By Luyi Cheng
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said Tuesday they are launching a $12 billion initiative aimed at improving the nation’s wastewater infrastructure, with a focus on aiding underserved communities.
The “Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative” will make use of $11.7 billion in loans and grants through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for projects that will start in several small towns, rural areas and on Tribal lands in six states.
More than two million people in the United States live without running water and basic indoor plumbing, according to a report by the US Water Alliance. Properly collecting and treating wastewater is essential to providing clean water and maintaining public health. But a lack of working wastewater management systems can expose humans to harmful sewage and the environment to nutrient pollution.
“Access to modern, reliable wastewater infrastructure is a necessity, and the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to doing everything we can to ensure every family and every child in America has access to these vital services,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release announcing the initiative.
State and federal officials said they will work with eleven initial pilot communities to provide on-the-ground technical assistance, loans, and grants, to address infrastructure needs.
“In many rural New Mexico communities, like Chapparal in Doña Ana County, residents live without access to basic sanitation services,” New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a press release. Doña Ana County is among the eleven communities the EPA and USDA will be working with.
“We have a responsibility to provide equitable access to infrastructure, and this pilot is going to help us get there with valuable input from community members and local leaders,” said Grisham.
Both EPA and USDA officials stated that the resources of the two agencies combined with funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will be advantageous for restoring the vitality of rural communities.
Pilot projects are set for the following areas:
- Bolivar County, Mississippi
- Doña Ana County, New Mexico
- Duplin County, North Carolina
- Greene County, Alabama
- Halifax County, North Carolina
- Harlan County, Kentucky
- Lowndes County, Alabama
- McDowell County, West Virginia
- Raleigh County, West Virginia
- San Carlos Apache Tribe, Arizona
- Santo Domingo Pueblo, New Mexico
“Access to adequate wastewater infrastructure is a basic human right, but for too many of my constituents, generations of disinvestment have led to broken and failing wastewater systems that put the health of our communities at risk,” US Rep Terri Sewell said in a statement. “This joint initiative between the EPA and USDA will be instrumental in our fight to improve wastewater infrastructure for our most underserved communities.”