Since the National Rural Water Association will soon hold its WaterPro conference in Nashville this September, it seems like a great time to touch on some of the current issues in rural water. Don’t worry if you can’t make it, though. Next year’s conference will be held in Phoenix, and the Rural Water Rally will be in DC next February.
Recent Wins in Rural Water Infrastructure
In June, the USDA invested $192 million in 71 different rural water infrastructure projects. That money came from the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program, which garnered a few notable wins:
- The city of Apalachicola, Florida, with a population of 2,328, received a $474,000 loan and a $1.2 million grant to improve the central water system treatment facility, which serves 1,463 customers. The filtration processes will be upgraded to reduce the level of disinfection byproducts in the treated water. .
- The city of Sigourney, Iowa, with a population of 2,059, received a $3.9 million loan to update its wastewater treatment system. The city will purchase a back-up generator, install a new aeration system, and construct a submerged, activated growth reactor system. These improvements will enable the system to meet new ammonia limits set by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Some notable politicians, like Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, have also made it their mission to improve water storage quality in their regions.
While progress is being made and money is moving to the right locations at the broadest level, challenges still remain. Globally, in most rural areas, less than 1 in 5 people have access to the water they need, and “new rurality” remains a challenge. The greatest stresses of any water shortage or broader infrastructure issue fall immediately to rural locations above all.
So, what can be done?
Finance and investment are the first major pieces of the puzzle. That’s why a potential 2020 recession could be fatal to the issue; without money, or if money dries up, the innovations necessary will be significantly harder.
Look to some of our work with the town of Chebanse, Illinois. The town chose us because of the simplicity of our 3G DriveBy AMR system and transmitter units. Its “plug-n-play” design is free of both wires that could lead to corrosion and connections, which helps decrease tampering, vandalism, maintenance hassles, and other issues related to wired systems. Installation of 450 3G multi-jet meters began in the first quarter of 2019 and was completed a mere 3 months later.
The results are impressive. Data logging has become a very powerful, handy customer service tool. Leak Alerts, in particular, have been useful in Chebanse since the installation of the Master Meter 3G Drive-By AMR system. Through Leak Alerts, residents were able to resolve numerous issues because their meters showed a significant increase in water consumption.
In one particular case, a resident whose home had been vacant for quite some time was notified of a leak that began on a Sunday and slowly increased within a few days. Upon checking the home, the owner was shocked to find a broken pipe and a flooded bathroom, but grateful to have been notified and subsequently able to address and resolve the problem in a timely manner. Because this superior water measurement technology is capable of capturing such occurrences, many residents can now repair similar problems, ranging from pinhole leaks to running toilets, and even water softener problems.
Most of the rise of “intelligent water” solutions will happen at the intersection of advanced tech (think artificial intelligence) and human capacity because of advanced tech (think leak alerts). This is truer in rural areas than anywhere, as rural areas tend to have fewer resources around water — and older infrastructures.
Money is a key component, as is continued innovation — of course, these are often tied. Knowing what problem needs to be solved is integral, though. What don’t rural customers understand about their utilities? Where are the choke points in the system? If we can begin to answer these questions, we can gradually solve the issues surrounding rural water