University of South Alabama leads program to address wastewater treatment
The University of South Alabama will lead on a pilot program funded with a $710,000 grant from Columbia World Projects to address wastewater treatment in the rural Black Belt of Alabama. The project aims to demonstrate that better wastewater treatment systems can yield health, economic and environmental benefits for rural communities in the United States and around the world.
“The lack of wastewater management in the rural Black Belt is fundamentally a public health issue,” said Dr. Kevin White, professor and chair of the USA department of civil, coastal and environmental engineering. “It’s also about the lack of a critical developed world infrastructure that allows for economic growth and development, environmental protection, and public health protection.”
The project is a collaboration between South, the University of Alabama, the University of North Carolina, the University of California, Irvine, communities in Alabama’s Black Belt region, the Consortium for Alabama Rural Water & Wastewater and state and federal officials.
White has studied wastewater treatment for 25 years and has been able to bring academia, government officials, state agencies and the private sector to the table to address the problem connected with poor infrastructure.
In addition to the initial award, Columbia World Projects will match up to $5 million raised separately. White and his colleague Dr. Mark Elliott, associate professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering at the University of Alabama recently submitted a $5 million proposal to the United States Department of Agriculture they hope can be used as a match.
“Finally, with some projects funded, we are beginning to make a difference,” White said. “If not for COVID-19, many onsite systems would have been installed in the spring. But soon both onsite and clusters of homes in Hale, Wilcox, and Marengo counties will have functional sewer.”
Alabama’s Black Belt historically includes 17 counties that stretch from southwest of Tuscaloosa across the state to the Georgia line southeast of Auburn. Named for its dark impermeable soil that does not support standard septic systems.
The project calls for installing and testing new wastewater treatment systems at select pilot site clustered and decentralized, connecting neighboring homes or businesses in a single system that collects, treats and re-uses water, reducing the cost of upkeep.
Data on how to adopt such treatment systems will be collected and published on an open-source platform, so that governments and rural communities worldwide can benefit from what is learned.
“I think we are on our way to making good things happen. Better public health protection, better environmental health protection, better economic development outlook,” White said.
(Courtesy of the University of South Alabama)