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U.S. EPA program to bring wastewater services to 150 more underserved rural communities

  • U.S. EPA program to bring wastewater services to 150 more underserved rural communities

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U.S. EPA
United States Environmental Protection Agency. The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the expansion of its successful Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative to 150 additional communities as part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda. Originally launched in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the initiative partners with underserved communities to provide technical assistance on accessing federal wastewater funding. The pilot initiative has been assisting 11 communities since 2022. This program, along with historic funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will advance President Biden’s historic environmental justice agenda and help thousands of Americans access the wastewater infrastructure they need to thrive.

“Many rural and low-income communities in the U.S. lack basic running water and indoor plumbing, and our Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Program has been instrumental in helping communities from White Hall, Alabama to McDowell County, West Virginia to the San Carlos Apache Tribe in Arizona access Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding to address this critical need,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox. “In expanding the program to 150 additional communities, we are working to restore dignity and opportunity to underserved communities nationwide.”

“As local communities seek to continuously improve the quality, safety, and reliability of their water utilities, they often struggle to also address challenges of declining rate bases, lower-income households, and other competing local needs,” said Rep. Grace Napolitano (CA-31), Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. “All of these factors compel us to find ways to make water quality improvements more affordable. I applaud the Biden-Harris Administration for the expansion of this important EPA program that provides tools to our communities to develop more cost-effective, long-term plans to meet local water quality challenges.”

“Access to adequate wastewater infrastructure is a basic human right. Unfortunately, too many Alabamians in the Black Belt have suffered from generations of disinvestment in basic water infrastructure,” said Rep. Terri A. Sewell (AL-07). “Today’s announced expansion of the Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative is an important step toward correcting this injustice. I want to thank the Biden Administration and Administrator Michael S. Regan for expanding this program so that more rural and underserved communities can receive the wastewater infrastructure that every American deserves.”

Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative

An estimated 2 million people in the U.S. live without adequate wastewater infrastructure and safe and reliable drinking water in their homes. Many more live with wastewater infrastructure that is ineffective and puts people’s health at risk. To date, the Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap initiative has helped provide communities with no-cost technical assistance that helps identify affordable options for accessing wastewater infrastructure. For example, technical assistance providers help the community conduct assessments of the community’s specific needs and submit applications for wastewater funding. So far, progress for the 11 pilot communities includes seven funding awards and 10 additional funding applications. All 11 communities have drafted community solution plans, which are in the process of being finalized, and will be posted to EPA’s Closing America's Wastewater Access Gap webpage in the early spring. 

An estimated 2 million people in the U.S. live without adequate wastewater infrastructure and safe and reliable drinking water in their homes

In Lowndes County, Alabama, children and families are exposed to raw sewage at the place that should be safest – their own homes. Yards regularly flood with sewage from straight pipes or from broken pipes that clog when it rains. However, with the help of EPA’s technical assistance, known as “WaterTA,” the community of White Hall successfully applied for federal funding and received $450,000 to help accelerate their wastewater infrastructure goals.

“The expansion of this program makes clear that coordination between the communities actually impacted by these issues and state and federal government drives real change. This announcement is further acknowledgement of the Biden Administration's commitment to resolving America's Dirty Secret in rural and poor communities throughout the United States. The Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice continues to be supportive to this cause as we seek resilient and innovative sanitation solutions,” said Catherine Flowers Founding Director of Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice.

The San Carlos Apache Tribe is another one of the 11 communities from the initial pilot. Nearly two-thirds of the homes on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation do not have access to centralized wastewater systems and rely on inadequate onsite systems, like septic tanks. Through the Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap pilot, the Tribe has secured funding to pump septic tanks in need of servicing and is working with technical assistance providers to develop educational campaigns on wastewater management and septic system maintenance.

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