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West Virginia

West Virginia Overview of the State’s Small Water Systems

In West Virginia, the most recent report to the Governor concerning capacity development of drinking water systems lists 70 of the state’s 538 community water systems as marginal or failing, most of which serve systems with populations of 300 or less. The report notes these systems are continually at risk of unintended disruptions to the drinking water supply impacting customer health and welfare and impeding local economic development in areas.

Availability of wastewater treatment systems is also key in defining the health and quality of a community. Most wastewater systems in West Virginia serve small customer bases, 94% serve fewer than 5,000 customers and nearly 40% of West Virginia residents are not served by a community wastewater system and rely on individual sewage systems or pipe untreated sewage directly into streams. Untreated sewage degrades the quality of water resources leading to severe environmental and health problems. Combined, disease-causing bacteria, metals, and nutrient-laden effluent has impaired over 18,500 miles of streams in West Virginia. Terrain and sparse population pockets limit viable, economically-feasible options to provide citizens with adequate centralized wastewater services. Decentralized approaches to collect and treat wastewater are being considered in many areas and ACTAT partners have extensive experience with effective, decentralized wastewater systems to offer guidance to regulatory agencies, communities, and service providers.

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West Virginia University

Team Overview

Katherine Garvey, JD, LLM

Director, and Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic, College of Law

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Katherine “Kat” Garvey began her career at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Region VII in the National

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Agricultural Compliance Assistance Center and with the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics. Garvey is an ISO 14001 Environmental Management Systems Certified Lead Auditor. She developed and audited environmental management systems for military and large agricultural operations. Garvey transitioned from federal to local government in 2006, when she worked for the City of Lee’s Summit, Missouri as the Environmental Coordinator. She helped the City comply with permitting requirements for their airport and landfill. In addition, she helped the City develop a solid waste management plan, stormwater plan, stream buffer ordinance, and a natural resource inventory map. She continued her focus on local protection of natural resources as an Assistant Professor of Law and Staff Attorney at the Land Use Clinic at Vermont Law School. In Vermont, Garvey worked with local governments, land trusts and other non-profits to address legal questions related to land conservation in the Northeast. Professor Garvey received her JD from the University of Missouri in Kansas City in 2004, and LLM from Vermont Law in 2010.

The Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic (Land Use Clinic) provides legal and planning services to conserve land and water, supports local land use planning, and offers educational opportunities for law students and citizens of West Virginia. The Land Use Clinic aims to:

  • Identify and conserve sensitive
  • Support local land use decision-makers
  • Address wastewater issues
  • Provide practical experience for law students in the field of land use law and policy

Emily Garner, PhD

>Assistant Professor, Wadsworth Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

Wadsworth Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering:

Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources:

Garner Faculty Research Website:

Dr. Emily Garner is an Assistant Professor in the Wadsworth Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at West

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Virginia University. Dr. Garner’s expertise is in drinking water and wastewater treatment, with an emphasis on control of microbiological contaminants. Her work focuses on control of pathogens in drinking water distribution infrastructure and building plumbing, characterizing emerging microbial contaminants, and production of high-quality, biologically stable recycled water.

The Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources has 140 tenure-track faculty members, and more than 4,000 students enrolled in seven accredited academic departments, including nearly 700 graduate students. Faculty in the College conduct a wide range of research that focuses in advanced materials and manufacturing; aviation safety; biometrics and identification technologies; biomedical and healthcare; civil and transportation infrastructure; energy and power generation, conversion, and distribution; shale gas utilization; and water and sustainability.

The Wadsworth Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering provides educational programs at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. Faculty conduct novel and high-impact research in a number of areas, ranging from design of advanced materials for sustainable construction to water and wastewater treatment.

Lauri Andress, PhD, JD

>Assistant Professor, Department of Health Policy, Management & Leadership, School of Public Health

As a community engaged place and health scholar , Dr. Andress’ scholarship is informed by the basic notion of social

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justice and the inquiry into power differentials that shape the places where populations “live, work, and play”. The goal being to shift the way that a community thinks about and conceptualizes notions of good and poor health.

During her studies, Dr. Andress secured a Master of Public Health and Ph.D. in Community Health Science (University of Texas Health Sciences Center, major in health policy; concentration in Management and Policy Sciences), and a law degree from South Texas College of Law, Houston, Texas. At West Virginia University, School of Public Health she has served as an Assistant Dean for Public Health Practice and Workforce Development and is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy, Management and Leadership.

A qualitative public health assessment on the connection between place and health, Dr. Andress’ research incorporates a range of qualitative research skills including ethnographic techniques with content analysis of documents, and data collected from interviews, focus groups, print media and videos. Her scholarship portrays the lived experiences of underrepresented (UR) groups as told by and through their stories, photos, narratives and video recordings. These digital records are intended to help us see the connections between lived experiences and larger historical, social, and structural forces of a place.

Dr. Andress explains that, “from a 60, 000-foot level my >place and health scholarshipexamines the agenda setting process, what counts as evidence and the role that ideas, framing, narratives, and political ideology versus science, facts, and evidence play in policy discussions”.

Prior to joining academia Dr. Andress worked in government as a policy aide to local and congressional policymakers and lead teams from 2007-2010 that launched the Centers for Health Equity in Wisconsin and Louisville, Kentucky.

Sustainable Management of Rural and Small Systems

Many rural and small systems throughout the country face significant management and operational issues often include aging or inadequate infrastructure, recruiting and retaining qualified staff, growing or establishing financial reserves, and setting rates reflective of operational costs and capital needs. Designed to help small and rural utilities assess their strengths and challenges and create and action plan to address these areas, the USDA and USEPA developed a training program along with supplemental materials to assist small communities and assistance providers working with the small utilities improve operations. 

Phase 1 - Training

The Workshop in a Box (WIB): Sustainable Management of Rural and Small Systems is the first step of a three-step process ACTAT follows to assist small and rural systems address water infrastructure issues.

As the first step, this regional workshop is held in various locations throughout the state and local utilities are invited to attend and participate in the training. WIB helps utilities address a full range of challenges and move toward sustainable management of their operations and infrastructure.

  • How to deliver increasingly efficient, and higher quality services,
  • How to improve long-term sustainability and increase resiliency, and
  • How to use the Small Systems Guidebook to Effective Utility Management, developed by the USDA and USEPA, to improve system operations.

Utilities learn how to make improvements in the ten key management areas, at a pace consistent with their most pressing challenges.

The workshop and Guidebook are built around ten key management areas. These ten areas of sustainable utility management help utility and community leaders assess utility health, discuss potential community impacts, and prioritize future activities based on what is best for the utility and the community.

Ten Areas of Sustainable Utility Management

  • Financial Viability
  • Operational Resiliency
  • Employee and Leadership Development
  • Water Resource Adequacy
  • Community Sustainability and Economic Development
  • Infrastructure Stability
  • Product Quality
  • Customer Satisfaction
  • Stakeholder Understanding and Support
  • Operational Optimization

Continuing education credits/hours are awarded upon completion of this training event.

Phase 2 - Individual Team Training

As the second step, individual utility/community training events cover the WIB material with all utility staff and local decision-makers for that specific utility, working together as a team. ACTAT works with the local team to:

  • Identify management areas that can be improved,
  • Set goals, and
  • Develop an Action Plan.

ACTAT’s second step to sustainable management is one-on-one training catered to meet the specific needs of the individual utility. Example training programs have offered ½ day WIB training and ½ day training of their choice (e.g., system mapping and hydraulic modeling, water loss, asset management). 

Assistance to Small Systems

Phase 3 -  Technical Assistance

As the third step, once a utility/community has completed a Phase 2 – Team Training, assistance to the utility is available, free of charge, as needed and as practicable, to implement their Action Plan

How to Get Involved

Additional Resources