Water System Assistance
The WV Bureau for Public Health (WVBPH) uses the capacity development process to assist community water systems in identifying technical, financial and managerial gaps and then provide tools, resources and assistance to systems to address those needs. This enables the systems to become more viable and sustainable for the long term. It can also enable systems that are struggling with regulatory compliance to achieve and maintain that compliance. Assistance may be provided through state agencies [e.g., WVBPH, Public Service Commission (PSC), etc.], or professional or trade organizations [e.g., Rural Water Association (RWA), American Water Works Association (AWWA), etc.].
Examples of assistance to owners of water systems include:
- Capacity development assessments to identify gaps
- Asset Management and capital improvement planning
- Assistance in preparing annual consumer confidence reports
- Assistance preparing plans (e.g., cross-connection/backflow prevention, emergency response, etc.), system budgets, and financial status/needs
- Operator and manager training
- On-site technical assistance in operation of the system
How did the concept of capacity development arise?
Since the crafting of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in the early 1970's, the US Congress has recognized the unique challenges facing small drinking water systems. The original 1974 SDWA, and the 1986 major amendments, focused on developing and implementing a strong regulatory program based on monitoring and treatment. The general sentiment was that, in the face of a strong regulatory program, systems would make the changes necessary to comply. The SDWA authorized training and technical assistance to help systems and provided exemptions for systems with compelling economic circumstances. These exemptions could be extended for very small systems.
By the late 1980's and early 1990's, it was clear small systems were having difficulty keeping up with the rapidly expanding SDWA mandated regulations. There was also a growing recognition of a significant need for basic infrastructure repair and replacement, separate from any regulatory mandates. A few States began implementing "viability" initiatives, seeking to promote small system compliance, and address small systems problems by ensuring these systems had the necessary underlying technical, managerial, and financial capabilities. These programs showed great promise and the concept of "small system viability" emerged as a major consideration in the early discussions about SDWA reauthorization.
However, as the debate on SDWA reauthorization progressed it became clear the term "viability" had at least two significant shortcomings. First, it promoted an unproductive focus on classifying systems as "viable" or "nonviable." Second, it implied a static endpoint. The debate was really about finding a way to create a process for systems to enhance their technical, managerial, and financial capacity to ensure consistent compliance with the SDWA. Thus, the concept became known as "Capacity Development." Capacity development implies a process, not a static endpoint, and does not promote a focus on a rigid classification of systems as "having it" or "not having it."
How does capacity development fit together with other elements of the Safe Drinking Water Act?
The 1996 SDWA Amendments became law on August 6, 1996. The Amendments create a new focus on preventing contamination and noncompliance.
From a small systems perspective, the major components are the West Virginia Drinking Water Treatment Revolving Fund (DWTRF), capacity development, source water protection, operator certification, consumer confidence, and variances and exemptions. These provisions are closely interrelated. Capacity development, source water protection, and operator certification are directly linked to the DWTRF. WVBPH uses set aside funds from its DWTRF to develop and implement programs addressing these three provisions. Capacity development and operator certification are also tied to the DWTRF through withholding requirements.
Capacity development alone weaves together all existing drinking water program activities into a focused effort to help troubled, small systems. WVBPH has used DWTRF set aside funds to prepare a West Virginia Capacity Development Strategy. The strategy focuses on identification of vulnerable water systems and developing programs to provide assistance to these systems.
Why Does WV Provide a Capacity Development Program?
The 1996 SDWA Amendments require WV to develop a program to ensure all water systems have adequate technical, managerial, and financial capacity to consistently provide safe drinking water to their customers. The program must include a strategy to identify and address inadequate capacity of existing water systems and prventing creation of new water systems unless they demonstrate adequate capacity. Failure to develop and implement an adequate capacity development program will results in the US Environmental Protection Agency withholding a portion of the federal funding available for the DWTRF. The DWTRF is a low interest loan program designed to assist water systems with the improvement and upgrading of infrastructure (technical capacity) necessary to meet the SDWA requirements.