| 2018 Exemplary Source Water Protection Award winners announced
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2018 Exemplary Source Water Protection Award winners announced

Three utilities are recipients of AWWA’s 2018 Exemplary Source Water Protection Award: Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority in New Mexico; Clackamas River Water Providers in Oregon City, Oregon; and Rock County Rural Water District in Luverne, Minnesota.

Albuquerque won among very large utilities, serving populations greater than 500,000; Clackamas River captured the large utility category for populations of 50,000 to 500,000; and Rock County for small utilities, serving fewer than 50,000.

What sets them apart?

“They were all able to distinguish their efforts beyond those requirements just needed to be a diligent water utility,” said Randy Easley, Director of Water Quality for Central Arkansas Water and chair of the committee that judged the award. “The strength of their programs is based on sound program vision, definable goals, a well-thought-out action plan, implementation of that plan, and evaluation and revision of their source water protection efforts.”

A panel of source water protection experts from across North America reviewed the applications, which were submitted by utilities serving populations ranging from 3,100 to 2 million.

The winners will be recognized next week at ACE18 in Las Vegas. 

Easley said the winners all embrace the tenets set forth in the AWWA G300 Source Water Protection Standard, which describes critical elements for the effective protection of source waters.

Albuquerque Bernalillo County
In a basin that gets only 8 inches of rain per year, Albuquerque can’t afford to lose drinking water to contamination.

Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority has employed many source water protection efforts, including providing financial assistance to low-income families to help connect them to nearby sanitary sewers, which reduces nitrate impacts on domestic wells. The authority also monitors and maps potential groundwater contamination and established collaborative efforts to clean up groundwater contamination sites. It helped develop comprehensive water quality data sets that contribute to source water protection, planning and projects.

In July 2011, a wildfire in the authority’s watershed sent ash and debris flow down the Rio Grande.

“Water authority staff responded by studying the potential impacts of future ash and debris flows down the Rio Grande, and pledged $1 million over a five-year period to support watershed restoration projects in headwater forests in New Mexico and Colorado,” said Rick Shean, the utility’s water rights program manager.

The authority provides drinking water from two sources: surface water obtained through its water rights allotment from Colorado River basin water and groundwater from the Albuquerque Basin. In the 1980s, local officials became aware of contamination in the local groundwater aquifer, which prompted the city to develop a comprehensive groundwater protection policy and action plan. The plan was updated in 2009 to include surface water quality protection activities.

“Albuquerque’s innovative approaches to protect source water and conjunctive use helps secure and protect its water resources for the future,” Easley said.

The authority is using the award to toot its source water protection horn, by hosting “Customer Conversation” meetings throughout its service area. The meetings have a source water protection theme.

“After a couple of presentations and small-table dialogue sessions, we show them our source water protection film and let them know we have been awarded the 2018 AWWA Exemplary Source Water Protection Award,” Shean said. “We have been getting loud applause from each audience.”

“It is very rewarding to get this response from our ratepayers and community. Based on the surveys we take at these meetings, after the audience learns about sources of contamination in their community, they are leaving assured the water authority is going above and beyond to ensure their drinking water is safe.”

Clackamas River Water Providers
The water providers who get their drinking water from the Clackamas River have long understood the need to be active stakeholders.

Although early efforts were important, they were somewhat opportunistic and not strategic in nature. In 2007, stakeholders created the Clackamas River Water Providers (CRWP) to formalize source water protection efforts.

Kim Swan, CRWP water resource manager, said the CRWP includes eight providers, who serve about 300,000 people.

“One thing that has made our source water protection efforts successful is the relationships between the stakeholders and the way we have looked at leveraging and partnering resources in the basin,” Swan said. “None of us has a whole lot money, so we all work with limited resources. The more we are able to leverage projects that meet multiple objectives for fish, drinking water, and meeting permit requirements and other strategic goals in the basin, the better off everyone is.”

The basin is large with a lot of land uses. The Clackamas River begins on the slopes of the Olallie Butte – a volcano in the Cascades mountain range – and flows 83 miles from its headwaters to its confluence with the Willamette River. It is made up of 16 sub watersheds.

The judges noted the comprehensiveness of CRWP’s source water protection plan.

“Through an extensive stakeholder process, CRWP developed a variety of resource plans, including a Drinking Water Protection Plan, a Drinking Water Protection Implementation Plan, and a five-year work plan, all of which are shared online,” Easley said. “These plans detail how CRWP promotes their source water protection strategies. The providers seek and develop partnerships, collaborate with partners, conduct additional sub-basin analysis, seek funding and resources to further their mission, and promote public education, awareness, and cooperation.”

Rock County Rural Water District
Rock County Rural Water District (RCRW) serves more than 3,000 people in southwest Minnesota.

But unlike most of Minnesota, groundwater resources in Rock County are scarce and surface waters are impaired by nutrients. The district obtains its drinking water from a series of 11 wells, all less than 40 feet deep. 

In 2001, the district’s staff obtained one of the state’s first wellhead protection plan approvals. Last year, the district submitted a revised second-generation wellhead protection plan, further demonstrating its commitment to protecting its source water.

RCRW’s implementation work focuses on the agricultural land uses that dominate its wellhead protection area.

Lacking regulatory control over these lands, “the wellhead team identified options with which to engage private landowners,” said Joe Pick, RCRW staff member. “Trusted relationships form the basis for many of these activities.”

Easley said the judges were particularly impressed with the wellhead protection team’s 10-year “Plan of Action,” which includes 35 separate measures that the team continuously reviews for relevance.

“The team prioritized those activities that are most important,” Easley said. “Some of the actions the RCRW staff has implemented are education and outreach programs, applying for funding through source water protection grants, and seeking participation in conservation easements with local landowners.”

One of the challenges of rural water systems is engaging the farming community in protection of the drinking water source.

RCRW actively participates in aligning resources for the farming community, Pick said, by “increasing the number of acres in the drinking water supply management area that are enrolled in long-term conservation easements, planted in perennial living cover, owned or controlled by the public water system, and subject to advanced nutrient management practices.”

Next year’s award
Nominations for the 2019 Exemplary Source Water Protection Award are due Jan. 15. Organizations can nominate themselves, or be nominated by an AWWA member, regulatory agency responsible for source water protection, a local chapter of the National Rural Water Association, or regional authorities. 

Along with nominations from all sizes of source water protection programs, the AWWA Source Water Protection Committee strongly encourages submissions from very small water systems -- serving populations of 10,000 or fewer – that use either ground water or surface water supply sources.

“Often, many of these systems may not have the courage, resources, or ability to complete the application process themselves,” Easley said. “The committee is hopeful that state drinking water programs, AWWA Sections, and State Rural Water Associations will be willing to assist.”

Easley reiterated that each of this year’s winners used a multi-pronged, proactive approach to protect their source water.

“All of the efforts add up to enhanced water quality,” Easley said.