Josh Buckingham

Jer Buckingham

Operator of the Year

For the second consecutive year, Rathbun Regional Water Association took home the Best Tasting Water in Iowa Award from the 2019 Iowa Rural Water Association’s 44th Annual Conference. The event was held Feb. 18-20 at the Veteran’s Memorial Community Choice Convention Center in Des Moines. 

Rural water utilities from around the state submitted samples of their water in an effort to identify the tastiest water in the state.

Winning the Iowa event entitles RRWA to join other first place state winners at next year’s Great American Water Taste Test, which is held each February in Washington, D.C.

RRWA representatives recently attended the 2019 national convention for their 2018 Iowa win where they competed against 42 other best tasting water state winners. RRWA was voted the 4th best tasting water in the nation.

The national event is part of the Rural Water Rally, an annual legislative event for the state affiliates of the National Rural Water Association. 

Tahlequah Public Works Authority, located in Tahlequah, Okla., claimed first place, while the City of Clay Center of Nebraska won second and Douglas County Utilities, Montana System of Minden, Nev., took third.

RRWA Plant Superintendent, Jer Buckingham, knows that clean, good tasting water doesn’t just happen. Buckingham, who has worked at RRWA since 1997 and has served as plant superintendent since 2013, says water treatment staff strives to provide safe, clean drinking water every day.

“The 24/7, 365 dedication the water treatment staff has in optimization of our water treatment facilities all the way to our customers’ faucets to provide the highest quality, best tasting water is exemplary,” he explained.  

That dedication was recognized by the Iowa Rural Water Association at this year’s conference when they awarded Buckingham the 2018 System Operator of the Year. 

The award is presented to an outstanding rural water system operator who has gone above and beyond the normal requirements of their job. 

Cathy Law, Iowa Rural Water Association Member Services says during Jer’s 21 years as a drinking water professional, he has earned the respect of colleagues across the industry and played a major role in Rathbun being recognized as one of the premier rural water systems in Iowa and the country.

“As plant superintendent, Jer’s leadership has instilled in Rathbun at all levels of the organization an uncompromising commitment to delivering the highest quality drinking water to more than 90,000 residents in the association’s service territory. His expertise and dedication have been instrumental in helping Rathbun achieve the 2018 Best Tasting Water in Iowa Award and receiving the 2017 Water Fluoridation Quality Award for the US Department of Health and Human Services Center for Disease Control and Prevention,” says Law.

“Jer continually improves water treatment processes and excels at meeting drinking water standards as a participant in Iowa’s Area-Wide Optimization Program and was heavily involved in the planning and design of a second water treatment plant and renovation of Rathbun’s original plant to increase production capacity to over 14 million gallons per day,” she continued.

It is worth noting that Buckingham leads a team of ten highly skilled and dedicated water treatment plant operators and assists the 34 communities served by Rathbun to comply with regulatory requirements and supply, safe quality drinking water to their residents. He actively participates in the IOWARN network of water and wastewater utilities to ensure emergency preparedness and deliver mutual aid. Buckingham also promotes public awareness of drinking water by participating in the Iowa Children’s Water Festival, sponsoring community events throughout Rathbun’s territory and conducts tours of Rathbun’s facilities.

Rathbun Lake is the source water for RRWA and as more and more people rely on Rathbun Lake for their drinking water, protecting the lake becomes more and more important.

Recognizing this importance, the Rathbun Land and Water Alliance has for more than 20 years, worked with more than a dozen organizations and agencies to protect Rathbun Lake. Through the Alliance, staff have worked with 600 landowners in the six Rathbun Lake watershed counties of Appanoose, Clarke, Decatur, Lucas, Monroe, and Wayne to install conservation practices. The action of these landowners has made a substantial impact, reducing annual sediment delivery to Rathbun Lake by 57,306 tons and by 248,817 pounds of phosphorous.

Photo Captions: 
Jer Buckingham is pictured with the 2019 Best Tasting Water in Iowa Award that was presented to Rathbun Regional Water Association at the 2019 Iowa Rural Water Association’s 44th Annual Conference held in Des Moines in February.  
Buckingham is pictured with the 2018 System Operator of the Year Award which he received at the Iowa Rural Water Association’s 44th Annual Conference.

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