AWWA 2020 Fly-In canceled AWWA is canceling its 2020 Water Matters! Fly-In in recognition of federal recommendations against most travel and gatherings of more than 10 people, bans on staff travel by municipal and state governments, and societal responsibilities to try to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19). While it is unclear how large a problem COVID-19 will be in six weeks – the scheduled date for the Fly-In – recommendations for reducing travel and social distancing extend beyond that time. On Capitol Hill, visits are currently limited, and a congressional staff member must meet a visitor at the security entrance and escort them to and from a meeting. AWWA’s grassroots outreach to U.S. Congress will continue. Those registered for the Fly-In will receive an issue paper and suggestions for communicating our legislative concerns to Congress this spring. AWWA survey shows water utilities confident in maintaining operations AWWA yesterday released results of its recent email survey to determine how water sector organizations are managing risks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Absenteeism and continuity of operations are major areas of expected challenges for water utilities, with 75 percent of respondents expressing concern in these areas. Other concerns include impacts on field operations like meter reading and repairs (46%) and interruptions of treatment chemical supply chains (44%). More than 90 percent of water utilities participating in the survey reported they have business continuity plans in place or plans to develop them (55 percent have business continuity plans, 27 percent have plans currently in development, 10 percent are planning to develop them). Ninety-three percent said there are enough resources available to develop business continuity plans. The survey , conducted March 10-16, included responses from employees at 286 utilities and 160 non-utilities. AWWA encourages utilities that need assistance to refer to the Business Continuity Planning for Water Utilities: Guidance Document (AWWA, Water Research Foundation, U.S. EPA, 2013). AWWA will be conducting a second survey to gauge COVID-19 response actions and challenges. Results from that survey will also be shared as they become available. AWWA has many helpful resources on COVID-19 available on our Coronavirus Resource page . White House addresses critical workers; chlorine distributors offer reassurances This week the White House issued the following in a statement regarding workers at critical infrastructure facilities: 'If you work in a critical infrastructure industry... you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.' The water sector falls into this classification under the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and Presidential Policy Directive-21. In addition, President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to obtain 'health and medical resources needed to respond to the spread of COVID-19, including personal protective equipment and ventilators.' In terms of the water sector, the American Chemistry Council issued the following in a statement: “A disruption for industrial chlorine use (water treatment, industrial processes, paper) is highly unlikely.” However, should that happen, suppliers would typically send their customers a letter describing the situation and then follow up with each impacted customer with how they intended to supply them (at 100%, allocation, as available, etc.). Congress ponders aid to water sector in stimulus AWWA government affairs staff have been talking to U.S. congressional offices this week about including funding for the water sector in stimulus legislation being drafted. Congress wants to send funding to existing programs because the money will flow more quickly than if it tries to create new programs. The most likely candidates for this increased funding are the drinking water and wastewater state revolving loan fund programs, the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program, or similar programs. Congress would also like to provide funds to help low-income citizens pay for water service or to provide relief to water systems that might suffer significant revenue losses. Congressional staff is still exploring how to address these issues. AWWA Fly-In delegates have been asked to contact their members of Congress with these simple messages and all members are encouraged to do the same this week: The drinking water and wastewater state revolving loan fund (SRF) programs and the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) are the best vehicles for injecting money into water infrastructure quickly. State agencies that run these programs will also need additional resources to handle this extra money. There are existing grant programs that could use robust funding to get lead service lines out of the ground and homes and create jobs. My utility already has an assistance program for low-income residents. This is how it works…… (Also describe how the LIHEAP program for energy assistance typically sends money to the utility but designated to a particular customer’s account.) Some members of Congress are calling for federal action to provide relief to Americans facing water bills they may not be able to afford and for a ban on water utilities shutting off service during the COVID-19 pandemic. AWWA members talking to their members of Congress should also let them know if they have instituted their own hold on shutting off water services for nonpayment of bills. Let them know if you are reconnecting previously disconnected customers. Review AWWA’s recommendations and resources on shutoffs and returning homes to service on the Coronavirus Resource page. DOE offers research, modeling resources to help address COVID-19 pandemic The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced March 12 that it is taking applications for the use of its advanced laboratory technology and supercomputing facilities to help address the COVID-19 pandemic. Although many of the resources are geared toward the medical research community, some may be useful in modeling efforts, characterization of wastewater and other efforts relevant to the water sector. Those interested should carefully review the materials and contact DOE with any inquiries. DOE has additional resources that may be of assistance. CCR rules unchanged for 2020 Current requirements under the federal Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) Rule remain in effect for 2020 despite changes that will eventually come from the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (AWIA). No changes will take effect until after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposes such changes and then makes them final. Some utility members have raised this question recently. Most inquiries have requested more information on the timeline of changes, such as the anticipated requirement for systems serving greater than 10,000 to provide their CCR at least twice per year. AWIA created a requirement for EPA to update the rule (although the Congressional deadline is October 2020, no proposal has yet been created, so that deadline appears unlikely to be met). As a best practice, AWWA recommends that utilities include information about their corrosion control practices (which AWIA will require) in their CCRs, as the language in AWIA is less clear on when that provision will go into effect. Including this information helps inform customers about lead and copper related issues. In all cases, utilities should communicate with their regulator (in most cases, the state primacy agency ) with any questions. Adam Carpenter in the AWWA DC office can also assist with general inquiries. Some utilities are also asking about potential challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic with supply chain, staff or other processes necessary to ensure customers receive their CCR by the July 1 deadline. Utilities concerned with meeting regulatory deadlines should take all possible actions to avoid missing the deadline, and also contact their regulator. New conservation program supports source water protection The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on Tuesday issued a National Funding Announcement for the new Alternative Funding Arrangement (AFA) option within the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), with $50 million in funding available. As authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, NRCS can now run up to 15 projects per year under the AFA option, which is designed to function more like a traditional grant than the classic RCPP structure. This could allow water and wastewater utilities (which are named in the announcement as eligible entities) to run a source water protection project geared toward agricultural conservation measures (which include best practices, easements, conservation plans and more) in a format more similar to other grant programs. AWWA provides resources on how to work with NRCS , plus information about the conservation programs . Projects run through the AFA option of RCPP can range from $250,000 to up to $10 million. AWWA can support utilities interested in developing an application. Those interested should immediately contact both Adam Carpenter in the AWWA DC office and the NRCS state contact for RCPP to express their interest. They should also contact any potential partners ( conservation districts , watershed associations and others) to begin preparing an application. Because there are several procedural steps necessary to apply, early outreach to assure these steps are completed is essential. Applications are due May 17.