USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, EPA Administrator Michael Regan, and White House Senior Advisor and Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu will visit Lowndes County on Tuesday to announce the Biden Administration’s new rural water infrastructure initiative.

The new water infrastructure initiative targets underserved rural communities. Congresswoman Terri Sewell and administration officials will join environmental justice advocate Catherine Coleman Flowers to discuss solutions to longstanding environmental justice concerns for residents dealing with the impacts of pollution. Flowers is the founding Director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice.

On Tuesday, Vilsack, Regan, Landrieu and Sewell will meet with residents and community leaders during a tour of a home facing harmful exposure to backyard sewage, host a community roundtable, and hold a press conference to announce the new partnership designed to deliver critical rural water infrastructure through the Bipartisan Build Back Better Infrastructure Law passed by Congress last fall. The tour of Lowndes County will spotlight the historic environmental challenges facing the community.

Lowndes County was featured two years ago in a CBS News 60 Minutes article that brought attention to the sewage issues there.

It is estimated that over half of the 9,965 (2021 estimate) people living in Lowndes County have untreated sewage flowing in their yards. The problem is that those same rich Black Belt soils, which for almost 200 years have produced bountiful cotton harvests and raised fat cattle, don’t perk, so generations of residents of the area have not been able to get a septic tank system installed that will work properly. The systems that will work are prohibitively expensive for most of the residents, where the median household income is just $33,634. One out of five families in Lowndes County live below the poverty line.

Sewell has authored several successful bills to address wastewater issues including the Rural Septic Tank Access Act, which passed in the 2018 Farm Bill, and the Decentralized Wastewater Grant Act, which was included in President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Both of these laws established grant programs under the USDA and EPA respectively to help low- and moderate-income households connect their homes to existing wastewater infrastructure or install or upgrade individually owned septic tanks.

Congress has recently appropriated $700,000 to install septic tanks in Lowndes County.

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