Lowndes County will see improvements to its water and sewage infrastructure now that the Alabama legislature has approved the use of federal ARPA funds.
This week, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill distributing $772 million of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to various state and local agencies. The funds will be used to improve medical care facilities in the state and make statewide improvements to broadband and wastewater infrastructure for rural communities.
According to Rep. Kelvin Lawrence (D – Hayneville), the areas of Lowndes County have experienced difficulties for years regarding the wastewater systems for residents. Many residents use a straight water pipe system which causes waste and sewage to flow in the resident’s yard. The straight piping came because the majority of the county did not have the infrastructure to dispose of home waste properly.
Lawrence said the problems facing Lowndes Co. have been multifaceted and complex. The more populated and mainline towns have appropriate governing bodies to ensure that the waste and sewage needs are appropriately met. Many leaders in the legislature have recognized the health dangers of straight piping sewer systems
“The issues are the unincorporated parts of Lowndes County,” Lawrence said. “You have the small towns like the town of Hayneville, the town of Mosses, the town of Fort Deposit, the town of White Hall, that are providing those commercial septic systems for their individual constituents. But you have those unincorporated areas of the county that do not have the necessary governmental agency or sewer board to actually give out the grants and funding for those areas. The residents in those areas are left to fend for themselves because they’re some of the most impoverished residents in the state of Alabama.”
Lawrence said that the ecological nature of the Black Belt also makes providing proper waste disposal a problematic task.
“These communities are having trouble coming up with the necessary funds," Lawrence said. "Because of the prairie soil, individual septic tanks can cost $9 – $15 thousand. That’s one of the major issues that is causing this pandemic across the county where people just can’t afford the basic necessities.”
The ARPA funds will be distributed across many fields, but much of it will go to Lowndes County, which had a $2 million federal grant revoked in July of 2021, after not raising sufficient matching funds. Lawrence said that the wastewater issues have been ongoing for over 15 years and are an eyesore for the state.
“These are problems that the legislature should have dealt with long ago,” Lawrence said.
House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels said that other federal programs require communities to provide matching funds, which will always be more difficult for smaller, more impoverished communities.
“No community should have to make the decision that, because they don’t have the funding, they can’t draw down on these funds,” Daniels said.
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