Rural Wastewater Demonstration Project Launches in Newbern

We have excellent news to share: Rural Studio is working with a consortium to demonstrate the viability of applying a cluster-design sanitary sewer to a rural area, including retrofitting local homes that have problematic septic systems. This work has the potential to improve the health of rural communities.

Blackland Prairie Image credit: (Map) US Department of Agriculture and Extension (Photo) Rural Studio

The Problem

Fifty percent of Black Belt residents use on-site septic systems, and it’s estimated that 90% of these systems are failing or don’t work as they should. The reason for this startling number is that soils with high clay content hold wastewater on the ground surface, creating contaminated pools or soggy areas in yards. Soil that’s good for catfish ponds is terrible for on-site wastewater treatment. Engineered mound systems that work in these soils can cost up to $20,000—too expensive for most people. Both problems demand new ways of thinking about rural wastewater management.

The Consortium

As a member of the Consortium for Alabama Rural Water and Wastewater Management, Rural Studio is partnering with engineers from the University of South Alabama, University of Alabama, and the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering at Auburn to help solve this public health crisis. Rural Studio will be the demonstration site for a rural wastewater cluster system paid for by the American Rescue Act Plan, USDA, and Columbia World Projects. The technology behind the pilot project is tried and true, there are many successful examples in Alabama. The innovation is to use these effluent-only sewers in a rural, retro-fit setting. A cluster system takes only the waste liquids from a household or business and treats it to a high-level of purification.

Consortium for Alabama Rural Water and Wastewater Management

The Project

Phases 1 of the Rural Wastewater Demonstration Project will serve Rural Studio’s campus, Red Barn, Newbern Library, and the businesses on the west side of Alabama Highway 61. The demonstration will be open to the public so our neighbors can come see and smell the treatment center. Rural Studio’s long-term goal is to bring other community members onto the new sanitary sewer. If these cluster systems are fully used across the Black Belt, another 25% of residents could have access to a managed and affordable sanitary sewer system. Rural Studio is excited to work with our partners to offer new solutions for rural wastewater management in the Black Belt.

Rural Studio Morrisette House Campus Image credit: Google Earth

The ground has already been broken, and we hope to have the system functioning in the next few months.