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Biden administration launches USDA-EPA partnership to provide wastewater sanitation to underserved communities

Greg Thomas
Release Date

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative today at an event in Lowndes County, Alabama.

Harlan County, Kentucky, will be among the new initiative’s 11 pilot communities across the country where residents lack basic wastewater management.

The EPA and USDA will jointly leverage technical assistance resources to help historically underserved communities identify and pursue federal funding opportunities – including from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – to address their wastewater needs and eliminate harmful exposure to backyard sewage.

“Under the leadership of the Biden-Harris administration, USDA believes hardworking people in America’s small towns and rural communities should have the infrastructure they need to be healthy and to provide for their families. We recognize that there are still people who have been going without the basics,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “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. By combining USDA and EPA resources and taking advantage of the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we can restore to these communities a sense of economic vitality and social dignity that the people living there deserve.”

An estimated 2.2 million people in the United States lack basic running water and indoor plumbing. Many more live with wastewater infrastructure that is ineffective and puts people’s health at risk. The Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative will help communities access financing and technical assistance to improve wastewater infrastructure to “close the gap” with wealthier communities.

“It’s hard to believe that in this country of abundance we still have communities with insufficient wastewater infrastructure,” said USDA Rural Development Kentucky State Director Dr. Tom Carew. “No one in Kentucky should have to live without basics like running water and reliable wastewater infrastructure. This initiative will help Harlan County and hopefully serve as a model for future assistance across all of rural Kentucky.”

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $11.7 billion in loans and grants through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, a federal-state partnership led by EPA that provides communities low-cost financing for a wide range of water quality infrastructure projects.

“Clean water is a basic human right, and I am proud to support any program that provides that right to Kentuckians,” said Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear.

In addition to Kentucky, EPA and USDA – in partnership with state, Tribal, and local partners –are launching the initiative in:

  • Bolivar County, Mississippi,
  • Doña Ana County, New Mexico,
  • Santo Domingo Pueblo, New Mexico,
  • Duplin County, North Carolina,
  • Greene County, Alabama,
  • Halifax County, North Carolina,
  • Lowndes County, Alabama,
  • McDowell County, West Virginia,
  • Raleigh County, West Virginia, and
  • San Carlos Apache Tribe, Arizona.

Several of the communities chosen for this initiative are also participating in the Biden-Harris Administration’s recently announced Rural Partners Network. The USDA-led network brings together 20 federal agencies and regional commissions to help rural communities create economic opportunity by accessing resources and funding that match their unique needs and priorities.

Under the Biden-Harris Administration, Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities, create jobs and improve the quality of life for millions of Americans in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural, Tribal and high-poverty areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.