From a limited number of field surveys, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage are being discharged daily to the ground surface in the Black Belt region of central Alabama. This is due to a lack of appropriate wastewater management in the region. This is a public health and environmental health issue that also contributes to economic viability issues in rural areas. Similarly, there are questions about the quality and management of drinking water resources in rural Alabama and the rural U.S. that contribute to public health and economic viability.
Appropriate drinking water and wastewater management infrastructure is key to public health protection, environmental health protection, and economic development in rural areas, just as it is in urban and suburban areas. While improperly-treated and untreated sewage discharges from both municipal systems and individual homes have been documented, there remains a need to address public health threats, water contamination ramifications, and potential solutions to these basic infrastructure needs. Importantly, because of clay soil conditions in the Black Belt region, traditional onsite wastewater systems, such as septic tanks and drain fields, cannot adequately infiltrate wastewater into the ground. These conditions (lack of sewer infrastructure, clay soils, poor economic conditions, etc.) have resulted in the presence of raw sewage on the ground surface at 50% of the rural homes in many Alabama Black Belt counties. This is an unacceptable public health issue in a broad region of Alabama and the mid-south.
Specifically, the Black Belt is an 11 to 17 county region in Central Alabama characterized by its high African-American population, rural character, low population density, lack of economic development, lower-than-average educational attainment and lower-than-average access to health care. Up to 40% of the population in some Black Belt counties lives below the U.S. poverty line. In the last several years, information documenting water and wastewater-related issues in the Black Belt has become widespread and a number of Agency and University projects have been proposed to provide solutions.
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