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Sewage

In a county where standard plumbing is pricey, some residents rely on DIY solutions

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LOWNDES COUNTY, Ala. (CIRCA)—People keep to themselves in Lowndes County, Alabama.

“That’s right, we mind our own business here. We don’t have no problem,” said George, a local resident who did not want to reveal his full name. “I walk out the door, I shoot anything, I kill my own animals. I do everything—I’m a country boy. It’s great country.”

However, some problems fester in isolation.

George McCall
George McCall drives a tractor with his son around his property.

George is one of the many residents in Lowndes County who has fashioned large PVC pipes to their trailer’s plumbing, their solution to what can be a costly-problem in the rural South where the soil is not always conducive to standard septic tanks.

Instead of connecting to a septic tank or centralized sewage system, the pipes end about 12 feet away from George's house. With nowhere else to go, the sewage from his home drains into a brownish-green pool where George's pigs roam around.

“Oh, it would be up in the house, cause it can’t go out. It would be up under the house,” said George. “I do got it hooked up for it to go out, out from under the house because I don’t want that problem.”

Lowndes County is located almost directly in the middle of the Black Belt in Alabama. It’s a region of the Southern United States that stretches from central Alabama to northern Mississippi and is characterized by it’s dark, rich, dense soil, which was perfect for farming cotton in the 1800s and early 1900s.

The name itself is derived from the hundreds of thousands of African slaves who were forced to work on cotton plantations from that area.

While that soil may be great for growing cotton, it can make it difficult for rural residents to install plumbing.

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Although there is no official count, some surveys show that more than half of rural residents in Lowndes County have failing septic systems or none at all, and the cost to install a septic system could cost up to $25,000 because of the dense soil in the Black Belt region, according to Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama’s state public health officer.

The median household income in Lowndes is about $28,000.

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And residents dealing with a lack of access to or failing septic systems, like George, said that they wouldn’t reach out to local health officials out of fear of legal repercussions.

“You will get in trouble if you don’t have a tank,” said George.

George knows his D-I-Y plumbing setup is illegal, but he said it’s the solution he can afford for now.

“As far as money issues,” said McCall, “just bought a new home, paid cash for it and things take time.”

But in a county where a third of residents live below the poverty line, George remains optimistic.

“Everybody’s not fortunate to get everything at one time like some people are,” said George. “I’m not the only one. I’ll have it fixed by tomorrow.”

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