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Funding Gives Colonia Residents New Hope for Wastewater System

April 28, 2011 |

An outpouring of state and federal funding and assistance from the Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC) has one small Arizona community on the road to realizing its goal of improving a failing sewer system.

Avenue B & C Colonia, a community of about 1,000 homes located on the edge of Yuma, Ariz., consists of mostly trailers and modest houses. But despite being a stable neighborhood since the early 1900s, Colonia has for years suffered from chronic sewage problems.
To fix the sewage problem, the Colonia and its core of veteran residents needed to raise $23 million in funds. The community secured a majority of the finances from USDA Rural Development and $16 million in funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds. The other $5 million came through various state and federal agencies.

Technical Assistance Providers from RCAC are supporting the community in its goal of improving its sewer system through ensuring proper filing of ARRA quarterly reporters. The project is another example of RCAC working to bring safe, clean drinking water to America’s rural communities.
“By bringing in a variety of funding sources, this neighborhood where many struggle just to eke out a living will be able to get improvements that will give them sanitary sewage disposal and new pride and hope for their community,” said Alan Stephens, Arizona State Director for USDA Rural Development.

“For the 1,000 households in Avenue B & C Colonia, this project is a dramatic change for the good,” he said.

The push to fix the sewers came after one local resident became fed-up with the ailing system and failed attempts of residents to fix the problem themselves.
“There were times when sewage would bubble right out of the ground,” said longtime resident Gayle Castricone. “I raised my children in this Colonia. Now I want my grandchildren to be able to play in the neighborhood without having to worry about what health hazards they may encounter playing in the yard.”

Castricone spent several years gathering petition signatures from her neighbors in an effort to draw attention to the serious health problems of an inadequate sewage system.
Along with oozing sewage, septic systems failures contaminate the Colonia’s air and ground – creating much more than an aesthetic problem. Located only a half mile from the Colorado River, the Colonia’s septic tanks leach into an area where the water table can rise sharply during farm land irrigation. When the water table rises, there is a dangerous potential for the sewage to seep into the river.

Castricone said that the prospect of a real sewer system has been motivating for her neighbors.
“We knew we would have to fight for this and fight to get money to pay for it,” she said. “We said we’ll have bake sales or whatever.”

But the $23 million price tag for fixing the sewer system required far more than a bake sale, she said.

Castricone said it was a miracle when county, state, federal and private funding sources partnered to create a package that would pay for the entire project. The funds will connect residents of the Colonia to the nearby water treatment system and abandon the individual septic systems and cesspools.