Idaho Rural Water Association

For a state famous for its pristine landscape and sprawling vistas, it’s no wonder that an association responsible for supporting Idaho’s small water systems has the word “rural” in its title. No less surprising is that the Idaho Rural Water Association’s employees keep plenty busy serving water and wastewater associations that supply communities or systems with 10,000 or fewer connections.
But this is an inclusive group; the IRWA is also supported by larger municipalities, solid waste systems, and more than fifty industry vendors—although its funding through the federal government limits its professional services to small private or public systems (the reason for the “rural” part of the association’s title).
The IRWA’s primary mission is to protect the public health and environment by providing training and technical assistance to water and wastewater systems throughout the state. They make it relatively easy for members to take advantage of their services: for the price of the yearly association fee, all onsite professional expertise, the use of equipment, and training sessions are free of charge through the non-profit association.
While the association serves a large and relatively sparsely populated area, it offers a wide range of expert services, equipment, and classes to meet its members’ needs. Its experts hit the road weekly, visiting small system operators; classes are held throughout the state to accommodate as many people as possible.
In May, for example, the group had a class in Moscow on the history and techniques of water treatment, and they provided a Department of Environmental Quality recertification opportunity with the topic “Drinking Water Source Protection Plans.”  It also offered a third class on fire hydrants and valves. In July, the classes that were held in both Idaho Falls and Caldwell boasted instructors who discussed basic hydraulics, principles of operation, and maintaining control valves.
Association Office Manager, Barbi Burke, said the group has 380 members who are able to take advantage of the group’s seven “circuit riders.” These circuit riders travel from one small water or wastewater system to the next, troubleshooting a variety of problems. They bring equipment and highly trained professionals to operate in a variety of situations, she explained.
The group has three water circuit riders who deal only with water issues. For example, if a system has a leak that the onsite operators cannot repair on their own, they can call on an IRWA circuit rider. Problems with a wastewater system typically result in a call going out to one of the association’s two wastewater circuit riders. One of those individuals may find himself in a boat in the middle of a wastewater lagoon overrun by duck week. Using a PVC pipe, he can draw up the sludge and determine if the lagoon is serving the system effectively.
A third type of circuit rider is relatively new to the association; the group has two additional circuit riders who help operators of small systems get federal money through the recently enacted American Recovery Reinvestment Act.
Because of the rural and sprawling nature of Idaho, it is not unusual for a circuit rider to be gone for a week or ten days at a time, traveling from one small community to another, unblocking a clogged lined, working on a balky filtration system, or helping a public official negotiate the inevitable and complicated federal grant forms, Burke said.
“Some of the services we provide for free can cost thousands and thousands of dollars. For some of our members, such as one with only twenty-nine connections, the membership cost is $200,” Burke said, adding that membership fees are based on the size of the system.
As for the IRWA, membership dues cover only a small portion of the group’s budget. The rest of the funding comes from the federal government through National Rural Water of Duncan, Oklahoma, an agency that operates similar programs in all fifty states.
The IRWA, located in Boise, also has staff members who are based throughout the state, from Weiser to Salmon to Idaho Falls. The group has two staffers who work with members on source-water protection plans that help protect drinking water sources. Another employee is a training specialist who is responsible for all of the IRWA’s training and continuing education opportunities. Last year, for example, the association hosted about 100 such opportunities, with 820 attendees.
The IRWA held its annual conference in Idaho Falls last March. Over a two-and–a-half-day period, about 185 members and 40 vendors gathered to share information, pick up continuing education credits, and do the all-important socializing that is a key component to any successful association.
The group’s next big conference is actually a day-and-a-half mini-conference that will be held at the Couer d’Alene Casino in September.
To learn more about the association, visit its website at

Story by Marie Elium

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