Wyden, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Expand and Improve Access to Clean Water in Tribal Communities

July 19, 2023
Wyden, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Expand and Improve Access to Clean Water in Tribal Communities

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden today with colleagues reintroduced legislation that would dramatically expand Tribal access to clean water by investing in water infrastructure.

“Clean drinking water is a human right. Yet, The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and other Native American Tribes nationwide have been making do with inadequate water infrastructure that has left many with limited or no access to clean water,” said Wyden, who successfully fought for $250 million in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to improve water quality and services for tribal communities in Oregon and nationwide. “The funds from my Western Tribal Water Infrastructure Act were a crucial starting point, but more needs to be done to ensure that the people who have inhabited this land since time immemorial no longer have to contend with boil water notices and crumbling pipes, and can build sustainable tribal water infrastructure for present and future generations.”

This bill would increase funding through the Indian Health Service, United States Department of Agriculture, and the Bureau of Reclamation to support water infrastructure projects in Tribal communities and help provide clean water to the large number of Native American households who currently lack access.

“For far too long, many American Indians and Alaska Natives have gone without a basic ingredient of life – access to a clean and safe drinking water supply,” said John Echohawk, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Native American Rights Fund and member of the Pawnee Nation. “These are not isolated or regional deficiencies, but rather a nationwide disparity in the fundamental basic services available to Native Americans. This bill will help to address gaps in current support for Tribal drinking water access and help to fulfill the Federal government's trust responsibility to Native American Tribes.”

“While groundbreaking and long overdue, the funding now available for construction and repair of Tribal water systems is not a complete solution,” said Heather Tanana, co-leader of the initiative on Universal Access to Clean Water for Tribal Communities. “This legislation will remove barriers to implementation of federal programs and maximize our opportunity to provide Tribes with the access to clean and safe drinking water that is a component of the federally promised permanent, livable homeland."

Lack of access to clean drinking water is a significant barrier for many Native American communities. According to data from the Indian Health Service, nearly half of Native American households lack access to reliable water sources and clean drinking water. Lack of access to drinking water hurts health, education, economic development, and other aspects of daily life.

Along with Wyden, the bill was introduced by U.S. Senators Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, and John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., alongside U.S. Representative Joe Neguse, D-Colo.

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An aerial view of a body of water.