Page 9 - Mississippi 811 Magazine 2021 Issue 2
P. 9

Along-dormant for-profit subdivision of the Mississippi Rural Water Association is set to transform the organization’s ability to assist their members, according to the group’s leader.
Kirby Mayfield, CEO of MsRWA, said the for-profit Mississippi Water and Wastewater Services division was created years ago to offer financing, insurance and other products to MsRWA members — but those programs never got off the ground.
Rural water systems across the country are facing several serious existential threats over the long-term, and MWWS aims to alleviate some of that stress.
“With the for-profit, we are coming up with ideas and ways to meet the needs of our members, as well as be able to work some things through the non- profit to make it viable,” Kirby said.
One thing he said the group may consider offering is a crossbore detection service. A crossbore is a potentially dangerous situation where a new utility being installed in a crowded right of way damages or even tunnels through an existing utility.
When an electric or gas line is hit the operator typically knows right away. But if a new utility — say a gas line
is installed through a sewer line, it may take weeks or months before the customer notices a clog and calls out a plumber. If the plumber doesn’t know to check for crossbores, they might auger through the impeding gas line, causing the sewer and home to fill with natural gas — a potentially explosive situation.
“That’s a situation where if the utility had a suspicion there was a crossbore, we would be able to run a camera
to make sure they didn’t nick or cut another utility,” he said.
Those systems run between $30,000 and $100,000 just for the camera inspection rig, plus the annual salary
of the operator, so they are out of reach for most small water systems, and there currently aren’t any private companies offering this service to rural water operators.
“They’re too expensive, so there’s nobody in the state of Mississippi doing
it right now. We would fill a void in the market,” he said. “If you hit a water or sewer line, it makes a mess. But if it hits gas, there might be an explosion. If there’s even one life saved it’s worth the cost.”
Other services
One of the issues facing nearly every rural water association in the country is the number of certified operators who are nearing — or well beyond — retirement age. Each system is required to have a licensed operator but finding and training younger replacements has proven to be a challenge.
In Mississippi, MsRWA is helping to alleviate that stress by offering an apprenticeship program.
“We are in the second year of our apprenticeship program, which is nationally and federally recognized. We have five apprentices this year, and we had three last year,” Kirby said. “We see this nation-wide. Guys who are running the systems are reaching retirement and there’s not enough young folks coming in to fill the positions. We are doing what we can to help by going into schools and job fairs to promote the apprenticeship program.”
The program is a two-year commitment with 1000 hours of on-the-job training with a water system, plus classroom hours. It’s a free program offered through the nonprofit.
But MsRWA can only train so many new operators a year, and dozens of operators are retiring — much faster than they can be replaced. One of the aims of the for-profit wing would be to offer temporary management services to bridge the gap.
“One of the things we want to try is creating a management firm that could help systems on a short-term basis
with managerial or financial issues and provide a certified operator to help them get back on their feet,” Kirby said.
The consulting side, which is set to launch soon, will offer services for a fee to help water associations transition from one operator to another, and offer oversight and assistance in bookkeeping and other non-technical aspects of the enterprise.
“They’re required to have a certified operator, and when one leaves,
they only have 180 days to find a replacement,” Kirby said. “If they struggle to find a replacement, we could step in to fill the void until they find the right operator, instead of having to hire someone quickly.”
Formed in 1978 as a trade organization, MsRWA works with the National Rural Water Association to provide training and technical assistance to rural water associations and small municipalities throughout the state of Mississippi and providing lobbying services for the rural water community at state legislature.
They currently employ 13 full-time staff, with about ten in the field offering continuing education and technical consulting services for member the approximately 950 rural water associations and 250 small municipalities.
While there is an annual cost associated with membership in MRWA, the vast majority of their existing training and services are offered free to member organizations, which range as small as 35 connections, to as large as 17,000 connections.
“When the system has issues they can’t solve, our guys come in free of charge to help solve the problems,” Kirby said.
He also mentioned the nonprofit plays a big role in utility emergency response. The association has their own co-op with 130 members who help respond to any issues in the state.
MsRWA continues to provide leadership not only for the rural water and smaller systems but steps up to the plate to promote damage prevention and safe digging by looking at much needed crossbore protection.
Additionally, Kirby represents MsRWA on the Enforcement Board and
serves on the executive committee. Stakeholders in Mississippi are fortunate to have such a proactive organization promoting safe drinking water and safe digging.
Thanks for all you do!
2021, Issue 2
Mississippi 811 • 7

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