Wyden, Merkley Introduce Bill to Improve Water Quality and Services for Western Tribes

Wyden, Merkley Introduce Bill to Improve Water Quality and Services for Western Tribes

Wyden secured commitment from Interior Secretary Nominee Deb Haaland to improve water infrastructure for Tribal Nations during her nomination hearing

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today introduced legislation to improve water quality and services for tribal communities in Oregon.

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.

Wyden raised this issue today during Interior Secretary-Designate Deb Haaland's nomination hearing in the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee and secured her commitment to work on solutions. Click here to watch a video of the exchange.

“Clean drinking water is a human right. Yet, The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and other Native American Tribes around America have to rely on inadequate water infrastructure that has left many with limited or no access to clean water in the middle of a pandemic,” Wyden said. “Boil water notices and crumbling pipes are not acceptable. Congress must do more to bring urgently needed resources to build sustainable tribal water infrastructure that has been neglected for far too long. And I look forward to working on this with Congresswoman Deb Haaland when she takes the helm of the Interior Department.”

“The crisis at the Warm Springs Reservation is a powerful example of the serious water infrastructure challenges facing tribes—challenges that have only been made more urgent by the coronavirus crisis,” Merkley said. “It is critically important that we help ensure that every tribal nation has reliable access to drinking water by replacing outdated pipe systems. The Western Tribal Water Infrastructure Act can help us pave a path forward to turn those infrastructure upgrades into reality.”

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

“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,” Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians Chairman Dee Pigsley said.

The Western Tribal Water Infrastructure Act introduced today 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.