Water Equity Clearinghouse

Rural Community Assistance Corporation

American West

Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) works in 13 western states, including Alaska, Hawaii and the Pacific islands to provide training, technical and financial resources and advocacy so rural communities can achieve their goals and visions.

RCAC’s work includes environmental infrastructure (water, wastewater and solid waste facilities); affordable housing development; economic and leadership development; and community development finance. These services are available to communities with populations of fewer than 20,000, other nonprofit groups, Tribal organizations, farmworkers, colonias and other populations.

Efforts to Advance Water Equity

RCAC has a number of loan programs that benefit communities and individual household owners seeking to improve water infrastructure. For example, the organization offers Environmental Infrastructure loans, which help finance water and wastewater facility projects. This loan program specifically targets the project feasibility and pre-development costs, which state and federal grants often do not cover.

The Household Water Well System (HWWS) Loan Program provides interest rate loans to assist households in repairing or constructing a household water well system.

Drought preparedness assistance is also offered to tribal water systems that may be facing the challenges of very low or limited water supply. California, Hawaii and Arizona Tribes can also receive assistance from the Tribal Circuit Rider Program, which works with Tribes to build their capacity for safe water in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. Annually, the Circuit Riders make about 800 visits, conduct 10 to 15 workshops and facilitate quarterly Native American Water Masters Association (NAWMA) meetings throughout the regions. These meetings are a chance to discuss changing drinking water regulations, emerging technology, and other issues facing tribal water utilities.

As part of providing Technical Assistance (TA), RCAC helps water and wastewater systems apply for federal and state loans and grants. RCAC staff conduct workshops, which also address a number of other topics including: environmental regulatory requirements, capital improvement planning, energy audits for utilities, municipal solid waste management, on-site wastewater operations, operator training and much more. 

RCAC also provides services that are beneficial to lower-income residents of rural areas. In partnership with the National Environmental Health Association, University of Illinois, National Groundwater Association and the Water System Council, RCAC provides free well assessments and educational resources for private well owners.

To bring awareness to the drinking water crisis in California, RCAC launched Agua4All, a project funded by The California Endowment.  Agua4All raises awareness about the importance of drinking tap water over sugary drinks; builds partnerships to install water bottle filling stations in schools and neighborhoods where they’re needed most; identifies funding sources; and develops long-term solutions for California’s water quality and access problems. The team has installed more than 200 water bottle filling stations in California’s schools and communities.  

RCAC clearly supports education and capacity-building in these rural communities.
Tribes and local communities thus receive practical, real-world training, technical assistance, and information to benefit their financing water, wastewater, and solid waste systems.

RCAC also develops financial models, tools, and resources to share with small rural communities and Tribes as the Region 10 Environmental Finance Center.

While direct service is a big part of RCAC’s work, the organization focuses on capacity-building for small systems. Regionalization is one way to help rural communities’ systems to become more independent. Regionalization can mean actual infrastructure consolidation, but it can also refer to shared management, operation, and treatment costs. These strategies eliminate redundancy and result in economies of scale that allow small systems to afford day-to-day operations and necessary repairs and upgrades.

To ensure that changes and upgrades are affordable to small system customers, RCAC conducts rate studies to promote utility sustainability, rate stability and fairness to rate payers. Setting an appropriate rate structure is essential for the long-term longevity of a utility. RCAC reviews the current rate structure, financial information, equipment, and planned improvements, to determine if a rate adjustment is necessary. RCAC includes asset management as a component of rate setting and analysis as well as vulnerability assessments and emergency response planning.

RCAC provides Water Board Leadership Institutes training local leaders to engage one another in working together positively adopting winning strategies for their local water issues. Building capacity in rural communities often leads to building rural economies, working with youth and providing many tools that best support comprehensive community development.

At the national level, RCAC has for years been the voice of rural communities, as members of the National Drinking Water Advisory Council, Water Environment Finance Board and the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, representing and speaking about rural community challenges, particularly focused on water.

RCAC is one of six regional agencies that, together, serve the entire country. These six organizations make up the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) network.