Senators Introduce Tribal Water Infrastructure Act to Rebuild Old Systems

(UC) — Oregon’s two U.S. senators have introduced legislation to rebuild outdated water infrastructure systems for tribal communities in Oregon.

The Western Tribal Water Infrastructure Act, introduced by Democrat senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, could directly benefit communities such as the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, which suffered multiple water failures this year.


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

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.

In the case of Warm Springs, most of the water infrastructure was installed by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs in the 1950s, but was not monitored and maintained over the years.  The infrastructure reached a critical state as an economic downturn prevented spending on upgrades, leaders said.

Wyden and Merkley’s Western Tribal Water Infrastructure Act is intended to 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.

“Access to clean and safe drinking water is a basic human right, and yet, federal resources to help tribal governments in Oregon to fix damaged water systems are woefully lacking,” Wyden said. “The federal government must step up and do more to support these communities working to make permanent fixes and ensure water security needed for their long-term health and quality of life.”

“As the crisis on the Warm Springs Reservation illustrated, Native American communities in Oregon are facing serious water infrastructure challenges,” said Merkley. “We need to invest in replacing outdated pipe systems, to help ensure that tribal nations have reliable access to safe drinking water for years to come. This legislation provides a pathway to making those infrastructure upgrades happen, and I’m urging my colleagues to join us in fighting to get it across the finish line and signed into law.” 


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

The legislation builds on steps taken by Congress to address the water crisis facing tribes. Most recently in the 2018 Water Resources and Development Act, Congress established the $20 million Indian Reservation Drinking Water Program for tribes located in the Upper Missouri River Basin and the Upper Rio Grande Basin.

According to its sponsors, the Tribal Water Infrastructure Act 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 $30 million per year.

From Archive


{{ error }}
{{ comment.comment.Name }} • {{ comment.timeAgo }}
{{ comment.comment.Text }}