University of South Alabama-led consortium receives $4.85 million rural water and wastewater treatment award

State / Regional
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Press release from the University of South Alabama

U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby announced Wednesday a $4.85 million grant for a University of South Alabama-led initiative to implement innovative wastewater treatment solutions for Alabama’s Black Belt region.

This funding will come through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and will be for the Consortium of Alabama Rural Water and Wastewater Management to establish a technical assistance and training program and develop construction-ready plans for innovative wastewater treatment solutions for an area plagued by septic system and other infrastructure failures.

“The Consortium partners at USA, the University of Alabama, Auburn University, and the Alabama Department of Public Health have been working to find appropriate solutions to difficult wastewater issues in the rural Black Belt of Alabama,” said Dr. Kevin White, who leads the Consortium and is the chair of South’s civil, coastal and environmental engineering department in the college of Engineering. 

Alabama’s Black Belt region includes 17 counties stretching from southwest of Tuscaloosa across the state to the Georgia line southeast of Auburn. It is named for its dark, impermeable soil that does not support standard septic systems. This creates problems that extend beyond the Black Belt as wastewater runoff enters Alabama’s rivers and are carried south to the Gulf of Mexico.

“Clay soil conditions, low population density, and economic situations have been historical barriers to proper wastewater management. Many residents have raw wastewater in their yards,” White said. “This project will help find real wastewater infrastructure solutions for public health improvement, environmental protection, and will hopefully lead to enhanced economic development prospects in this underserved region.”

At select pilot sites, the project will install and test new clustered and decentralized wastewater treatment systems, connecting neighboring infrastructure in a single system that will collect, treat, and reuse water – effectively reducing maintenance costs. 

“This is excellent news for everyone involved,” said Shelby, Alabama’s senior senator and vice chairman of the Senate Committee of Appropriations. “I believe the project will serve an important role in strengthening wastewater treatment to improve the public health and economic development of rural communities in the Black Belt.

I look forward to working with the Consortium to ensure that innovative solutions are identified and a more resilient and sustainable wastewater infrastructure is constructed throughout the region.” 

The research is funded through the USDA and Columbia World Projects, which will match a portion of the announced USDA funding.

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