Partner Blog

Communities Unlimited and Tennessee Department of Health, A Proven Partnership

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Developing meaningful and lasting partnerships are the key to any successful program. This is why we took a deeper look at a partnership that exists between Communities Unlimited and the Tennessee Department of Health. The Private Well Class was able to talk with Judy Manners (left) with the Tennessee Department of Health and Annie Chiodo (right) with Communities Unlimited to understand how their partnership works and what has made them functionally successful over the years. 


Q: Judy, what is your role with Tennessee Department of Health and what does your position entail?: 

JM: I am an Environmental Health Specialist in the Communicable and Environmental Disease Services and Emergency Preparedness Division’s Environmental Epidemiology Program. In this role, I provide consultation and field expertise for our epidemiologists who investigate water related illnesses and serve as the project manager for the CDC grant, SafeWATCH, which is targeted to reduce exposure to untreated drinking water from those using wells or springs as their household residential water supply. Through this grant, we are able to provide a limited number of free water tests to raise awareness about private drinking water quality.

Q:  Annie, what is your role with Communities Unlimited and what does your position entail?:

AC: My role with Communities Unlimited is Operations Management Specialist, and I work in TN with community and non-community water systems under population of 10,000. 

I also have the Private Well Program for Communities Unlimited and focus on four states, which are TN, MS, AL, LA. We have a great team of folks in the states that help me with the program.


Q:  How did the Tennessee Department of Health start working with Communities Unlimited initially?:

JM: Well, it’s funny how all things water are related! I originally met Annie Chiodo when I worked at TDEC Division of Water Resources as an Aquatic Resource Alteration/ §401 Certification permit writer. Being planned was a large road construction project, which would likely impact the public water supply well for a rural Tennessee community, and Annie happened to be the drinking water treatment operator. Needless to say, we had some spirited conversations! 

Fast-forwarding a decade or so, Annie and I had each moved on to our current employers. I was re-introduced to Annie through our partners at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Division of Water Resources Drinking Water Unit during a training event for well and well water treatment installers. The TDEC Division of Water Resources regulates public water supply, private water well construction and well water treatment installers. We, the TDH, had collaborated with them to include waterborne disease awareness as part of the training program to well installers. TDEC works with Communities Unlimited, Inc. for outreach and technical assistance to non-community public water systems. The Water Resources staff was aware of Annie’s work with well water owners and then, through Annie, I met Dwight Stapleton, Annie’s counterpart for the eastern portions of Tennessee.

Q: What sort of role does Communities Unlimited have with Tennessee Department of Health?: 

AC: We started working together after the Private Well Program rolled out. Judy is fantastic to work with when we get the chance to work together on assessing and testing wells. She has limits on what she can do, and I pick up the rest, and do the follow ups.


Q:  What has been the most valuable attribute that Communities Unlimited has brought to the Tennessee Department of Health?:

JM: Water treatment expertise, assistance in trouble shooting routes of contamination in private water systems and their extensive consultative service. Because Annie and Dwight are water treatment experts they are available to consult with private water well owners regarding specific water treatment needs. Because they are already working in rural parts of our state through their work with The Private and RCAP the breadth of outreach is greatly expanded and through knowledge gained from the well logs they research, the environmental assessment, and their community ties across the state. Having this level of detail for private well users would not be possible without their assistance and it makes our test results much more meaningful to residents.


Q:  What is the most challenging thing to consider when working in collaboration as Communities Unlimited and Tennessee Department of Health are doing?:

AC: Schedules. We have to make sure that we stay on the same page on dates and times, and location where we will meet.

Q:  Is there a common goal that both Communities Unlimited and the Tennessee Department of Health are trying to reach and how do the two organizations assist one another to reach that common goal (if there is one)? If there is no common goal, what are the individual goals of the two organizations?:

JM: Improving health and prosperity by meeting people where they are. The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is “To protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of people in Tennessee” and the mission of Communities Unlimited is “to move rural and under-resourced communities in areas of persistent poverty to sustainable prosperity.”  

Communities Unlimited and the Tennessee Department of Health share the goal of improving the prosperity of Tennessee’s rural residents in communities that are often underserved. For private water system users, we share the objective of identifying areas with known well water quality concerns and providing intensive outreach to rural communities or individual families with the purpose of reducing exposures to potentially harmful pathogens or other analytes of health concern.


Q: Can you give an example of some work or an event that you’ve done collaboratively to demonstrate the details on how you work together?: 

AC: Whoever has the information on a well to assess, we coordinate on date and time. I try to get the well log ahead of time. I also pull up a map from Google Earth to see what the terrain is like, nearby streams, lakes, ponds, etc. 

When we arrive at the location, we start pulling water samples from the raw and if possible finished water if they have a treatment system. Meantime I am getting pictures of the well from many directions to see what could possibly impact the well. We start notating the condition of the well head, and get the needed information on the treatment system if they have on, and talk with the well owner about the maintenance they do on the well and/or treatment system. We talk over what we find.  

Judy shares the lab results with me, and sends a very informative letter to the well owner explaining the results. I try to do a follow-up with the well owner to answer any questions they may have.


Q:  Going forward, what sort of accomplishments do you foresee the two organizations achieving in the future?

JM: Ideally, we will publicize our efforts related to private well owners through our websites, outreach materials for home owners, training initiatives; include more collaborators because without our other partners in government, higher education, community groups and buy in from rural residents the sustainable outreach to well or spring water users.


Q:  What sort of advice would you give to other organizations that are considering future collaboration efforts?

AC: Everyone needs to be on the same page, and defining their role in the process. There is research that should be done before going to the well site, and who is going to do that.
The research involves trying to locate the drillers’ log, or well report. Look at the terrain, I use Google Earth to get an idea of what is there, and close to the well location, also on Google Earth you can go back in years to see what was there 10 years or earlier. I then start the file for the individual well with any documentation that I may have. 

Whoever goes out or has a collaboration, needs to understand the importance of proper well construction, and what is happening with a 250’ radius of the well, where is the septic system, and how the grounds around the well head is maintained.