Western Tribal Water Infrastructure Act passes key hurdle in U.S. Senate

Legislation that could unlock millions of dollars to upgrade and improve the water delivery system on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation has passed a significant hurdle in the U.S. Senate.

On Wednesday the Senate’s Committee on Indian Affairs passed the Western Tribal Water Infrastructure Act, legislation introduced by Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. If confirmed, funds could be channeled to tribal communities in Oregon and nationwide.

Warm Springs is one of many tribal communities that have experienced water infrastructure failures in recent years, leading to boil water notices and water outages. The lack of reliable water has been detrimental to a community already suffering from poverty and high rates of unemployment that exceeds 60%.

“There are many federal programs to assist tribes. But they have not individually or collectively been able to meet the magnitude of infrastructure challenges on our reservation,” Raymond Tsumpi, chair of the Warm Springs Tribal Council, said in testimony to the Committee on Indian Affairs.

Tsumpi said Warm Springs needs $5-6 million for repairs on the existing system but making upgrades on the infrastructure will cost another $40-50 million.

Wyden told the Committee that the water crisis at Warm Springs and other tribes nationwide demands “swift federal action to fix a disgraceful legacy of shameful neglect by the federal government.”

“I am glad to see the Indian Affairs Committee give this issue the attention it requires,” said Wyden. “I hope the Senate will advance our bill as soon as possible. No tribe should go without clean water.”