Closing the ‘Wastewater Gap’ in the Black Belt

Newly announced federal funding will help resolve the decades’ long sewer crisis faced by rural majority-Black communities in Alabama and Mississippi.

2 minute read

February 19, 2024, 6:00 AM PST

By Mary Hammon @marykhammon


Mobile home with pipe directed into the yard into a pit of standing sewage.

Residents of Lowndes County, Alabama, who can't afford to replace their failing septic takes often resort to "straight piping" sewage into their backyards. | USDA media by Lance Cheung / Flicker

This week the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced funding that will help address years of neglect of wastewater infrastructure in the Black Belt, “a crescent of rural, majority-Black communities stretching from eastern Texas to southern Virginia,” reports Willy Blackmore in an article for Word in Black.

The funding, part of the Biden Administration's Closing the Water Access Gap, will go toward creating or upgrading sewers, drainage, and septic systems in 150 rural U.S. communities, including several mostly-Black enclaves in Alabama and Mississippi. It represents an expansion of a successful pilot program in Lowndes County, Alabama — “a majority-Black, low-income community where residents lacked access to the kind of municipal water infrastructure that most people take for granted,” Blackmore writes.

Lack of investment in water and sewer systems has been a critical issue in the Black Belt for decades, even prompting a federal civil rights investigation. A Columbia University study estimates that 90 percent of septic systems in Alabama’s Black Belt are functioning poorly or not at all, largely because of the region’s heavy poor-draining clay soil, causing waste to back up into houses during heavy rains. According to an article in Southern Science, an estimated 50 percent of homes in that region have raw sewage on the ground due to inadequate or failing treatment systems.

“In expanding the program to 150 additional communities, we are working to restore dignity and opportunity to underserved communities nationwide,” Radhika Fox, the EPA’s assistant administrator for water, said in a statement.

Thursday, February 15, 2024 in Word In Black

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