The Groundwater Replenishment System at the Orange County Water District's headquarters. Credit: Tara Deaton for Nexus Media News

The Environmental Protection Agency will open an investigation into whether or not the state of Alabama violated Black residents’ civil rights when it distributed funds to improve sewer systems, the agency said Wednesday.

The investigation is in response to a complaint filed by The Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice in March, which alleged that a state fund intended to help communities and individuals finance sanitation projects made it nearly impossible for Black communities to access those funds.

In May, the Department of Justice found that state and county officials—including in majority-Black Lowndes County, where residents have long complained of appalling sewage issues and received no help from the state, which often punished people for improper maintenance—“engaged in a consistent pattern of inaction and/or neglect” when handling sanitation problems.

“Sanitation is a basic human right that every person in this country, and in the state of Alabama, should have equal access to,” CREEJ founder Catherine Coleman Flowers said in a press release. “Those without proper sanitation access are exposed to illness and serious harm. We are hopeful that the EPA’s investigation will result in positive change for any Alabama resident currently relying on a failing on site sanitation system and for all U.S. communities for whom justice is long overdue.”

(AP,, Reuters)