October 4, 2018

Domestic: Lowndes County

Background

Lowndes County, Alabama, is located on the west side of Montgomery, within an hour or two drive of Auburn. Lowndes County is in Alabama’s Black Belt region, which is historically rural and underserved. One problem facing the region is the lack of up-to-date waste treatment. With very few incorporated townships across the Black Belt, the number of residents connected to wastewater treatment plants is very low. The appropriate waste treatment system for most residences is a septic system; possibly as many as 50% of Black Belt citizens have no actual wastewater treatment.

Government action

The deputy director of the Bureau of Environmental Services of the Alabama Department of Public Health has turned her attention to this issue. We will be working alongside her department to develop solutions for sites that pose challenges in soil type, elevation, and other unfavorable factors. We will be working in unincorporated areas where there are no ordinances to direct residential waste treatment.

Photo Copyright: Mickey Welsh/Montgomery Advertiser

Problem scope

The most common home-made waste system is known as a “straight pipe”. This consists of a PVC pipe which connects to the home’s waste outlet, then runs underground until it empties into a depression at a lower elevation. The untreated waste has the potential to make people and animals sick, and to contaminate groundwater and surface water. Education on the need for proper waste containment and treatment is needed in the region. Cost, maintenance, and soil conditions are prohibitive for many people who would like to install proper septic systems. Much of the soil is clay, which is not suitable for the field lines from a basic septic tank. In many locations, soil replacement and innovated systems are a requirement for a properly functioning system. Our goal is to develop designs that can be slightly modified for use in multiple locations with the same general problem, such as unsuitable soil, limited space, home at lowest elevation, etc.

Photo Copyright: Mickey Welsh/Montgomery Advertiser