In April the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency announced a joint initiative to improve access to clean water and wastewater infrastructure for U.S. communities along the Mexico border. The initiative is part of the agencies’ efforts to increase the sustainability of rural drinking water and wastewater systems.
“For many living along the U.S.-Mexico border, access to safe, reliable water and wastewater treatment – something that most Americans take for granted – is nonexistent,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “We cannot tackle the problem of persistent poverty in the region without first addressing these stunning infrastructure failures, which have serious health, environmental and economic consequences. The resources provided through USDA and EPA will help mitigate health and environmental risks, advance economic development, and improve the quality of life for families living in the region.”
“Americans deserve access to clean drinking water and adequate wastewater systems,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “EPA is proud to partner with USDA to help communities along the border tackle serious environmental and public health concerns.”
According to the release announcing the initiative, many border communities lack the funds for drinking and wastewater infrastructure. As the release points out, failing wastewater systems can significantly harm the environment, spilling untreated wastewater into streets, streams and rivers, and forcing raw sewage to back up into homes. Failing and inadequate water systems can harm community health by increasing the risk of water-borne illnesses such as salmonella and hepatitis A and gastrointestinal diseases.
USDA plans to award up to $500,000 through Rural Development’s Technical Assistance and Training Grant program to a private, non-profit group for a priority assessment of the counties identified in the report. The assessment, expected to be completed in late 2014, will recommend the best way to deliver technical assistance to the neediest communities. Based on these findings, the agencies will target assistance to those communities and establish partnerships to provide or improve access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.
For more information, see the USDA’s press release announcing the program.