Biden-Harris Administration Launches EPA-USDA Partnership to Provide Wastewater Sanitation to Underserved Rural Communities
Historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Funding Will Help Address Lack of Basic Wastewater Infrastructure in Lowndes and Greene County, Alabama
MONTGOMERY, Ala.– (August 2, 2022) Today, at an event in Lowndes County, Alabama, where a significant number of residents lack access to wastewater infrastructure, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative. The new initiative will be piloted in 11 communities across the country where residents lack basic wastewater management that is essential to protecting their health and the environment. EPA and USDA will jointly leverage technical assistance resources to help historically underserved communities identify and pursue federal funding opportunities – including from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – to address their wastewater needs and eliminate harmful exposure to backyard sewage.
"The America that we all believe in is a land of opportunity. But, for historically marginalized communities from Alabama to Alaska, that opportunity is stolen when basic sanitation doesn’t work—exposing adults and children to backyard sewage and disease,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “By partnering with USDA and leveraging funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, EPA is working to restore dignity and opportunity to rural communities here in Lowndes County and across the country.”
“Under the leadership of the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA believes hardworking people in America’s small towns and rural communities should have the infrastructure they need to be healthy and to provide for their families. We recognize that there are still people who have been going without the basics,” said Agriculture Secretary Vilsack. “Access to modern, reliable wastewater infrastructure is a necessity, and the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to doing everything we can to ensure every family and every child in America has access to these vital services. By combining USDA and EPA resources and taking advantage of the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we can restore to these communities a sense of economic vitality and social dignity that the people living there deserve.”
“President Biden has been clear—we cannot leave any community behind as we rebuild America’s infrastructure with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” said White House Infrastructure Coordinator Advisor Mitch Landrieu. “This includes rural and Tribal communities who for too long have felt forgotten. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $11.7 billion in loans and grants to communities for a wide range of water-quality infrastructure projects, including wastewater solutions for these communities.”
“Many rural communities in our region face tremendous challenges in providing needed wastewater infrastructure services for their residents,” said Region 4 Administrator Daniel Blackman. “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, particularly the Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative, presents a historic opportunity to collaboratively address these needs. These communities will reap economic, environmental and health benefits from this initiative that will help generations to come.”
“Access to adequate wastewater infrastructure is a basic human right, but for too many of my constituents, generations of disinvestment have led to broken and failing wastewater systems that put the health of our communities at risk,” said U.S. Representative Terri Sewell (AL-07). “Since coming to Congress, I have made addressing our wastewater crisis a top priority, working to secure funding and direct resources to areas in need of help. Now, thanks to the leadership of the Biden-Harris Administration and transformative investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, more help is on the way. This joint initiative between the EPA and USDA will be instrumental in our fight to improve wastewater infrastructure for our most underserved communities.”
“The Alabama Department of Environmental Management is pleased to see these Alabama communities participate in this new pilot program,” said ADEM Director Lance LeFleur. “Access to proper-functioning sewer service is an issue throughout Alabama’s Black Belt, where the combination of nonpermeable soil, low population density and low incomes creates challenges. We are working with communities to provide assistance and available funding to address these issues. This pilot program complements those efforts.”
“Decades ago, Lowndes County led the charge for voting rights – today we are leading the call for wastewater equity. Most Americans couldn’t imagine raw sewage pooling in their yard just outside the kitchen window, or worse, backing up into their home when it rains too much,” said Catherine Flowers, founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice. “I want to thank the Biden-Harris Administration for committing to help us find a solution. Today, we are taking a big step toward achieving a more just future for the people of Lowndes and rural communities across the U.S.”
An estimated 2.2 million people in the United States lack basic running water and indoor plumbing. Many more live with wastewater infrastructure that is ineffective and puts people’s health at risk. The Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative will help communities access financing and technical assistance to improve wastewater infrastructure. EPA and USDA—in partnership with state, Tribal, and local partners—are launching the initiative in:
- Lowndes County, Alabama (White Hall Community) – White Hall currently has inadequate wastewater infrastructure. USDA has initiated an initial wastewater infrastructure project that can be a foundation to build on to fully close the wastewater access gap in and around White Hall. Local challenges include failing septics, straight pipes and inadequate centralized sewer capacity.
- Greene County, Alabama – Black Belt soils in Greene County and other parts of Alabama are difficult from a wastewater septic standpoint. Local challenges include failing septic systems and the use of straight pipes, resulting in raw sewage on the ground, surface water, and seepage into ground water. The rural nature of the county, combined with economic conditions, has also made investing in centralized wastewater systems a challenge.
The Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative will allow EPA and USDA—in close collaboration with these communities, our state and Tribal partners, and on-the-ground technical assistance providers—to leverage technical and financial expertise to make progress on addressing the wastewater infrastructure needs of some of America’s most underserved communities. Each community or Tribe will receive direct support to address wastewater infrastructure shortcomings that have lasted generations including developing wastewater assessments with technical engineering support, developing wastewater community solution plans, identifying and pursuing funding opportunities, and building long term capacity. State governments, Tribes, and water agencies have committed to working with the EPA and USDA to support these communities.
Wastewater infrastructure challenges exist in communities across the country. The Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative will be a roadmap to scale up efforts in the rest of the country. EPA and USDA each offer technical assistance that can help communities access funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other government programs.
Several of the communities chosen for this initiative are also participating in the Biden-Harris Administration’s recently announced Rural Partners Network. The USDA-led network brings together twenty federal agencies and regional commissions to help rural communities create economic opportunity by accessing resources and funding that match their unique needs and priorities.
If you are a community interested in learning more about Technical Assistance opportunities, visit https://www.epa.gov/water-infrastructure/water-technical-assistance