Bill to improve tribal water quality, services passes committee vote

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

“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,” Wyden said. “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.”

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.

“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,” said Merkley. “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.”

Chairman of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Raymond Tsumpti testified today 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,” Tsumpti said. “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.”

Click here for the full testimony.

More information on the legislation can be found here.

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