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Water: Wastewater Management Process

Wastewater in Small Communities - Basic Information

Did you know?

According to the 2000 U.S. Census survey, approximately 1.7 million people in the U.S. still lack access to complete indoor plumbing. Over 600,000 of these individuals reside in small rural communities, including Indian reservations and settlements along the U.S.-Mexico border1.

These communities, some of the most underserved and marginalized in the country, face greater human health and environmental risks as a direct result of insufficient water and wastewater services.


Wastewater disposal in a rural Alaska village
Wastewater disposal in a rural Alaska village

1. Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) (2004). Still Living without the Basics in the 21st Century.

Small Communities

EPA's Office of Wastewater Management defines "small communities" as communities in the U.S. that have a population of 10,000 or fewer people and an average daily wastewater flow of less than 1 million gallons. Small community wastewater facilities are a large majority of the publicly owned wastewater facilities in most States.

Because small communities tend to be economically disadvantaged, under-served and resource-poor, they face significant barriers to building and maintaining effective wastewater treatment services.

Common challenges to achieving and maintaining sustainable wastewater treatment systems faced by small communities include (but are not limited to):

  • Economic / financial limitations;
  • Inability to sustain community-wide systems (lack of economies of scale);
  • Inability to attract and maintain system operators;
  • Lack of managerial competency and consistency;
  • Extreme topography and climate;
  • Geographic isolation / remoteness.

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