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Wyden-Merkley bill would fund Warm Springs, other tribes’ water system upgrades

Legislation follows serious water issues on Warm Springs Reservation

Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced legislation Thursday to improve water quality and services for tribal communities in Oregon, in the wake of serious issues that cut water service on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation this year.

Native American tribes in Oregon and across the West are suffering from inadequate water infrastructure, the lawmakers said, with aging drinking water treatment and distribution systems subjecting these communities to serious problems such as failed pressure relief valves, burst pipes and unsafe drinking water.

Wyden and Merkley’s Western Tribal Water Infrastructure Act would help move these communities out of the cycle of temporary and emergency fixes to those problems by ensuring stable and reliable federal investments in water infrastructure projects.

“Access to clean and safe drinking water is a basic human right, and yet, federal resources to help tribal governments in Oregon to fix damaged water systems are woefully lacking,” Wyden said. “The federal government must step up and do more to support these communities working to make permanent fixes and ensure water security needed for their long-term health and quality of life.”

“As the crisis on the Warm Springs Reservation illustrated, Native American communities in Oregon are facing serious water infrastructure challenges,” said Merkley. “We need to invest in replacing outdated pipe systems, to help ensure that tribal nations have reliable access to safe drinking water for years to come.

"This legislation provides a pathway to making those infrastructure upgrades happen, and I’m urging my colleagues to join us in fighting to get it across the finish line and signed into law.” 

“This legislation would throw a lifeline to tribes like Warm Springs that are in dire need of water infrastructure improvements to serve their tribal membership,” said Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Chairman Raymond Tsumpti.

“Climate change is threatening the water supply of many Oregon communities — even on the coast. Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley’s bill would help Oregon tribes access funds to avert those challenges,” said Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians Chairman Dee Pigsley.

The legislation builds on steps taken by Congress to address the water crisis facing tribes. Most recently, in the 2018 Water Resources and Development Act, Congress established the $20 million Indian Reservation Drinking Water Program for tribes located in the Upper Missouri River Basin and the Upper Rio Grande Basin.

The Tribal Water Infrastructure Act introduced Thursday will:

  • Help Oregon tribes connect, expand or repair existing public water systems to improve water quality, water pressure or water services by ensuring tribes in the Columbia River Basin, and its adjacent coastal river basins, are eligible for the Indian Reservation Drinking Water Program;
  • Authorize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to fund up to 10 water improvement projects per year for tribes in the Columbia River Basin and its adjacent coastal river basins;
  • Require that at least one of the 10 authorized water improvement projects help Western Oregon tribal governments improve water infrastructure; and
  • Make the Indian Reservation Drinking Water program permanent and increase its funding from $20 million per year to $30 million per year.
Article Topic Follows: Warm Springs
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