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Bill to address Warm Springs, other tribes’ water woes advances in Senate

Organizations such as the Central Oregon Black Leadership Assembly have brought water to Warm Springs amid outages, boil-water notices
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Organizations such as the Central Oregon Black Leadership Assembly have brought water to Warm Springs amid outages, boil-water notices

Merkley: Warm Springs troubles 'nothing short of a crisis'

WASHINGTON (KTVZ) -- The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs on Wednesday passed the Western Tribal Water Infrastructure Act, legislation introduced by Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., to improve water quality and services for tribal communities in Oregon and nationwide.

"Clean drinking water is the lifeblood of communities; it's a human right," Wyden said. "The water crises faced by the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Native American tribes nationwide demand swift federal action to fix a disgraceful legacy of shameful neglect by the federal government."

"I'm glad to see the Indian Affairs Committee give this issue the attention it requires, and I hope the full Senate will advance our bill as soon as possible. No tribe should go without clean water."

Merkley said, “Reliable access to clean drinking water is vital to the health and safety of any community — especially during a once-in-a-century global pandemic.

“The situation on the Warm Springs Reservation is nothing short of a crisis. That’s why we’ve been pushing hard to get the Western Tribal Water Infrastructure Act onto the Senate floor as quickly as possible, and why I’ll continue to do all that I can to work alongside tribal communities to secure the resources they need to thrive during, and long after, this difficult chapter.”

The chairman of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, Raymond Tsumpti testified Wednesday before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee about the water crisis on the Warm Springs reservation and the urgent need for federal investment in new water infrastructure and the maintenance of water infrastructure. 

"For years, we have dealt with harmful and expensive obstacles in water storage, water delivery and water treatment … After some patchwork repair on our water system, water system failures returned in summer 2020 in the midst of COVID-19 … We have places on the reservation where people can’t even wash their hands. The water infrastructure is literally crumbling. Some of the pipes are made of wood and clay.  We regularly face 'low pressure' or 'no water' events that trigger boil-water notices," Chairman Tsumpti said in testimony. Click here for the full testimony.

Native American tribes in Oregon and across the West are suffering from inadequate water infrastructure, 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 – which was first introduced in 2019 – will 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.

The legislation 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 $50 million per year. 

A copy of the bill text is available here

More information on the legislation can be found here

Article Topic Follows: Warm Springs

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