2011 National AWOP Meeting was a Big Success

The Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) and the Technical Support Center (TSC) in EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water sponsored the fourth National Area-Wide Optimization Program (AWOP) Meeting in Cincinnati, OH at the Hilton Netherland Plaza on July 19 & 20, 2011.  The conference provided existing AWOP States and Regions with an opportunity to meet and network with other AWOP participants and hear how they are implementing strategic knowledge in their programs.  Other states with an interest in AWOP and even visitors from Canada attended to become more familiar with AWOP tools and practices.   In a first for the conference, attendees also heard directly from a water system that has been the beneficiary of AWOP activities.  In addition to this exchange between participants, the conference also provided an opportunity to learn about national AWOP priorities and technical initiatives.  This conference follows a series of very successful AWOP National Meetings that began in 2005.

A returning feature of the meeting was the resource tables.  Here states and regions could share their training tools, awards, congratulation letters, optimization goals posters, and all the special things that make their program successful.  Other AWOP programs can use these as a resource to improve their own program.  A fun highlight of the conference (since we didn’t get to see the Reds – again!) was AWOP Bingo.  Through this icebreaker game, attendees found out who in the crowd has been scuba diving or drives a convertible (presumably not at the same time) or was a boy scout or girl scout or has never received a traffic violation (presumably these are the same people).   These fun facts make everyone more comfortable sharing the more serious facts about how AWOP is conducted in their state or region.

At the outset of the meeting, James Taft of ASDWA reminded us why we should attend the National AWOP Meeting and highlighted other important work ASDWA is doing.  Then Greg Carroll of TSC stressed AWOP’s importance to EPA.  After that introduction, participants jumped right into specific meeting topics described below:

Direction for the AWOP Program – Rick Lieberman provided all with some background on the AWOP program.  He showed how we get from point A to point B.  It may not be a direct route.  There are many forks in the road but we will be successful in the journey if we have faith in the AWOP process.  That includes strategic planning, developing tools, piloting tools, and finally demonstrating and facilitating the tools through the network.  He also shared a dream for AWOP to implement optimization of the multiple barriers protecting drinking water by expansion of our network.

State and Regional AWOP Reports – This is probably the most popular section of the agenda, and certainly the most active.  This year it was even the most efficient.  That means we finished early!  Each state and regional AWOP coordinator introduced the staff that were present and shared a brief update on their program – highlighting a current activity or challenge, or sharing their vision for the future.   Our visitors also shared why they came and what they hoped to gain from the meeting.

ASDWA Web Page and Communications Tools – There has been a major emphasis on improving communications among the AWOP community over the last couple years.  Anthony DeRosa of ASDWA shared the various tools that he has developed on the ASDWA website and beyond to facilitate the exchange of strategic knowledge.  The group learned about the use of the ASDWA Forums to ask questions and get answers, the location of the document library on the website for accessing the latest AWOP tools, and how the new AWOP blog is changing the way the AWOP News is developed.

AWOP Impacts – Under AWOP Impacts we learned that Cincinnati residents are served by a high quality of baseball even when the Reds aren’t in town, as evidenced by Nate Lieberman’s 0.471 batting average and home run swing. We also learned that residents of various AWOP states are served by a high quality of drinking water as evidenced by documented impacts of AWOP on their water systems.  Whether it is the Washington state “X graph” or the graphical representation of the population served by optimized system in South Carolina, there is a process that each state goes through to collect and manage the data needed to document the success of the state’s AWOP.   After attendees saw how the experts do it, a workshop got them all to develop their own ideas.  Participants developed a flowchart describing how they could turn their own state’s data into a graph or other representation of AWOP impact in their state.  Participants not representing states were also asked to consider an ideal process for turning AWOP generated data, on a local or national scale, into an ideal representation of the impact of AWOP.

Data Integrity – Larry DeMers explained how AWOP is all about the data.  You can’t tell the true story without good data.     State representatives explained particular data issues discovered in their states.  Arkansas determined that turbidimeter calibration was an issue there and has used summer engineering interns to conduct checks in the field.   Texas uses formal data assessments to uncover problems with data recording and reporting on Monthly Operating Reports (MORs).  In Iowa, the conduct of routine AWOP activities like CPE’s and PBT pointed out where data integrity issues were present in the state so appropriate response could be initiated.  The panel presentations stimulated a lively question and answer session.

Distribution System Optimization – Although still relatively new, the distribution system optimization initiative has already developed some good tools like the sample flushing methodology and the hydrant sampler.   The program has already identified challenges to distribution optimization such as an inadequate monitoring program and no clear line of responsibility for water quality in the distribution system.  Megan Sekhar shared these facts and the future direction for distribution system optimization.  Pennsylvania then showed how one state has begun to implement a distribution program and through case studies gave us documentation how good, bad, or ugly it can be in the field.  After that introduction, it was all made real by a workshop where participants identified specific things they could do to add elements of distribution system optimization to their AWOP.

AWOP Integration – Bob Hegg explained how integration fits into the Maintenance Component of AWOP and the panelists showed specific examples of integration in their region and states.  Region 10 has been a leader in developing funding options for AWOP through DWSRF set asides and the Expense Reimbursement Grant.  Iowa’s innovative project to directly integrate AWOP principles into their capacity development can be a model for other states.  Kentucky takes a different approach and uses AWOP tools, as appropriate, in the Corrective Action Plans for water systems as part of their Enforcement Management Strategy.  After these presentations to stimulate their thinking, the participants completed a work shop on Integration Implementation.  In the workshop, those at the table shared a specific integration example with their peers.  Then they developed additional ideas for use in their state/region.

DBP Implementation – Alabama has been a leader in addressing DBP issues through AWOP.  Working with TSC and the City of Tuscaloosa on a Comprehensive Technical Assistance (CTA) project has given them more insight into DBP issues and especially the influence of the distribution system.  This led to development of the “artificial demand device” (otherwise known as an automatic flusher) as a cost effective tool for DBP control when implemented with a well designed flushing program.  The CTA not only helped the state but had a direct influence on the city.  Bernard Cassity of Tuscaloosa shared their experience working with the state and EPA and showed how they have been able to use the lessons learned from the CTA to support DBP control decisions.

All in all it was another successful National Meeting.  Plan to be there in 2013!

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