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Bill To Boost Water Quality And Access For Tribes May Advance Soon

Ryk Porras

Recurring shortages of clean, safe drinking water in Native American communities – including Warm Springs - have fired up advocates who say more needs to be done to protect tribes.  A bill intended to improve water infrastructure across “Indian Country” may see some progress by the end of  the month.

Late last year, U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon introduced the Western Tribal Water Infrastructure Act. If passed, it would increase annual funding for drinking water systems from $20 million to $30 million.  It’d also authorize the EPA to invest in more tribal water projects across Oregon, including basins along the Columbia River.

Wyden said come July 29, he expects the bill to enter the “markup” phase, where full consideration would be given prior to advancing it out of committee.

“People expect in America that they can get clean drinking water for their children, that that actually becomes a reality on the reservation," Wyden told KLCC.  "It’s what our bill’s all about, and we’re gonna get it done.”

The full Senate may also take up Wyden’s language to expand the Indian Reservation Drinking Water program. Wyden said action is more essential than ever, as Warm Springs residents are contending now with COVID-19.

Today (7/21), Senators Wyden and Merkley announced the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs will receive a $269,000 federal grant to repair its main water line. Wyden says this is only one piece of a bigger puzzle as he pushes to pass the Western Tribal Infrastructure Act.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.

Brian Bull is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Oregon, and remains a contributor to the KLCC news department. He began working with KLCC in June 2016.   In his 27+ years as a public media journalist, he's worked at NPR, Twin Cities Public Television, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Wisconsin Public Radio, and ideastream in Cleveland. His reporting has netted dozens of accolades, including four national Edward R. Murrow Awards (22 regional),  the Ohio Associated Press' Best Reporter Award, Best Radio Reporter from  the Native American Journalists Association, and the PRNDI/NEFE Award for Excellence in Consumer Finance Reporting.