science environment

Oregon Senators Introduce Tribal Water Quality Bill

By Emily Cureton (OPB)
Bend, Ore. Dec. 13, 2019 6:15 p.m.

U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley introduced legislation this week to better fund water systems in tribal communities. The bill comes after thousands of people in Warm Springs spent the summer without safe tap water.

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

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Sunlight hits gallon jugs inside a classroom in a former school on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, Aug. 2, 2019.

Sunlight hits gallon jugs inside a classroom in a former school on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, Aug. 2, 2019.

Emily Cureton / OPB

In a press release, tribal leaders joined Oregon's democratic senators to champion the Western Tribal Water Infrastructure Act as a way to move past temporary and emergency fixes by ensuring stable federal investments. Tribal governments face unique challenges when funding big infrastructure projects, partly because they don't have a tax base to secure bonds.

The bill would increase annual funding for tribal drinking water systems by 50%, from about $20 million a year to $30 million. The legislation would also authorize the Environmental Protection Agency to fund more water projects on tribal lands within Oregon, specifically along the Columbia River and adjacent coastal river basins.

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

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