Finding Solutions

Across the country, wastewater and sanitation systems are failing, contaminating water supplies, causing parasitic infections, and harming ecosystems. These challenges are particularly acute in areas such as the Black Belt region of Alabama, where like many rural and economically disadvantaged communities, this issue has not been sufficiently addressed.

The Transforming Wastewater Infrastructure in the U.S. project aims to contribute directly to addressing this challenge, by demonstrating viable, cost-effective wastewater treatment solutions. The impact of the systems will be measured at the household and environmental level, showing how they address exposure to pathogens for individuals and families, as well as the surrounding environment. A comprehensive set of national resources will be developed and made available so that communities across the U.S. can access information that provides viable, cost-effective solutions for their conditions.

The project is formulated at two levels: 1) A national assessment and solutions strategy, and 2) An intervention and demonstration project targeted at rural, economically disadvantaged communities in Alabama that have been identified as critical given their lack of effective wastewater and sanitation services. The project presents a hands-on evaluation, and a solution to failing wastewater situations that may be prevalent over a region that extends from Texas through Appalachia and to Michigan.

To view our detailed project page, click here.

To view the Columbia World Projects page, click here.

The aim of the EPA funded Reinventing Rural Wastewater project is to creatively rethink and address rural wastewater management in areas of south-central Alabama, where utility-managed wastewater systems are few and often underperforming, where up to 50% of rural residences exhibit raw sewage discharges to the ground surface, and where poor economic conditions, high poverty levels, and poor soil conditions prohibit typical onsite wastewater systems consisting of septic tanks and drain fields. This results in literally hundreds of thousands of gallons per day of raw sewage being discharged to the surface and impacting the water quality of both local waterways and river systems draining all the way to Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. These discharges of raw sewage and the potential impacts, to both environmental health and public health, are not well documented, and solutions for improvement have proven to be elusive due to technology constraints, cost constraints, regulatory constraints, and financing constraints. 

This project will document the local water quality impairments and improvements due to implementations, and identify, test, and develop solutions to the constraints to ultimately build rural wastewater management capacity and improve water quality in rural south-central Alabama. A “how-to guide” is being developed to assist local communities in their quest to better manage wastewater.  This guide will list available funding sources, recommend cost-effective technologies for wastewater collection and treatment, and describe management entities that can sustainably manage individual and community wastewater systems.

Project results will be a model for other communities in similar watersheds of the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere in the United States.

To view our detailed project page, click here.

The USDA funded TAT Regional Wastewater Treatment Solutions project is a technical assistance and training pilot program for innovative rural wastewater treatment solutions in Alabama’s rural Black Belt. The Black Belt, originally named because of the region’s dark soil, is a 17-county region in Central Alabama characterized by its high African American population, rural character, lack of economic development (up to 40% of the population in some Black Belt counties lives below the U.S. poverty line), lower-than-average educational attainment, and lower-than-average access to health care. Exacerbating typical rural wastewater challenges in the Black Belt are the region’s poorly drained clay soils, which make traditional rural onsite wastewater systems, septic tanks and drain fields, ineffective. In sum, these conditions (lack of sewer infrastructure, clay soils, poor economic conditions, etc.) have resulted in the presence of raw sewage on the ground surface in approximately 50% of the rural homes of many Black Belt counties, a situation dubbed the “rural South’s invisible public health crisis” by the Montgomery Advertiser. Furthermore, infrastructure plays a key role in community well-being, both directly and indirectly, as communities with inadequate or deteriorating infrastructure struggle to attract businesses and industry, and poor communities lack the tax and economic base necessary to maintain and upgrade their infrastructure, which can lead to a vicious downward spiral.  

This project will address these interconnected public health-socioeconomic challenges by developing and piloting innovative and cost-effective wastewater technologies and strategic management models for the rural Black Belt region. This will include technical assistance guidance and training for rural communities in the region. 

To view our detailed project page, click here.

The Black Belt Unincorporated Wastewater Program (BBUWP) will provide onsite sewage treatment and disposal systems to an estimated 175 homes in the unincorporated areas of the Black Belt that currently have no proper wastewater disposal, poor soil conditions, and economic hardship; to include, homes with substandard onsite systems that are not working properly. This pilot project, to show how individual onsite systems can be managed, is funded by the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Lixil Americas, and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials (IAPMO). Lixil Americas is donating low flow fixtures for the project which will then be installed plumbers provided free of charge by IAPMO.

Each home site will be inspected by a Bureau of Environmental Services’ soil scientists, and from the soil results determination will be made concerning which sewage disposal treatment type will be installed – Conventional Onsite Wastewater System, Advanced or an Innovative Treatment Wastewater System. Low-flow fixtures will be installed as part of each system design to minimize treatment and disposal volume.

If selected, the property owner will agree to pay a one-time fee of $500.00 for a conventional system or $1,000.00 for an Advanced/Innovative Treatment System and a monthly fee of $20.00 per month for the life of the system for maintenance purposes.

To view our detailed project page, click here.

Everyone deserves a working toilet, but in some places that’s easier said than done. That’s why DigDeep created the Decentralized Wastewater Innovation (DWI) Cohort, a community-driven effort to improve understanding of the wastewater challenges remote communities face across the US, the solutions being developed, and the ways policymakers can improve the impact, sustainability, and scalability of those innovations. The DWIC creates meaningful connections between rural communities piloting innovative solutions to tough wastewater challenges—from Alaska to New York—through facilitated working groups, site exchanges, and even trips to Washington DC to meet with regulators.

To view our detailed project page, click here.

To view the Dig Deep DWIC page, click here.

The Technical Assistance, Education, and Training for Sustainable Wastewater Management in the Rural Black Belt of Alabama is a USDA funded project. This project is a multi-faceted, science and socioeconomic-driven approach to address the wastewater problem that builds upon and extends our ongoing work in a four-county region to the entire rural Alabama Black Belt, while also incorporating advances in geospatial technology for planning, as well as considerations for innovative/cost-effective technologies, decentralized cluster systems, long-term sustainability, environmental justice, and economic development. Our holistic approach aligns with the USDA’s philosophy that “sanitary waste disposal systems are vital not only to public health, but also to the economic vitality of rural America.”

To view our detailed project page, click here.

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