MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — More than 400 Alabama water and sewer systems have applied for grants funded by pandemic relief money, according to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
Alabama lawmakers this winter voted to use $225 million out of the state’s share of American Rescue Plan funding to fund high-need water and sewer projects.
“This is an historic opportunity to address longstanding water and sewer needs to benefit hundreds of thousands, and potentially millions, of Alabamians,” ADEM Director Lance LeFleur said in a statement.
The state will use $120 million for previously identified emergency or high-need projects and will not require a local match; $100 million for grants that may require a local match based on ability to pay; and $5 million to address longstanding problems in the Black Belt region of the state.
Rep. Kelvin Lawrence, a Democrat from Hayneville, said in a press release that the funding could be life-changing for many people in his Black Belt district. Wastewater treatment is a decades-old problem in parts of the area, where poor communities often lack traditional sewer lines. Septic tank systems are a poor alternative in some areas because the region’s heavy clay soil traps water near the surface.
“Whether you’re rich, poor, young or old, black or white, it doesn’t matter. Every citizen in the state of Alabama should be afforded the opportunity to have clean drinking water and also to dispose of their waste in a proper way so they won’t have to worry about dealing with health issues,” Lawrence said.
The Justice Department said had started an environmental justice investigation into impoverished Lowndes County’s wastewater problems, which have left some residents with sewage in their yards.