Unsewered communities must address their wastewater management

Raw sewage empties from a straight pipe directly into the backyard of this home in Lowndes County, Alabama.
(Courtesy of USDA/media by Lance Cheung)

By Jack Kusek 

Water security is an issue for an estimated 2.2 million people in the U.S. who don’t have access to basic running water and indoor plumbing. Even more are living with ineffective and harmful wastewater infrastructure, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In Illinois alone, over 200 communities have inadequate or nonexistent wastewater collection and treatment facilities. And many residents don’t know what type of septic system or wastewater treatment their homes and communities use. But when issues arise, and they will, communities will need to address their wastewater management and make changes. 

The USDA and EPA are aiming to tackle the country’s wastewater challenges with the “Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative” – an effort that will improve infrastructure in historically marginalized communities. 

The initiative, announced last August, is being piloted in 11 communities across the country that have no basic wastewater management. These unsewered communities, often rural and tribal communities, will “receive direct support to address their 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,” according to the USDA. 

The trial serves as a guide to the remaining communities in the U.S. as they pursue funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other government programs. Our team can help communities procure funding through loans and grants, like the EPA’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) and the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s various funding programs. In Illinois, where we are already working with several municipalities to design wastewater treatment systems, communities have access to funding through the Rebuild Illinois Capital Plan for construction grants for wastewater collection and/or treatment facilities. Programs like these will help these communities develop plans for systems and facilities that are healthier for their residents and the environment. 

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