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Watering Warm Springs 

Infrastructure bill would help address tribal water system inequalities

A press conference in Warm Springs laid out how the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would improve tribal water resources. Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley were joined by Assistant Secretary of the Interior Bryan Newland at the press conference Oct. 15.

"In the bipartisan infrastructure bill, we have $11 billion dedicated to tribal infrastructure across this country, and $3.5 billion of that is for water infrastructure," Merkley said. "That's really exciting to me, because it is really critical to the health and welfare of tribal communities to have good water infrastructure."

Senator Ron Wyden, Assistant Secretary to the Interior Bryan Newland and Senator Jeff Merkley held a press conference outside of the Warm Springs Administration Building on Friday, Oct. 15 to discuss water infrastructure on tribal lands. The first native American cabinet member, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, was scheduled to attend but had to leave for a family emergency. - JACK HARVEL
  • Jack Harvel
  • Senator Ron Wyden, Assistant Secretary to the Interior Bryan Newland and Senator Jeff Merkley held a press conference outside of the Warm Springs Administration Building on Friday, Oct. 15 to discuss water infrastructure on tribal lands. The first native American cabinet member, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, was scheduled to attend but had to leave for a family emergency.

Merkley said there were three projects at the top of the list: replacing Warm Springs' dry creek water treatment plant, repairing a collapsed sewer main and upgrading the Shitike Creek water main. For years Warm Springs has dealt with low water pressure and unclean drinking water.

"Every family deserves clean and potable and affordable drinking water, but tribal communities are too often left behind in that effort," Newland said. "Today's visit makes clear that we need to make investments in water storage, water delivery and water treatment infrastructure."

Wyden and Merkley also discussed the Western Tribal Water Act that both senators co-sponsored.

"It creates a $250 million fund at the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] to assist the tribes in paying for new and improved water systems, and this legislation will directly help Warm Springs with the new pipes and the pumping infrastructure to deliver plain clear drinking water to folks here," Wyden said.

The remaining infrastructure act funds will go to other needed infrastructure upgrades on tribal land.

"The rest of that $11 billion, it goes to things like rural broadband on reservations, and climate resilience, which many tribal leaders have been raising, and hazardous fuels," Merkley said. "Forest management, firefighting training and tribal transportation projects. So, there's a host there."

The Senate passed the infrastructure bill but it has stalled in the House due to Democratic Senators Kristen Sinema's and Joe Manchin's objections to the cost of the Build Back Better Act, which Democrats were hoping to pass along with the infrastructure bill.

"That has passed the Senate, that is now sitting in the House, and the house fully intends to pass it and send it to the President. They're holding on to it while they also try to get the Build Back Better bill, which is an investment in families." Merkley said. "And one of the things we heard from tribal leaders was investments in housing are needed. Well, that's in the Build Back Better bill. Also, the child tax credit that would lift half of American children out of poverty, and also the investment in daycare. Also, the investment in preschool and community college."

Though the funding is likely just around the corner, Warm Springs' top projects could take a long time to implement. While a downed sewer line could be built in months, a water treatment plant could take years to be functional.

"To do these projects you have to have an engineering analysis on the front end, for example, replacing the dry creek water treatment plant," Merkley said. "That will take years to actually get it done because of the advanced work that has to be done."

About The Author

Jack Harvel

Jack is originally from Kansas City, Missouri and has been making his way west since graduating from the University of Missouri, working a year and a half in Northeast Colorado before moving to Bend in the Spring of 2021. When not reporting he’s either playing folk songs (poorly) or grand strategy video games,...
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