March 17, 2021

State of Alabama
Press Release: Public Health, Alabama Department of

ADPH celebrates Rural Water and Wastewater Treatment Award that will provide innovative solutions for underserved, low-income communities


CONTACT: Leigh Willis
(334) 206-5373

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) has long worked to find solutions to rural wastewater treatment concerns in the Black Belt region, and a $4.85 million grant to the Consortium for Alabama Rural Water and Wastewater Management will go a long way toward improving public health in areas where the soils have a high clay content and traditional septic tanks are unworkable.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture award will not only help provide alternative wastewater treatment solutions for underserved, low-income communities, but will work to implement them in an achievable and sustainable way. The project‘s aim is to provide access to safely treated wastewater in rural areas such as the Alabama Black Belt, by training and educating local communities/utilities, and preparing shovel-ready designs.

Sherry Bradley, director of the ADPH Bureau of Environmental Services, said, “This is fantastic news, and we want the public to know about this partnership and what it will mean for rural residents of the Black Belt where the soils are impermeable.”

The soil of the Alabama Black Belt is dark and rich, but its soil has high concentrations of clay that lead to drainage issues, making traditional onsite wastewater treatment ineffective. In unincorporated low-income areas, some homeowners have resorted to methods such as sending wastewater through a straight pipe from the residence into the woods and where the wastewater goes onto the ground instead of into an approved sewage disposal system. Other residences are using illegally installed systems that are inadequate in soil that does not percolate.

The consortium is led by the University of South Alabama (USA) in partnership with the University of Alabama, Auburn University, and ADPH. Through the grant, the consortium can establish a technical assistance and training program and develop construction-ready plans for innovative rural wastewater treatment solutions in the Black Belt.

Dr. Kevin White leads the consortium and serves as chair of the Department of Civil, Coastal, and Environmental Engineering at USA. The consortium’s goal is to ensure that innovative solutions are identified, and a more resilient and sustainable wastewater infrastructure is constructed throughout the region.

The infrastructure award will allow for

  • Broader training and guidance
  • Community outreach, such as performing county needs assessments
  • Exploration of innovative wastewater solutions for rural areas that include evaluating and testing wastewater treatment options
  • Defining workable funding mechanisms
  • Developing technical, management and regulatory direction
  • Economic development in underserved communities
  • Improved public health and quality of life

At select pilot sites, the project will install and test new clustered and decentralized wastewater treatment systems. These systems will connect neighboring infrastructure in a single system that will collect, treat and reuse water. This will not only reduce the cost of maintaining the systems, it will provide a model that could eventually be deployed throughout the state.

County health departments throughout Alabama provide a wide range of confidential and professional services. Contact your local county health department for additional information.

Mission: To promote, protect, and improve Alabama’s health

Vision: Healthy People. Healthy Communities. Healthy Alabama.

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