Reliable access to clean and safe drinking water remains a major challenge for communities across the rural West. Rising temperatures and persistent drought threaten rural and Indigenous communities’ water supplies, which negatively impacts people’s health and quality of life. Meanwhile under-resourced water systems in these areas struggle to secure the capital, training and technical knowledge needed to comply with regulations.
RCAC’s Community and Environmental Services team works with rural water systems to help ensure that their drinking water supply remains sustainable and reliable. Aside from providing technical assistance, RCAC staff facilitate partnerships with local, state and federal stakeholders, investigate regional solutions, and undertake numerous other initiatives to ensure that economically disadvantaged rural communities have stable access to clean, potable water.
M&J Mobile Home Park is a very small community park in the rural town of Fielding in Box County, Utah. Like many of the small western communities RCAC works with, the people there have scarce access to services and even fewer resources. Roughly 22 people live in the mobile home park at any given time, and community members’ annual income is about $18,292 – far below the state income of $46,500. M&J’s public water system serves 17 connections, and all but one are mobile homes.
RCAC began working with M&J Mobile Home Park in fall 2017. A new owner had just recently purchased the park and, unbeknownst to them at the time, its public water system was included in the deal. A Utah Division of Drinking Water (DDW) “Do Not Use” order, advising park residents not to drink the water due to very high arsenic levels, had been in effect for several months. When the new owner learned that they had bought the community water system along with the property, they were surprised; they did not know how to operate the system, let alone meet their legal obligations under the Safe Drinking Water Act. A consulting engineer determined that upgrading the distribution system, adding treatment and finding a new water source would require a large capital project. At that point, RCAC helped the system to apply for a Federal Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) grant and complete the required public notifications and other reports. The system submitted a funding application to the Utah water board in November 2018, but the proposal was denied.
RCAC continued to assist M&J with reporting and training after this setback while exploring potential regional solutions. RCAC facilitated regular meetings between M&J, a new consulting engineer, the Bear River Water Conservancy District and two nearby water providers. In early 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak slowed discussions, but progress continued. The group investigated several options, including connecting M&J with a neighboring water system or comprehensively treating the existing well.
The new director of the Utah Division of Drinking Water (DDW) gathered stakeholders in fall 2021 with a goal to resolve the issue by the end of 2022. As part of this process, RCAC worked with DDW and M&J to investigate potential interconnections with Ukon Water Company and ensure a timely return to compliance to avoid possible legal repercussions. M&J prepared a revised SRF application that incorporated these new factors and considered possible additional funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The water board approved a $1.54 million funding package in June 2022 for a water line extension from Ukon Water Company to M&J Mobile Home Park. It comes with $1.36 million in principal forgiveness, leaving $300,000 to be repaid over 30 years at 0 percent interest, which ensures affordability for the community.
Much remains to be done, but the community and RCAC achieved an important breakthrough in a five-year project to secure an enduring, sustainable regional solution so M&J Mobile Home Park’s residents have safe, reliable drinking water for many years to come.