LOWNDES CO., AL (WSFA) - It's a nasty issue that's been in the forefront for a decade now. We're talking about the raw sewage problem in the Black Belt region, in particular Lowndes County. Now there's a light at the end of the tunnel. After an eight year wait, funding has been approved to conduct a study and find a solution.
Ruby Rudolph is a raw sewage surveyor who's making her rounds in Lowndes county to see how widespread this problem is.
"We have people who have raw sewage running their backyard, under their house. We have people who are still without septic tanks," Rudolph said.
It's raw sewage like you see here that's an ongoing issue within 4,000 households in Lowndes County. Environmentalists say this is not only a public health issue but a clean water issue that has to be addressed now. The Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise has been trying to solve the problem since 2002.
"We've put in about 12 tanks since 2002 and some of those systems started to fail within two or three years," Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise Director Catherine Flowers said.
The director of Environmental Services with the Alabama Department of Public Health Pres Allinder says the issue is the soil. Experts say specially engineered septic systems are needed to work properly in the heavy clay soil.
"It's kind of a 'catch-22' situation that really impacts a lot of people negatively," Allinder said.
Systems most people can't afford.
"For one tank [I paid] $10,104. That's a lot of money and I didn't anticipate spending that kind of money no kind of way," Lowndes County resident Roosevelt Steele said.
This is the first comprehensive study to find out just how bad things are and what it's going to take to find a solution.
"There has to be other systems that are in place in this world that people use that may very well work here that are not as expensive that people can manage," Flowers said.
And they need residents to help by providing feedback.
"People think they are getting in trouble and they are not, we are here to help them," Rudolph said.
The raw sewage issue in Lowdnes County has gotten the attention of the United Nations Human Rights committee. A waste water summit will be held on Friday, November 18th in Lowndes County. Scientists, environmentalists and engineers from across the country will brainstorm solutions to the raw sewage problem.