LCUWP renews, expands approach to wastewater conditions

Published 2:22 pm Monday, July 10, 2023

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The Lowndes County Unincorporated Wastewater Program (LCUWP) Sewer Board recently conducted a survey to assess sewage disposal needs among residents. Board representatives shared results of the survey with Lowndes County commissioners on June 26, and proposed renewed and expanded efforts toward improving conditions in the county’s areas of greatest need.

“We surveyed about eight homes,” said LCUWP president Carmelita Arnold. “There were five in Calhoun and three in Fort Deposit.”

Documents presented to the commission outline conditions in each home surveyed and summarize steps toward meeting the needs. In some cases, the survey revealed homes in need of extensive repairs as well as septic system installation or replacement. Three of the homes surveyed had no septic system and employed the “straight pipe” method of pumping raw, untreated sewage onto the ground.

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According to the survey one particular home inspected needs extensive interior rehabilitation. The homeowner reported having contacted the Healthy Homes Division of the Alabama Department of Public Health for assistance but told the board they have not received an in home visit from the agency.

Survey results also revealed homes which have not yet been helped by the efforts of Black Belt Unincorporated Wastewater Program (BBWUP), a separate organization working toward the same overarching goal of solving the wastewater problem.

“Of the eight [surveyed] there were only two that had been approached by the BBUWP and they had not been getting calls back from them,” Arnold said.

Deborah Johnson Stewart, CEO and senior consultant with Avalon Consulting Service, LLC. said the board conducted its survey after receiving inquiries from Lowndes County residents regarding the status of program efforts. Identities of those individuals surveys have been withheld at the request of the homeowners.

“The Lowndes County resident represented by ‘185-1’ was one of the people who inquired and we visited him at his work during the sample survey,” Stewart said. Survey results indicate that this resident has a failing septic system and has applied for help with BBUWP, submitting all requested documents. To date, this resident alleges BBUWP representatives have not responded to his recent calls.

Sherry Bradley began working toward the Lowndes County wastewater problem with LCUWP as part of a pilot program aimed to provide adequate sewage disposal in 100 Lowndes County homes. Bradley transferred her efforts to the BBUWP in 2021 and said the BBUWP has since installed septic systems in 75 Lowndes County homes and has been in touch with 165 residents across the county. 

According to Bradley, everyone who contacted BBUWP and met the program requirements has been helped.

“No one has contacted BBUWP and been told, ‘No,’ without being told why,” Bradley said. “If the land doesn’t belong to them, we can’t put a septic tank on it. Or, if they don’t have enough property [for drain lines] that can be another reason [residents would not qualify.]”

Lifelong Lowndes County resident, Natalie Brutton, remembers living with sewage disposal issues since her childhood days. The efforts of Bradley and the BBUWP have been a blessing, she said, to herself and other residents helped by the program.

‘There was sewage on the ground when I was a little child and you could smell it before you see it,” Brutton said. “People couldn’t do anything about it. But now, it’s different. This project, BBUWP, is different. They are moving. Lowndes County has waited a long time for this and it has helped.”

Stewart works with the LCUWP as a commission-appointed advisor and grant writer. According to Stewart, BBUWP efforts proved what can be done towards solving the problem. The LCUWP aims to work toward meeting the needs that still remain, she added.

“We surveyed Calhoun and Fort Deposit and those areas had a succession of people who had not been reached by the program,” Stewart said. “There are many factors that may have excluded people from being eligible for the program. And, if a home is dilapidated, as in some conditions we observed in the survey, you would have to fix the whole housing structure.”

Stewart said the LCUWP board will seek funding to continue the program and expand to help where home repairs are needed before septic system installation or replacement can happen. The board intends to conduct an environmental assessment for the homes as yet unreached, apply for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grants to cover environmental engineer and homeowner education costs and support septic replacement or improvement, and work with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) healthy homes division to match resources for residents in need of housing rehabilitation.

“Our grant writing applications are for the continuation of the program with the added feature of dealing with dilapidated housing conditions through the ADPH Healthy Homes program because it is not one and done,” Stewart said. “We want to strengthen and build the capacity of LCUWP to not only replace septic systems but to also deal with dilapidated housing conditions and add an educational component to help people learn how not to live on a straight pipe, because it has become a way of life in some areas.”

Lowndes County Commission Chairman Charlie King, Jr. said the commission has appointed the LCUWP board to accomplish the work needed by the county’s people.

“It is the commission’s intention to assist in alleviating the situation, helping people who are qualified and need a septic system as well as home rehabilitation,” King said. “We stand ready and have appointed this board and support this board. They are out doing surveys to find out the people who really need help. We’ve got some elderly people living in inadequate homes with dilapidated conditions. There’s so much that is needed and the commission’s goal is to help people and not try to take advantage of them.”