(Update: Adding video, Wyden, Prineville resident comments)
Senators also announce $8 million housing grant for reservation; Wyden follows with Prineville town hall
WARM SPRINGS, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and federal officials visited the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Monday to celebrate over $28 million in federal investments being made to build a new water treatment plant, critical to ensure the community will have safe and dependable drinking water for years to come.
The senators also announced an $8 million boost to efforts to provide affordable housing on the reservation.
The senators and Warms Springs leadership were joined on-site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Indian Health Service, which are both significantly investing in the long-term health and safety of the Warm Springs community.
“For too long, the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs has faced obstacles to accessing reliable drinking water—including water shortages, boil notices, and shutdowns—but these major federal investments mean relief is coming,” said Merkley, who their joint news release said "leveraged his position as chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee to provide the funding needed across both agencies."
“In my tours of the aging water treatment facility, I’ve been amazed by the Warm Springs’ grit and ingenuity to overcome the outdated system and continue to provide water to the community. I can’t wait to see how a new, modern facility will finally provide them with the certainty of clean, safe water every time a tap gets turned on to benefit the health of the entire Warm Springs community.”
“Members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs have unjustly been put on hold for years and years when it comes to the federal government investing in the basic promise – and basic premise – that water is a human right,” Wyden said.
“Today’s news takes a significant step forward to reversing that shameful and shambolic legacy of burst pipes and ‘boil water’ notices for Tribal families and small businesses. While there’s still work ahead, I look forward to revisiting Warm Springs to celebrate the day when this community gets what it’s long deserved and battled to achieve – water coming out of the faucet that’s clean and reliable.”
"I am grateful that our senators, EPA and IHS have all stepped up to tackle the water quality challenge at Warm Springs," said Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation Tribal Council Chairman Jonathan Smith. "This is an historic investment that will be deeply appreciated by Warm Springs people for decades to come."
“IHS is pleased to recognize the achievements of the project team thus far. The historic funding agreement between the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Indian Health Service has paved the way for the finalization of the treatment plant design and construction contract documents,” Capt. Marcus Martinez, IHS Portland Area Director said. “IHS will continue to support the project team’s efforts toward delivering a long-term and reliable source of safe, clean drinking water.”
“This is the largest tribal water system grant in Region 10, and I am proud to say we are one step closer to the 3,800 people in the Warm Springs community having reliable, safe and clean drinking water. This project exemplifies the commitment that the Biden administration has made to underserved communities,” said EPA Region 10 Administrator Casey Sixkiller. “EPA is grateful for the partnership with the Tribe and Indian Health Service in identifying a path forward, and appreciative of the advocacy of Senators Merkley and Wyden in helping secure additional funds to address this critical public health priority.”
At Monday’s celebration, the Warm Springs and IHS gave the senators and federal agency partners a tour of the existing water treatment plant that was built in 1981, and they explained the challenges the community has faced in recent years, including several water emergencies and a fire which forced the plant to temporarily shut down in March of 2022.
The aging water treatment plant has continued to operate due to the resilience and extraordinary efforts of the Warm Springs over the years, but it was clear a major investment was vital for the nearly 3,800 people who rely on the plant’s drinking water.
To bring a new facility online for the Warm Springs, IHS has obligated $13,601,000 toward the project and EPA provided $10,262,000, funded primarily through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Additionally, Senators Merkley and Wyden secured a $5 million community-initiated project for Warm Springs drinking water infrastructure through the latest government funding package that President Biden signed into law.
The new plant will treat water from the Deschutes River using modern technologies and will provide the Warms Springs with safe, high-quality drinking water. At today’s event, the Senator’s saw the potential site of the new facility, which is located adjacent to the existing plant. The design phase for the new plant is currently underway.
Wyden later traveled to Crook County High School in Prineville Monday evening, holding his 24th Oregon town hall meeting of the year. The senator has vowed to hold a town hall in every Oregon county throughout the year.
The 3,800 residents of the Confederated Tribes have had serious water challenges in recent years. Before the town hall, I asked the senator why he felt it was important for them to visit the Warm Springs water treatment facility.
"Right now, there is just a shameful history of boil-water notices, burst pipes in family homes -- particularly, kids and seniors just really going to bed at night, worried about not being able to get clean water," he said.
Ahead of the town hall, we also asked a Prineville resident why she decided to attend Monday's meeting.
"I have a raw milk dairy, and I hope that they will pay attention to what's happening to our water sources" Billie Johnson said. She also told us that she wanted her "voice to be heard" by the senator as it pertains to ensuring clean water in Crook County.
While in Warm Springs, Wyden and Merkley also announced that the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation and the Burns Paiute Tribe have earned federal grants to build affordable housing and repair a cultural heritage center.
“Affordable housing and rehabilitated cultural resources are crucial to continued Tribal independence and sovereignty,” Wyden said. “I am gratified to see these dollars go toward resources so that members of the Warm Springs tribe have access to an affordable, safe place to call home and Burns Paiute members can continue to preserve their heritage for generations to come.”
“Affordable, reliable housing and cultural preservation are both crucial for Oregon’s Tribal communities,” Merkley said. “I look forward to seeing the benefits these projects will bring to the Warm Springs and Burns Paiute Tribes, and will continue to fight to bring federal resources to Oregon’s Tribes.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Indian Community Development Block Grant program provides grants to support tribal sovereignty and independence.
The Warm Springs Housing Authority will use $2 million to build eight homes to increase availability of affordable housing for lower-income Tribal members. The Burns Paiute Tribe will use more than $910,000 to rehabilitate the Tukwahone Cultural and Heritage Center.
“Warm Springs is currently experiencing a housing crisis. There are not enough homes for the families in the community, which results in many families living in overcrowded and substandard conditions. Being able to provide an additional eight affordable and energy-efficient housing units will truly be a gift to our community. It will be a joy seeing the smiles on families’ faces when they enter their new home for the first time,” said Danielle Wood, Executive Director of Warm Springs Housing Authority.
“The Burns Paiute Tribe is so incredibly grateful to receive this ICDBG Grant for out Tukwahone’ Heritage Center in downtown Burns. It will be a welcoming space where our culture can be seen and experienced through historical artifacts and multimedia storytelling as well as through the retail sales of traditional handcrafted wares. Additionally, we will host a business incubator for tribal members, tribal corporations and local entrepreneurs. The Tukwahone’ Heritage Center will be a catalyst for our Tribe and the local community to spur innovation and growth for all,” said Tracy Kennedy, Director of Planning and Economic Development for the Burns Paiute Tribe.