Press Releases

Washington, DC- Today, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) praises the launch of an Alabama Wastewater project in the Black Belt by Columbia World Projects. The project, Addressing the Gap in Reliable Affordable Wastewater Services to Improve Public Health, provides a $710,000 investment to pilot a new approach to wastewater treatment that is equitable, technically feasible and financially sustainable for underserved, low-income communities, like in Alabama’s Black Belt. 
Columbia World Projects is a major initiative at Columbia University that mobilizes the university’s researchers and scholars to work with governments, organizations, businesses and communities to tackle global challenges. The project is a collaborative effort by various disciplines of Columbia University with the University of Alabama; the University of South Alabama; Auburn University, the University of California, Irvine; the University of North Carolina; and a consortium of Alabama-based partners representing government agencies, community-based organizations and other stakeholders.
“I am grateful to Columbia World Projects for their investment in my district and in Alabama’s rural Black Belt to address the challenges posed by failing wastewater infrastructure. This project will build upon the progress my office has made over the years to secure vital federal funding for cost-effective rural sewer and wastewater systems,” said Rep. Terri Sewell. “In Alabama and many rural communities across the country, failing septic tanks and deteriorating wastewater infrastructure has left an untold number of families with untreated sewage in their yards and local waterways. I have seen this crisis first-hand in the Black Belt. Thanks to this outstanding project, Alabama’s 7th Congressional District will serve as a model for how we can successfully address the health and environmental impacts of failing wastewater infrastructure by providing rural Americans with affordable decentralized wastewater treatment systems that work.” 
Nicholas Lemann, Director of Columbia World Projects states: “This project brings together university researchers and rural communities in Alabama to tackle a long-standing source of inequality – the lack of affordable, reliable wastewater services.  Closing this gap will not only be good for the heath, environment and livelihoods of people living in these underserved parts of Alabama – as Representative Sewell has long fought to do – but also may serve as a model for communities across the world grappling with similar challenges.”
Across the United States, wastewater and sanitation systems are failing, leading to contaminated water supplies, parasitic infections, and environmental degradation. The wastewater challenges in the rural Black Belt region of Alabama are particularly acute, further exacerbating pervasive inequalities across the region.  
The project will engage with communities in rural Alabama and will leverage newly emerging technologies to:

  • Investigate and quantify the negative health, environmental and economic impacts of wastewater systems failures, expanding on research funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Design and pilot a clustered, decentralized wastewater treatment system based on new technology, and demonstrate the sanitation-related health and environmental benefits in the pilot area.
  • Develop new models and analytical tools to enable other communities and stakeholders to identify appropriate solutions for dealing with wastewater challenges.
  • Produce best practices for adopting new financial and operational models for wastewater treatment.

Rep. Sewell has worked tirelessly to secure federal wastewater funding so that every Alabama resident, especially those in Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, has access to basic wastewater sanitation. 
Most recently, Rep. Sewell introduced the Decentralized Wastewater Grant Act of 2020 to make available additional federal funding for families to repair and replace failing wastewater systems. The legislation would establish a grant program under the Clean Water Act, administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to help low- and moderate-income households connect their homes to existing wastewater infrastructure or install or upgrade individually owned decentralized wastewater systems. If passed, this funding would be in addition to the grant program Sewell expanded in the 2018 Farm Bill that is administered by the Department of Agriculture.
A comprehensive rundown on Sewell’s wastewater efforts is available here.