PHOENIX, Aug. 2, 2022 – Today, at an event in Lowndes County, Alabama, where a significant number of residents lack access to wastewater infrastructure, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative. The new initiative will be piloted in 11 communities across the country where residents lack basic wastewater management that is essential to protecting their health and the environment. 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.
In Arizona, the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation is included in the pilot.
“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 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.”
“The America that we all believe in is a land of opportunity. But, for historically marginalized communities from Alabama to Alaska, that opportunity is stolen when basic sanitation doesn’t work—exposing adults and children to backyard sewage and disease,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “By partnering with USDA and leveraging funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, EPA is working to restore dignity and opportunity to rural communities here in Alabama and across the country.”
“President Biden has been clear—we cannot leave any community behind as we rebuild America’s infrastructure with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” said White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu. “This includes rural and Tribal communities who for too long have felt forgotten. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $11.7 billion in loans and grants to communities for a wide range of water-quality infrastructure projects, including wastewater solutions for these communities.”
“This is an important day for the San Carlos Apache Tribe and its members who have been dealing with a system that is over capacity for some time,” USDA Rural Development Arizona State Director Charlene Fernandez said. “In partnership with the EPA, we at USDA will have a broader reach to tackle water issues that are the most critical and oftentimes the most challenging.”
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.
In addition to Arizona, EPA and USDA—in partnership with state, Tribal, and local partners—are launching the initiative in:
- Bolivar County, Mississippi;
- Doña Ana County and Santo Domingo Pueblo, New Mexico;
- Duplin County, North Carolina;
- Greene County, Alabama;
- Halifax County, North Carolina;
- Harlan County, Kentucky;
- Lowndes County, Alabama;
- McDowell County, West Virginia; and
- Raleigh County, West Virginia.
The Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative will allow EPA and USDA—in close collaboration with these communities, our state and Tribal partners, and on-the-ground technical assistance providers—to leverage technical and financial expertise to make progress on addressing the wastewater infrastructure needs of some of America’s most underserved communities. Each community or Tribe will receive direct support to address wastewater infrastructure shortcomings that have lasted generations including developing wastewater assessments with technical engineering support, developing wastewater community solution plans, identifying and pursuing funding opportunities, and building long term capacity. State governments and water agencies have committed to working with the EPA and USDA to support these communities.
Wastewater infrastructure challenges exist in communities across the country. The Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative will be a roadmap to scale up efforts in the rest of the country. EPA and USDA each offer technical assistance that can help communities access funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other government programs.
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 twenty federal agencies and regional commissions to help rural communities create economic opportunity by accessing resources and funding that match their unique needs and priorities.
If you are a community interested in learning more about Technical Assistance opportunities, visit https://www.epa.gov/water-infrastructure/water-technical-assistance.
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. If you’d like to subscribe to USDA Rural Development updates, visit our GovDelivery subscriber page.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.