Today, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) and Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) introduced the Decentralized Wastewater Grant Act of 2020 in the House and Senate, respectively, to make available additional federal funding for families to repair and replace failing wastewater systems. U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) joined Jones in introducing the bill in the Senate.
The legislation would establish a grant program under the Clean Water Act, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to help low- and moderate-income households connect their homes to existing wastewater infrastructure or install or upgrade individually owned decentralized wastewater systems. This funding would be in addition to the grant program Sewell and Jones expanded in the 2018 Farm Bill that is administered by the Department of Agriculture.
“Clean water and adequate wastewater infrastructure are basic human rights that shouldn’t be restricted to only those who can afford them. In Alabama and many rural areas across the country, failing septic tanks and inadequate, unsafe wastewater infrastructure are far too common and pose health, economic and environmental risks to our communities,” Sewell said. “The bill introduced today would establish a new source of funding through the EPA for families to install and maintain septic systems, building upon our longstanding commitment to ending America’s wastewater crisis once and for all.”
“In rural communities across the country, including Alabama’s historically underserved Black Belt region, some families lack access to even basic wastewater systems,” Jones said. “This is a critical public health and safety issue, and we need an all hands on deck approach to solve this crisis. That’s why I’m proud to introduce legislation to build on the progress that we’ve made on the federal level to provide all Americans with access to the infrastructure and clean water they need.”
The grant program established by the Decentralized Wastewater Grant Act of 2020 would provide grants to qualified nonprofit organizations, which will then provide sub-grants to eligible individuals lacking adequate wastewater infrastructure. Directing funds to organizations with expertise in this issue will help ensure that grants reach those individuals who are most in need.
Failing wastewater systems continue to be a widespread issue in rural and underserved communities across the country. A 2016 report by the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated that aging pipes and inadequate infrastructure result in the discharge of 900 billion gallons of untreated sewage into U.S. waterways each year. In Alabama, an estimated 200,000 private septic tanks not connected to municipal systems need repairs or replacement. Each septic system can cost up to $20,000, making them out of reach for most families living in the 7th Congressional District.
Sewell and Jones have worked together to secure federal funding to help families replace these failing systems. Most recently, in the December 2019 government funding bill, they secured:
- $1.45 billion for rural water and waste program loans through the USDA, an increase of $50 million since 2019.
- $659 million for the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service Rural Water and Waste Disposal Program Account.
- $545 million for USDA water and waste grants for clean and reliable drinking water systems.
- $5 million for the Rural Septic Tank Access Act, which Sewell and Jones got included in the 2018 Farm Bill. The USDA program will be used to provide grants to improve rural decentralized water systems and water wells.
- $5 million for a pilot program to provide grants to a regional wastewater consortium to fund technical assistance and construction of regional wastewater systems by engineering experts at University of Alabama, University of South Alabama and Auburn University.