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August 17, 2010

Rural communities: Keep track of your water

The flooding in rural Iowa was terrible for the cattle, the corn and the people, but what about the wastewater treatment systems? Joe Dvorak and Dennis Siders from the Midwest Assistance Program have been thinking about Midwest wastewater system for years. At the Midwest Rural Assembly yesterday, they led a learning roundtable session to talk about the problems that rural Iowa faces and the water infrastructure challenges that we all face.

The day-to-day problems of aging infrastructure, lack of funds, declining budgets, and losing knowledgeable and skilled certified operators are all of major concern. Dvorak and Siders also noted that many small communities simply pay a flat rate for water coming into the town on a main pipe, but a lot of that water is lost to inefficient distribution systems and even holes down pipe from the main pipe meter. In a world where water is becoming the new oil, water inefficiency is no longer an option especially for rural communities.

So the answer is, well, complicated. Dvorak and Siders are clear: “keep track of your water.” And although the motto is simple, the implementation is anything but easy. Small communities are not keen on mandating water meters on end-usage sources because of the added cost. Plus local governments are not even charging the actual cost of the water usage because they don’t want to add any additional costs to struggling individuals. However, Dvorak and Siders maintain that through simple steps such as monitoring usage and plugging leaks to keep wastewater out and clean water in, small towns can lower their costs and conserve one of our most important resources.

Addressing water infrastructure in rural communities is very difficult, complicated and possibly expensive but still less than the cost of doing nothing.

By Andrew Gross

Ben Lilliston


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Kerstin Gorham

In his post, Gross mentions that losing knowledgeable and skilled certified water and wastewaster operators is of major concern in rural communities. The average age of these operators, Dvorak told me at the Midwest Rural Assembly, is 60. This concern is also a job opportunity for young people interested in remaining in or moving to rural. For a circuit riding operator who services several communities, or as a part-time position for a young farmer, these can be decent paying jobs, largely overlooked as we bemoan the lack of economic opportunity in rural. And according to Siders, thousands of these operators are needed in the Midwest. One barrier to overcome is that the lack of demand for training has closed many of the water and wastewater operator training programs. It is time to promote this job opportunity and in the process ensure that water and wastewater systems are in good shape, helping communities reduce costs and conserve this critical resource.

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