Terri Sewell, Mike Rogers introduce bipartisan bill to address issue plaguing rural America

septic tank

Two Alabama Members of Congress are putting their partisan politics aside and working together to address the widespread failure of wastewater infrastructure.

Democrat and Alabama 7th District U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell along with Republican Alabama 3rd District U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers introduced the bipartisan H.R. 5837: Rural Septic Tank Access Act on Wednesday, which provides grants for the construction and repair of decentralized wastewater systems in underserved communities.

Sewell said she’s seen firsthand the economic, environmental, and health challenges created by failing sewer systems in Alabama. She introduced the bill 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,” said Sewell. “I believe that the un-affordability 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.”

The Rural Septic Tank Access Act would expand the Household Water Well System Grant Program, to be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to provide grants of up to $20,000 for rural low- and moderate-income households to install or maintain individually-owned decentralized wastewater systems.

“I am proud to join my friend and colleague Rep. Sewell on this important legislation,” said 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.”

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 February, Rep. Sewell toured homes in Lowndes County to survey wastewater infrastructure in Alabama’s Black Belt. In March, she worked with House appropriators to include an additional $1.8 billion in funding for water and wastewater infrastructure through an omnibus spending bill.

Democrat and Alabama’s junior Sen. Doug Jones, along with West Virginia-Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and New Jersey-Democrat Sen. Cory Booker introduced a companion bill in the Senate in April.

Sewell will hold a Public Health Fair with Jones on May 30 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.