Editors Letter: A Big Voice for Small Utilities

The National Rural Water Association is one organization committed to helping small and rural water utilities across the country access the tools and information they need to be successful and compliant. WW’s Angela Godwin had an opportunity to talk with a few members of NRWA leadership at the recent WaterPro Conference in Seattle about how the organization provides critical support to its membership.


The National Rural Water Association (NRWA) is one organization committed to helping small and rural water utilities across the country access the tools and information they need to be successful and compliant. I had an opportunity to talk with a few members of NRWA leadership at the recent WaterPro Conference in Seattle about how the organization provides critical support to its membership.

While created with public health in mind, legislative and regulatory mandates come with a price tag. "When new rules come through," said Steve Wear, vice president of NRWA and chair of the legislative committee, "typically it's the cost to comply with those rules that is a major issue for small systems." With that in mind, the association works to develop variances that will ease the burden for small systems. When a rule has a compliance deadline, one big challenge for smaller utilities is inventory. "Large systems keep the largest amount of inventory, but they also turn those inventories over on a pretty regular basis," said Wear. "Small systems have smaller inventories but it also takes them a lot longer to turn that stuff over."

For example, in response to the recent "no lead" rule, NRWA was among the associations instrumental in securing a variance for fire hydrants. "Some of them do have lead in them," said Wear, "but EPA realized the cost, even for large systems but especially for small systems, was going to be really hard [on them]."

Educating small-system operators is another very important initiative for NRWA. "The training and technical assistance program we have is our bread and butter," said David Baird, NRWA secretary. "It's what we started with back in the mid-70s...And that mission is continuing today." The program is funded through EPA and its accessibility is one of its major strengths. "We have an association in each state where training opportunities are available," said Baird, "and many times they'll take those out on the road directly to the systems where they can train right on site when using their own equipment."

In fact, having such a strong network of local affiliates is one of the best things about the organization, according to NRWA President Charles Hilton. "When you work with small systems in rural America, it is different," he said. "We don't have staffs with 300 people, engineers, IT departments. We have to be much more resourceful." And through a concerted grass roots effort, NRWA has indeed become extremely effective since its humble beginnings some forty years ago. "To come from there, when it was eight state associations, to being in all fifty states now," said Hilton, "it is a driving force."

To see all of the video interviews from NRWA's WaterPro Conference, visit waterworld.com/video/video-interviews.

Angela Godwin
Chief Editor, WaterWorld

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