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Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood: Sewage at forefront of local, national discussions

By Mark Rogers

The Lowndes Signal

Recent discussions both in local meetings and in national forums are drawing attention to sewage problems in Lowndes County.

Last month during a Lowndes County Commission meeting, the Alabama Department of Public Health and Commissioners discussed a variety of issues involving the treatment of sewage in both rural and municipal areas.

Alabama’s legislature recently passed bills related to sewage including one that requires residents to hook up to sewer systems if they are available.

Sherry Bradley of the Alabama Department of Public Health said that despite many regulations there are still residents who don’t want to hook up.

“In your communities like Mosses, Gordonville and what have you, there are sewer lines available, but there are still some residents saying that they are not going to tie in,” she told the Commission in May.

There are also concerns of aging septic systems, replacement of which could cost up to $20,000. The Health Department is available to inspect systems to make sure they are functioning properly.

“If you tell me you have a septic system, we will go out for free, we will find your septic system, we will find the line and we will see if it meets the criteria of being an approved system,” Bradley told the Commission. “The criteria are No. 1 — it was put in by a certified installer, someone that is licensed.
No. 2, have you been pumping out your system on a regular basis? If it is a bootleg system, that’s not an approved system and it’s best that they tie in.”

The ADPH and Lowndes County Commission are also discussing establishment of a sewer board, which would oversee the administration of sewer solutions in Lowndes County. The members would be appointed to serve. In Perry County officials have gone through the same process.

Meanwhile, as Lowndes County officials and Alabama officials discuss the concerns, stories have been written about sewer problems in national publications and online. Information from the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise was recently cited in an earthjustice.org blog in California. ACRE teamed up with Columbia University and a report was given to Congress and the lack of basic sanitation for 1.4 million to 1.7 million U.S. residents — many of whom are in Lowndes and surrounding counties.

The report says that many of the homes that are not properly served are in rural communities that do not have sufficient infrastructure and also have limited access to jobs — or well-paying jobs.

Represented by Earthjustice, ACRE has recently filed a civil rights complaint against the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Lowndes County Health Department for violating the public’s civil rights and “spreading misinformation about the health risks of raw sewage.”

The report cites the fact the costs of these systems far exceeds the capacity of median incomes on Lowndes County.

Currently there are disagreements on how to get to where Lowndes County and many others like it need to get the proper sewage treatment they need. Obviously, federal help will be needed to ensure the projects are completed to the correct standards and to make the disposal of wastewater safe for all resident in the county.

Stay tuned — there will be many more discussions and possibly some action in regards to the issue in the coming months.