Mississippi’s Bolivar County will be among the participants in this pilot program.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative.

Through this initiative from the Biden Administration, the USDA and EPA will leverage technical assistance resources to help historically underserved communities identify and pursue federal funding opportunities to address their wastewater needs and eliminate harmful exposure to backyard sewage.

The initiative will be piloted in 11 communities across the country where residents lack basic wastewater management that is essential to protecting their health and the environment.

Bolivar County, Mississippi will be among the participants in the pilot program.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said that under the leadership of the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA believes hardworking people in America’s small towns and rural communities should have the infrastructure they need to be healthy and to provide for their families.

“We recognize that there are still people who have been going without the basics,” Secretary Vilsack said. “Access to modern, reliable wastewater infrastructure is a necessity, and the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to doing everything we can to ensure every family and every child in America has access to these vital services. By combining USDA and EPA resources and taking advantage of the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we can restore to these communities a sense of economic vitality and social dignity that the people living there deserve.”

EPA Administration Michael Regan said that the America that we all believe in is a land of opportunity. But, for historically marginalized communities from Alabama to Alaska, that opportunity is stolen when basic sanitation does not work—exposing adults and children to backyard sewage and disease.

“By partnering with USDA and leveraging funding through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, EPA is working to restore dignity and opportunity to rural communities here in Alabama and across the country,” Regan continued.

According to a press release from the USDA, around 2.2 million people in the United States lack basic running water and indoor plumbing and many more live with wastewater infrastructure that is ineffective and puts people’s health at risk.

USDA said that the Closing America’s Wastewater Access Gap Community Initiative will help communities access financing and technical assistance to improve wastewater infrastructure to “close the gap” with wealthier communities.

“This new EPA/USDA initiative to provide technical assistance to one of our Mississippi communities will build upon MDEQ’s previous and continued efforts to assist Bolivar County and their consulting engineers throughout the process of securing CWSRF funding, if needed, for water pollution control projects,” said Executive Director of Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality Chris Wells.

Dr. Trina N. George, State Director for Rural Development in Mississippi, said that access to modern, reliable water and wastewater infrastructure is vital to the safety and security of a community, but many lack access to adequate services.

“We must do better.  By partnering with the EPA and taking advantage of the historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we can work with these communities to identify solutions and implement them to give families in Mississippi and nationwide the resources they deserve,” George continued.

PSC Central District Commissioner Brent Bailey congratulated Bolivar County for being selected through the initiative.

“Bolivar County is one of 11 communities nationwide to be selected,” Commissioner Bailey said. “Help us congratulate Bolivar County as they pursue actions to provide modern wastewater treatment to rural communities!”