Biden administration expands program to help rural towns plagued by sewage problems


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it is expanding a program to help rural communities with serious sewage problems get technical help to plan improvements and apply for funding.

Eleven communities in the South and Southwest were chosen in 2022 for a pilot program, and another 150 will be able to apply for assistance, which will be granted on a rolling basis, said Radhika Fox, assistant administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s water office.

More than 2 million people in the U.S. lack indoor plumbing and more live with failing sewage systems that can result in waste backing up into homes or pooling on the ground, threatening public health and degrading basic dignity, the EPA said.

“For the first time ever, these communities are going to get an assessment about … what is the status of their wastewater infrastructure. And then they’re going to get a community solutions plan, which will really articulate … what are the the improve that can be made, in the most cost effective way possible,” Fox said.

Still, “the water infrastructure gap is is greater than the resources we have,” and the Biden administration will continue to advocate for more funding, she said.

Among the first communities to receive assistance was the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona, where two-thirds of homes have septic systems that often fail. The tribe has received funding to pump septic tanks and develop educational materials, and is applying for funding for infrastructure improvements, Fox said.

The town of White Hall, in Lowndes County, Alabama, has developed wastewater treatment and funding options to address sewage that sometimes ran into yards.

“We’re so thankful for where we are at this particular point,” said Catherine Flowers, founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice.


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