Alabama: Deteriorating rural sewer and septic systems


Alabama: Deteriorating rural sewer and septic systems

Shelley Connor

20 August 2018

In July, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Water & Waste Disposal Loan & Grant Program announced that it was making $4 billion in low-interest loans available to many of Alabama’s rural municipalities, communities and recognized tribal entities for the “the construction, upgrade, or expansion of clean and reliable drinking water systems, sanitary sewage systems, solid waste disposal infrastructure, and storm water drainage in rural areas.”

Alabama’s sewage disposal system failures became international news in December, when United Nations Rapporteur Phil Alston toured the state and discovered that many communities were literally awash in untreated sewage. Poorly managed municipal waste management systems and inadequate household septic systems have led to widespread hookworm infections in the state’s rural Black Belt communities. “I think it’s very uncommon in the First World,” Alston told reporters.

Impermeable clay and chalk lie beneath the rich, black loam for which the region is named. This makes conventional septic systems, which cost about $2,000 to install, almost useless. Septic systems designed to account for the lack of natural percolation, or deep drainage, cost $6,000 to $12,000, which is out of reach for the Black Belt’s most impoverished residents. Many turn to what environmental scientists call “straight-piping,” discharging household sewage through a pipe into the outdoors.

Even where municipal sewer systems exist, overflows and contamination can occur. Two Black Belt municipalities, Hayneville in Lowndes County and Uniontown in Perry County, have been ordered by the Alabama Department of Environmental Protection (ADEM) to resolve…

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