By Beth Lawrence
The two main providers of water and sewer in Jackson County have entered into an agreement to provide assistance to each other in times of need.
Tuckasiegee Water and Sewer Authority and Western Carolina University have signed a Memorandum of Understanding spelling out when and how the two would provide mutual aid in an emergency.
The two have worked together in the past when the need arose, said Dan Harbaugh, executive director of TWSA.
“There’s been a relationship since before I came. Basically as mutual aid needs came up one would contact the other to see if we could provide support,” he said.
Western provides its own water and sewer system but discharges waste into the TWSA system as a customer. Those systems are already connected to TWSA’s systems.
Water mains for both structures are connected by shutoff valves so that one can supply water to the other in an urgent situation.
The MOU was put in place so that both would have a set of standards going forward should a larger issue arise.
“There’s never been a problem; we just wanted to codify it, make it formal so if we ran into a problem that was larger and actually incurred expenses that should be reimbursed, it would make sense,” Harbaugh said.
The old arrangement was fine for small problems such as borrowing connectors or water pipe that was not in stock, locating and repairing blocked lines or lending staff, but not for disaster preparedness.
“If we have a hurricane come through and whack us hard in the area, it may be a bigger problem than we’ve dealt with in the past so this is meant to help make sure that we are doing the right thing in case we ever get in a bigger emergency,” Harbaugh said.
Both organizations will review their emergency action plans to make sure there are no conflicts between the two and to give staff at each agency an understanding of the emergency procedures of the other. The agencies will also be able to conduct training exercises together.
The MOU spells out exactly what each agency can expect from the other.
Each entity is responsible for developing and maintaining its own water and sewer and will have its own emergency response plan in place as it pertains to that system.
The two agencies agree to provide assistance to each other in emergent situations affecting delivery of services.
Each agrees to provide emergency connections to supply water in the event of a disaster along with the staff, supplies and equipment needed until the issue has been resolved.
The agency delivering aid is required to provide a clear bill to the other for reimbursement of expenses plus a 20 percent markup to cover administrative costs.
The MOU does not authorize either entity to act as an agent for the other.
Each is responsible for its own insurance coverage and indemnifies the other against damage claims that may arise from aid associated with the emergency.
Either party is allowed to withhold assistance if providing aid would interfere with services to its own community.
“If it’s something large and extended in duration, we want to make sure that we’re not harming our community. We need to make sure we’re still meeting our needs here,” Harbaugh said. “If we’re not able to provide the mutual aid we want to help direct them to other sources of mutual aid too.”
That is why training is important; it will help staff understand limitations of the assistance they can provide to cover an emergency without impacting their communities Harbaugh said.
There are regional associations with agreements to assist other counties and municipalities when emergencies happen.
TWSA may examine becoming a member of a regional consortium as another failsafe.
“They’re trying to do this across the state; they’re trying to link in water and sewer utilities so that when something bad happens to somebody there’s help you can call on,” Harbaugh said.