Small water systems that are experiencing difficulties complying with existing drinking water regulations have the potential to benefit from the use of innovative treatment technologies and distribution system management approaches. However, research efforts that explore the development of innovative techniques typically do not take into account the resource and expertise limitations commonly found in small and very small drinking water utilities. In order for novel and innovative technologies to be implemented, engineers, managers, operators, regulators, and leaders from the community served by the water system must be have a systematic and comprehensive approach to evaluate a water system’s risks, needs and limitations, as well as the benefits and constraints of innovative technologies.
Small and very small drinking water utilities also face a wide array of managerial capacity challenges (e.g., understanding regulations & legal obligations, having an adequately trained and certified Operator in Responsible Charge, personnel management, customer relations, no O&M planning, no emergency response planning) and financial capacity challenges (e.g., budgets that do not sustain the system, no capital improvement or asset management planning). In addition, these utilities have technical challenges which may include not having: sufficient operator certification level, a Source Water Protection plan, an understanding of whether ground water treatment is required, knowledge of whether sanitary survey deficiencies have been corrected, resiliency, redundancy of critical assets, back-up power, and dozens of other indicators.
These technical, managerial, and financial (TMF) capacity challenges can adversely affect the successful implementation of innovative technologies. Stakeholder training on these topics can reduce TMF capacity challenges, increase the accuracy of alternatives analysis, and support regulators in evaluating innovative technologies. TMF capacity challenges vary widely from system to system, as do the characteristics (benefits and constraints) of innovative technologies. Therefore, training must be tailored to the situation, incorporating adult education techniques such as feedback, evaluation, follow-up, and hands-on activities. A Training Design Support Tool will facilitate the creation of effective training packages and events. Training will target managers and community leaders for process selection, operators on how to operate and maintain innovative technologies, engineers on evaluating appropriateness of technologies and on communicating with operators and managers regarding the benefits and limitations of those technologies (given the prevailing attitude that “tried and true technologies are the safest”), and regulators on understanding, accepting, and approving innovative technologies.