The National Rural Water Association (NRWA) is the nation’s largest water and wastewater utility membership association. NRWA trains, supports and promotes professionals who serve small communities (under 10,000 in population) in all 50 states. The association draws from numerous federally funded programs to bridge the gap between regulatory requirements and resources available in rural America.

NRWA’s Oklahoma entity, the Oklahoma Rural Water Association (ORWA), focuses on water and wastewater system sustainability for generations to come. ORWA is the primary driver for federal and state programs used to ensure safe and plentiful drinking water and environmentally sound wastewater treatment.

Brandon Bowman, ORWA state programs director, says some programs are funded by NRWA via grants from the USDA-Rural Development and the EPA, which are then implemented by ORWA. Among these are the apprenticeship program, along with the EPA water and wastewater training and technical assistance programs.

Federal/NRWA funded programs also include the Source Water Protection Program – which helps communities develop plans to prevent, reduce and/or eliminate pollution from impacting raw water sources. The Energy Efficiency Program helps systems save power, materials and revenue by improving efficiencies in operations and power consumption. 

State funded programs include the Long Range Sustainability Program, the Water Loss Reduction Program, the Rate Analysis Program and the Disadvantaged Community Program. These programs help systems improve technical, managerial and financial sustainability.

“The Circuit Rider Program provides regular on-site technical assistance visits, conducts training classes for operators and provides emergency response assistance,” says Bowman. “Circuit Riders travel from system to system, providing help and solving problems when needed.”

The Wastewater Technician Program involves a team of technicians who also travel from system to system, helping lagoon and small sewer treatment system operators solve issues and improve operations. The techs provide on-site support, particularly for locating leaks in the sewage collection system so they can be rapidly repaired.

And specialists in the EPA training and technical assistance programs, while complementing the work of the Circuit Rider and Wastewater Technician programs, provide training in issues impacting systems, such as emerging contaminants, PFAs, and lead and copper rule revisions.

As a nonprofit, NRWA rallies resources in emergency situations. In Dec. 2021, the NRWA responded to an outbreak of storms and over 30 tornadoes in four states – resulting in water and wastewater systems that were dramatically affected, impacting 13,000 rural Americans.

“Before ORWA’s creation in 1970, small water and wastewater systems had no voice at the state capitol or in Washington, D.C.,” Bowman says. “The majority of Oklahoma water systems are considered small. The strength of our nation lies in rural America, and our water and wastewater systems are the lifeblood of that strength.”

Get Involved

The public may attend governing board meetings for their local water and wastewater systems, and support initiatives that improve system sustainability. It’s also wise for the public to be informed by understanding why systems set rules and take actions, such as rate setting and seeking funding for infrastructure improvements. 

Individuals may look for opportunities to run for governing board seats. And if a system is not already a member, the public may encourage their system to join ORWA. With membership open to all Oklahoma public water and wastewater systems, ORWA encourages all systems to become members.

Main image headline: The employees of the Oklahoma Rural Water Association focus on water and wastewater system sustainability for generations to come. Photo courtesy ORWA

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