EPA - USDA Launches Partnership to Provide Wastewater Sanitation to Underserved Rural Communities

Aug. 19, 2022
Historic funding from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help address lack of basic wastewater infrastructure in rural America

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, USDA, the states of Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, and West Virginia, and Tribes 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, states, 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 Tom 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. 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,” said White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu.

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 to “close the gap” for communities that have been left behind for far too long. EPA and USDA—in partnership with state, Tribal, and local partners—are launching the initiative in:

  • Bolivar County, Mississippi;
  • Doña Ana County, New Mexico;
  • Duplin County, North Carolina;
  • Greene County, Alabama;
  • Halifax County, North Carolina;
  • Harlan County, Kentucky;
  • Lowndes County, Alabama;
  • McDowell County, West Virginia;
  • Raleigh County, West Virginia;
  • San Carlos Apache Tribe, Arizona; and,
  • Santo Domingo Pueblo, New Mexico.

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 develop wastewater assessments with technical engineering support, design wastewater community solution plans, identify and pursue funding opportunities, and build long term capacity. States, 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.

“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.” 

“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.”

If you are a community interested in learning more about Technical Assistance opportunities, visit https://www.epa.gov/water-infrastructure/water-technical-assistance.

What they are saying:

“Investing in reliable wastewater infrastructure is key to improving the health and wellbeing of our residents and creating the foundation for economic growth,” said U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (WV). “As I was negotiating and helping craft the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, strengthening the wastewater infrastructure in West Virginia was a top priority, and I’m pleased to see McDowell and Raleigh counties included in the first round of recipients. I have long been an advocate for increased support for our wastewater systems in West Virginia, and I will continue to help deliver the resources our communities need to overcome the infrastructure challenges they face.”

“Every West Virginian deserves clean water to drink and fresh air to breathe. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act continues to deliver critical investments for our communities that spur economic growth and enhance public health, and I am pleased the EPA and USDA are partnering to identify new opportunities and upgrade wastewater infrastructure in McDowell and Raleigh Counties. I look forward to seeing the positive impacts of this collaboration for years to come, and I will continue working to ensure our rural communities across the Mountain State have the resources they need to thrive,” said U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (WV).

“Wastewater infrastructure is critical for every individual’s health and safety, and is the backbone of economic development,” said U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (NC). “Some of North Carolina’s wastewater infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, needs improvement. That is why I was proud to help negotiate the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to ensure the package included major funding for North Carolina’s clean water and wastewater management. I’m happy to see the Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative come to fruition and applaud the investments in Halifax and Duplin Counties for wastewater infrastructure to improve drainage problems and sewer line connections.”

“Technical assistance is a proven tool that can help water utilities maintain and upgrade their systems,” said Senator Roger Wicker (MS). “This initiative, which was made possible by the bipartisan infrastructure law that I supported, will help Bolivar County improve its drainage systems and quality of life for its residents.”

“As the only Mississippi Member in the House to vote for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, I am proud that communities in my district will receive assistance through this initiative to address the current drainage issues that the state faces,” said U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson (MS-02). “Providing quality water systems is important to improving outdated infrastructure in Mississippi.”

“Modern water infrastructure and especially wastewater systems are critically important when it comes to keeping families, individuals, and entire communities healthy. I am excited that Halifax County is one of several communities across the country to receive federal assistance through the Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative. Under the leadership of President Biden coupled with North Carolina’s own, EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan, and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, underserved communities like those in Halifax County and others in rural America will see wastewater infrastructure improvements to build a better America,” said U.S. Representative G. K. Butterfield (NC-01).

“Clean water is a basic human right and I am proud to support any program that provides that right to Kentuckians,” said Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear.

“In many rural New Mexico communities, like Chapparal in Doña Ana County, residents live without access to basic sanitation services,” said New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. “We have a responsibility to provide equitable access to infrastructure, and this pilot is going to help us get there with valuable input from community members and local leaders." 

“This is an important first step to addressing wastewater issues and bringing health and economic benefits to two of our rural, underserved communities that need it most,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. “We look forward to working with our federal, Tribal and local partners to meet the needs in our communities.”

“The Alabama Department of Environmental Management is pleased to see these Alabama communities participate in this new pilot program,” said Alabama Department of Environmental Management 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.”

“To have two communities in West Virginia selected among 11 participants in this nationwide initiative is an incredibly exciting opportunity,” said West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Harold Ward. “Under the leadership of Governor Jim Justice, West Virginia has committed millions of dollars toward improving wastewater systems in several areas across the state. But now, this additional help from the EPA and the USDA will provide an even bigger boost in our efforts to modernize this critical infrastructure in McDowell and Raleigh counties. This initiative is going to make a real difference in the lives of countless people across our state and our nation.”

“This new EPA/USDA initiative to provide technical assistance to one of our Mississippi communities will build upon MDEQ’s previous and continued efforts to assist Bolivar County and their consulting engineers throughout the process of securing CWSRF funding, if needed, for water pollution control projects,” said Executive Director of Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) Chris Wells.

“Wastewater produced on the San Carlos Apache Reservation is currently managed through septic systems and, in the more populated communities near San Carlos, a centralized lagoon disposal facility. The systems are outdated and threaten the health and safety of the Tribal community and groundwater that supplies the community with drinking water,” said Tribal Chairman Terry Rambler. “The San Carlos Apache Tribe strongly supports the EPA Pilot Program as a positive step toward providing modern wastewater facilities to the Tribal community to improve health, welfare, and quality of life.”

“Due to decades of underfunding, Santo Domingo Pueblo‘s wastewater infrastructure is degraded and needs repair and replacement,” said Santo Domingo Pueblo Tribal Administrator Herman Sanchez. “Participation in this initiative will enable the Pueblo to make important progress on addressing wastewater service needs in our community.”

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