WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Wednesday, May 16, Congresswoman Terri Sewell (D-AL) led the introduction of the Rural Septic Tank Access Act (H.R. 5837) with original cosponsor Congressman Mike Rogers (R-AL). The new bill addresses the widespread failure of wastewater infrastructure in rural America by providing grants for the construction and repair of decentralized wastewater systems in underserved communities. Sens. Doug Jones (D-AL), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced a companion bill in the Senate in April.
“I have seen firsthand the economic, environmental, and health challenges created by failing sewer systems in Alabama,” said Rep. Sewell. “Today I introduced the Rural Septic Tank Access Act to provide adequate resources for rural families to afford proper septic systems. Since coming to Congress, I have met with stakeholders, from public health officials to engineers to lawmakers, to tackle this crisis from its source. I believe that the unaffordability of proper wastewater systems in rural America is one of the most overlooked environmental injustices of our time. As Congress considers infrastructure investments this year through the Farm Bill and the Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA), I will fight to make sure that every community has the support needed to maintain sustainable, safe, and efficient wastewater systems.”
“I am proud to join my friend and colleague Rep Sewell on this important legislation,” said Rep. Mike Rogers. “Access to working wastewater systems is a bipartisan issue. Rural America can’t be left behind, and this legislation ensures that folks in our districts and across America have a way forward from failing wastewater infrastructure.”
The Rural Septic Tank Access Act would expand the Household Water Well System Grant Program to provide grants of up to $20,000 for rural low- and moderate-income households to install or maintain individually-owned decentralized wastewater systems. This grant program would be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While there is no national study estimating the number of Americans with failing septic systems, estimates suggest that over a million families may face unsafe conditions as a result of inadequate rural wastewater systems.
In March, Rep. Sewell worked with House appropriators to include an additional $1.8 billion in funding for water and wastewater infrastructure through an omnibus spending bill. In February, Rep. Sewell toured homes in Lowndes County to survey wastewater infrastructure in Alabama’s Black Belt.
On May 30, 2018, Rep. Sewell will hold a Public Health Fair with Sen. Jones to raise public awareness about the health consequences associated with failing sceptic systems and wastewater contamination, and to provide an opportunity for safe and confidential health screenings.
Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-AL) is serving her fourth term representing Alabama’s 7th Congressional district. She sits on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and was recently appointed to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Sewell is a Chief Deputy Whip and serves on the prestigious Steering and Policy Committee of the Democratic Caucus. She is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, and serves as Vice Chair of the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus, and Vice Chair of Outreach for the New Democrat Coalition.