Wyden, Merkley introduce bill to improve water quality and services for Western tribes

Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley on Thursday introduced introduced legislation to improve water quality and services for tribal communities in Oregon.

Earlier this year, about 4,000 people on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation were without safe drinking water for three months after a pipe burst led to multiple other infrastructure issues.

“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 Warm Springs Chairman Raymond Tsumpti.

According to a press release from Wyden’s office, 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.

The two Democrats’ Western Tribal Water Infrastructure Act 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, according to the release.

“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.”

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 We need to invest in replacing outdated pipe systems, to help ensure that tribal nations have reliable access to safe drinking water for years to come.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

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, according to the release.

The bill would increase funding for the reservation drinking water program from $20 million to $30 million per year and authorize the EPA to fund up to 10 water improvement projects per year for tribes in the Columbia River Basin and its adjacent coastal river basins.

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