training on weatherization and additional community facility energy audits.   Rural populations face many challenges when it comes to accessing educational information, not the least of which is travel, childcare needs, cost and time away from work.  These are all barriers to education in the general population, but are particularly magnified in the rural populations RCAP Solutions serves.  It is expected that RCAP Solutions will continue to make training programs more accessible and thus also build local leaders’ capacity to address current and future needs in their communities.

RCAP field staff discuss findings with Chief Operator

An additional service promoted within our region is a pilot to assist local governments and utilities to create an up-to-date asset inventory and maps of their utility assets, to scan and digitally preserve paper as-builts drawings, collect GPS coordinates that will enable operators to readily find assets in the field, and to prepare Geographic Information System (GIS) datasets that will be ready for use in a GIS computer program.   To date, RCAP has been involved in providing this service and completing the work for over 30 communities within Ohio.   This service is quite useful for planning and asset management purposes.

Other Presentations and Services

During this past year, RCAP Solutions trainers also conducted over 23 board and system trainings for municipal authorities and utilities in the areas of Asset Management, Budgeting, Rates and Rate Reviews, USDA Funding and Reporting Requirements, Safety and Security, Income Surveys, Developing Positive Relations to Move Projects to Successful Funding, and RCAP Tools for Sustainable Projects.  In addition, we also delivered trainings to over 50 community systems with over 647 attendees under all funding sources and we worked to promote the RCAP outcomes of a) improved environmental and community health, b) compliance with state and federal regulations, c) sustainable water and waste disposal facilities based on financial, and d) increased capability by local leaders to address current and future needs.  In addition, all RCAP Solutions Inc. staff are certified as EPA CUPSS (Check Up Program for Small Systems) trainers.  Through the leadership of Art Astarita, Maine State Lead and CUPSS champion, RCAP staff also continues to offer ongoing educational trainings and services in Asset Management for water and wastewater systems.

This year, RCAP staff also conducted two public outreach workshops entitled “Public Water System Workshops for Businesses” to over 15 attendees within central Massachusetts in cooperation with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.  The presentations raised awareness and knowledge of the requirements to operate a public water system (PWS) in Massachusetts, especially if the system is a drinking water source to a private business that serves 25 or more customers per day throughout the year.  These businesses can range from daycares and restaurants to hotels and gas stations.  In partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, RCAP Solutions developed an interactive public presentation complete with materials and handouts for business professionals and their clients when sites are being considered for business development and business expansion.  It is expected such presentations will have an overall impact on improving environmental and community health for the customers and clients who frequent businesses that also operate as a public water system.  The most recent presentations occurred in January of 2012 at the North Central Massachusetts Chamber of Commerce in Fitchburg, Massachusetts and in Princeton, Massachusetts this past summer.

Additional Service to Rural Populations

Our funding resources are critical to RCAP Solutions because they also allow us to offer presentation and trainings on important environmental topics to watershed associations, small utilities, rural populations, schools and other agencies.  This year, RCAP staff has made several presentations on capacity development topics to state primacies in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, Maine, New Hampshire and US EPA Region 1.  RCAP staff in central Pennsylvania completed a presentation for over 60 school children, parents, and school teachers from grades 4-8 on “Practical Things We Can Do to Protect the Environment” and “Tap into Your Future Career in Drinking Water.”  RCAP staff also participates and serve as trainers and advisors with the NY Onsite Training Network, Maine WARN, PA WARN, Maine Water Utility Association Education and Operations group, RCAP National Training Work Group, CUPSS Train- the-Trainer Workgroup, and the New Hampshire Governor’s Water Sustainability Commission.

Please also visit www.rcapsolutions.org/trainings.htm to see all of our events in our region.  Events are updated weekly.