Wyden, Merkley, introduce bill to help ease Warm Springs water woes

Legislation that could give Oregon tribes access to federal dollars for rebuilding outdated water infrastructure systems on reservations has been introduced to the U.S. Senate.

The Western Tribal Water Infrastructure Act was introduced on Thursday by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, according to a news release. The legislation could be a boon for tribes such as the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, which suffered multiple water failures this year.

Warm Springs water infrastructure was installed in the mid-1900s by the Bureau of Indian Affairs but saw little maintenance over the years. The Tribe controls water infrastructure on the reservation, but an economic downturn has prevented necessary improvements and system upgrades.

The problem came to a head when a mainline pipe cracked in the middle of Shitike Creek on the reservation, resulting in extensive repair work in June and July.

Many residents spent the summer queuing for water and bathing in portable showers set up in downtown Warm Springs.

The infrastructure act seeks to help tribes such as those at Warm Springs get out of a cycle of repeated failures by providing the funds needed for long term infrastructure improvements.