By Randy Vessels, RCAC rural development specialist

Many organizations promote water operator training, assist with operator-in-training or certification, or help those who want to increase their operator certification level. At Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC), we believe this is a very important part of our work. These trainings increase technical, managerial and financial sustainability, and ultimately, safe and adequate drinking water supplies for the communities where these individuals liberally give of their valuable knowledge and time.

In 2018, RCAC collaborated with the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona (ITCA) to provide training and exam preparation assistance, then followed up with a certification testing opportunity on-site to help these individuals accomplish their goals. Many small rural communities we serve are very remote. As many small systems have only one operator, the operator’s ability to travel and receive this type of training is often limited. This can ultimately leave the community without the vital staff to keep the system running safely and adequately. This includes those who provide treated drinking water, and those who treat and discharge wastewater, protecting precious drinking water resources.

ITCA requested collaboration with these events and RCAC was happy to oblige. In 2018, we provided four training events covering specific topics regarding drinking water distribution and drinking water treatment, and multiple operator topics at the Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 Tribal Drinking Water Symposium. These multi-day events covered California from Thermal to Upper Lake to Smith River, and even included Reno, Nevada. ITCA hosted a “paper booklet exam session” after each training event.

ITCA provided staff to proctor these exam sessions at each of the four events. The exam participant was required to fill out the appropriate application and submit for the exam of their choice. The training topic at any given training event has no bearing on the type or grade level of exam requested. As long as the applicant is qualified, they are afforded an opportunity to test at the type and level for which they applied.

As a result of this collaborative effort, 15 applicants passed their respective exams. This increased the number of certified drinking water distribution and treatment operators, and new operators-in-training on Tribal water systems throughout EPA Region 9.

Our Tribal communities are grateful to ITCA and RCAC for providing this opportunity to help Tribal operators to achieve their goals. RCAC will continue to work closely with ITCA to provide more of these sessions next year, and as a result, we look forward to many more successes. Being a water purveyor can be a challenging job, but the role the certified operators play in their community is vital to provide safe and adequate drinking water supplies. A certified operator’s goal is to protect these precious resources, and our environment, for generations to follow.