The Biden-Harris administration launched an initiative called “Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative” through a partnership between the US Department of Agriculture and the US Environmental Protection Agency.
The announcement from the US Department of Agriculture says that this new initiative will be piloted in 11 communities where many residents lack access to wastewater infrastructure –and the project will be essential to protecting their health and the environment.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says that his department believes that access “Access to modern, reliable wastewater infrastructure is a necessity to every family and every child in America.”
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan adds that although America is a land of opportunity, historically marginalized communities from Alabama to Alaska have been robbed of this basic sanitation, which exposed them to backyard waste and disease.
Aside from poor and rural communities, the initiative will also include tribal groups who have felt forgotten.
According to the USDA, around 2.2 million people in the United States lack basic running water and indoor plumbing.
Sherry Bradley, the director of the Bureau of Environmental Services for the Alabama Department of Public Health, told CNN that residents have been resorting to DIY wastewater disposal systems or pipe straight from the toilet to the ground, which she says she says is not a permanent solution and often fails (Duster, 2022).
“I’ve seen a lot of onsite failures because someone’s brother or neighbor installed a system. And when it fails, it exposes both children and adults to raw sewage and diseases, says Bradley.
The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law grants $55 billion to upgrade water infrastructure, including replacing lead service lines and improving access to clean drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.
The law will also provide $11.7 billion in loans and grants through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to address wastewater infrastructure challenges.
According to the USDA, “The Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative will allow EPA and USDA—in close collaboration with these communities, our state and Tribal partners, and on-the-ground technical assistance providers—to leverage technical and financial expertise to make progress on addressing the wastewater infrastructure needs of some of America’s most underserved communities. Each community or Tribe will receive direct support to address wastewater 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. State governments and water agencies have committed to working with the EPA and USDA to support these communities.”
The initiative will give communities access to financing and technical assistance to improve wastewater infrastructure to “close the gap” with wealthier communities.
Both agencies – the USDA and EPA, have highlighted wastewater systems are necessities that every American family should have regardless of socioeconomic status. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also points out that septic systems and other wastewater systems are crucial for disease prevention and help remove bacteria, parasites, and other viruses.
As with the historically marginalized communities and Tribal communities who have felt neglected for too long, President Biden says that rebuilding America’s infrastructure cannot leave any community behind.
Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, these communities can receive the funds needed to build and repair their water and wastewater infrastructure.
“To restore to these communities a sense of economic vitality and social dignity that the people living there deserve,” as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack puts it.
Duster, C. (2022, August 2). New Biden administration initiative looks to fix water infrastructure problems in poor, rural areas. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2022/08/02/politics/usda-epa-rural-wastewater-initiative/index.html
Biden Administration Launches USDA-EPA Partnership to Provide Wastewater Sanitation to Underserved Communities. (2022, August 2). USDA. Retrieved from https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2022/08/02/biden-administration-launches-usda-epa-partnership-provide