Warm Springs residents adjust to life without reliable water

June 14, 2019
Warm Springs residents adjust to life without reliable water

Water will shut off for repair Tuesday

By Michael Kohn

A month ago, Carina Miller didn’t give much thought to routine daily tasks such as showering, watering the house plants and doing the dishes. Now, anything that involves the use of water requires time, commitment and planning.

“It has been very difficult because I have an 8-month-old son. There are times when we cannot shower,” said Miller, a research analyst for the Warm Springs Community Action Team. “We do have to continue to boil or buy water for Waluxpykee’s bottles, spoons, teething toys and binkys.”

The 31-year-old Warm Springs resident — along with many other friends and neighbors on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation — is heading into her third week without clean running water.

Miller has adjusted to life under the boil water notice issued May 30 by showering less frequently, or going to the homes of neighbors who have a more reliable supply of running water. Washing clothes means a trip to the local laundromat. House plants are suffering, too, as stockpiled water is saved for more essential tasks.

“Washing dishes has been difficult. We have tried to cut out single-use products over the last couple of years and now are forced to use them,” she added.

Miller’s story is a familiar one for many at Warm Springs, as residents face daily challenges forced upon them because the town lacks a clean and reliable source of drinking water. The recent difficulties over water only compact deep-rooted problems in a community that suffers from high rates of unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, poverty and health issues.

The water problem is the result of a broken main line and two failing water pumps on the reservation. Tap water must be boiled over concerns of contamination. Oftentimes, Miller said, there is no tap water, or just a dribble, due to a lack of pressure in the system.

While Miller and others make adjustments at home, workers at public facilities have also made changes to the way daily business is done.

The Warm Springs Health & Wellness Clinic is using hand-washing stations and distilled water to ensure patient and employee safety, according to a statement from Indian Health Services.

The situation will become even more critical next week when the water will be turned off in the central area of Warm Springs while workers repair the pipe. The repair could take up to five days, according to Gelco Construction, the Salem-based company hired to do the work.

The water shutoff will begin at 5 a.m. Tuesday and continue for at least 36 hours, according to Alyssa Macy, chief operations officer for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. “It will affect mostly tribal buildings and businesses,” she said.

Drinking water for residents will be available in 5-gallon and 1-gallon containers, Macy said, and work should be done by June 21.

Emergency services offices are distributing water, supplies and had portable showers near the old Warm Springs Elementary School, Miller said.

The health clinic is making preparations in anticipation of the water shutoff. A portable water tank will be used if alternative sources of water are needed.

“Clinic administration staff are in close coordination with local resources and the IHS Portland Area Office to ensure that services remain accessible to the community,” according to the Indian Health Services statement. “We will update the community regularly on any limitations to services that may occur.”

This type of communication is helpful to a community frustrated by a conflicting or slow release of information on the water problems.

“The most difficult thing has been the uncertainty,” said Miller, a former member of the Warm Springs Tribal Council.

“When we went on the boil water notice, there was a lot of misinformation, such as how long it would last,” she said.

The water problems at Warm Springs are nothing new — aging infrastructure has resulted in four boil water notices in the past six months. Miller blames the Bureau of Indian Affairs for installing substandard pipe infrastructure.

“They just left us with all this old infrastructure that was failing, and we had no way to upgrade,” she said.

“The BIA put in pipes that were not up to standard. Some were just lead pipes wrapped in newspaper,” she said, adding that some pipes are outdated clay pipes that reached the end of their life span years ago.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs says Warms Springs is responsible for any water infrastructure repairs, due to its participation in the Tribal Self Governance Act, which Warm Springs joined in 2013.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, mkohn@bendbulletin.com

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