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Alabama secures new partnership in the Lowndes County to address sewage crisis

Fetid water stands outside a mobile home in a small mobile home park in rural Hayneville, Ala., on Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. The government announced a pilot program on Tuesday to help rural communities that face serious sewage problems like those in Lowndes County, where Hayneville is located. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)
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AP
Fetid water stands outside a mobile home in a small mobile home park in rural Hayneville, Ala., on Monday, Aug. 1, 2022. The government announced a pilot program on Tuesday to help rural communities that face serious sewage problems like those in Lowndes County, where Hayneville is located. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) has announced a contract with the Lowndes County Unincorporated Wastewater Program Sewer Board (LCUWP) that will move forward with the installation of septic systems for Lowndes County residents.

The ADPH’s new partnership with the LCUWP is the latest development in the Lowndes County Septic System Improvement Program, which was created after the ADPH made an interim agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human services (HHS) in 2023 to address the ongoing sewage crisis in the area.

The new contract with the LCUWP was announced in June, and secures the LCUWP as the entity that will hire a soil professional and a septic tank installer for the residents of Lowndes County. The goal is to design a system that works in the Lowndes County Black Belt soil, which often causes traditional septic systems to fail.

Up until now, the ADPH has only been able to collect information from Lowndes County Households regarding their living conditions. No septic Systems have been installed. With the new contract, the ADPH is hoping that the LCUWP can move forward with some installations.

“This is a great progress, and the citizens Lowndes County certainly are very, very deserving of the situation and very, very deserving of being able to have their living conditions improved,” said Doctor Karen Landers, chief medical officer at the ADPH.

The ADPH will select residents to receive new septic systems based on Environmental Health Assessments. These assessments, distributed to Lowndes County households in January, ask about current wastewater disposal methods, health conditions and ages of household members and the frequency of raw sewage backups in the home. A ranking system will prioritize which households are in most need of a septic system installation.

$1.5 million was appropriated by the Alabama Legislature from the American Recovery Plan Act for the Lowndes County Septic System improvement program. The ADPH is urging Lowndes residents to fill out an Environmental Health Assessment immediately due to the limited funding and the high cost of the septic systems.

“[$1.5 million] seems like a lot of money, but it's actually not because these systems, they have to be more specifically tailored and designed due to the soil, so these systems can cost thousands of dollars,”

Previously, the ADPH was going to select a non-profit to install the septic systems for the program, but the new partnership with the LCUWP offers collaboration with the community.

“The Lowndes County unincorporated wastewater program will do an equally good job. These are our citizens within that county. These are persons that have a vested interest in what happens in the place where they live, so I think the commitment here is just to help citizens of Lowndes County,” said Landers.

The ADPH is still taking responses from the Environmental Health Assessments. Residents who want to be considered for the program must fill out an assessment. They are found online and can be filled in person at the Lowndes County Health Department. More information regarding the Lowndes County Septic System Improvement program and the Environmental Health Assessments can be found online. Inquires can also be made by emailing LCCL@adph.state.al.us or calling (334) 548-2564.

Hannah Holcombe is a student intern at the Alabama Public Radio newsroom. She is a Sophomore at the University of Alabama and is studying news media. She has a love for plants, dogs and writing. She hopes to pursue a career as a reporter.
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