Briefs

Billions coming to help tribes access clean water

By: - November 17, 2021 6:05 am

A member of the Navajo Nation waits for his water tank to be filled on June 05, 2019 in Thoreau, New Mexico. (Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden yesterday will include full funding for efforts to provide clean water to tribal nations.

Over the next five years $3.5 billion will head to the Indian Health Services water and sanitation construction program to pay for tribal clean water projects.

On top of that, the infrastructure bill increases funding to the Environmental Protection Agency’s clean water programs, which will leave $868 million for tribes to build on or create better water treatment systems, along with training and technical assistance.

One proposal missing from the massive federal infrastructure package is the proposal by Rep. Melanie Stansbury for $200 million that would have fully funded the Rio Grande Pueblos Irrigations Improvement Project. The amendment was cut during negotiations in the House.

“Pueblo leaders in our district and beyond identified the need for long-overdue funding for Pueblo irrigation systems,” Stansbury said in a statement. Despite the funding being axed from the final bill Biden signed yesterday, there is still more than $440 million for tribal climate programs and $25 million for tribal drought projects. “We will keep working to secure funding in partnership with our Pueblo and tribal nations,” Stansbury said.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez praised the funding that will come to tribal communities.

“Safe drinking water is a basic human need, and the consequences of not having access to reliable potable water supplies are long-lasting and destructive,” he said.

“In the most powerful country in the world, as many as 40% of homes on the Navajo Nation lack this essential service that most Americans take for granted.”

– Jonathan Nez, Navajo Nation President

The money is welcome and just the first step in a list of solutions brought forth by the Tribal Clean Water Initiative, a group of advocates and tribal officials working on the priorities of a similar effort in the Colorado River basin.

The group is pushing the White House to create a better relationship with tribal government communities by listening and addressing their needs when it comes to water infrastructure.

Their premise is focused on what they call a “whole government” approach that outlines ways for the federal government to have better discussions with tribal governments to better understand their needs.

Heather Tanana is part of the research team with the water initiative and wrote the report that outlines direct goals for change. The full report can be viewed here.

Tanana said tribes being able to operate and maintain drinking water systems is a big part of self-determination.

“Ensuring clean drinking water for Native Americans is part of the unfinished business of our Republic,” she said.

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Most recently he covered Indigenous affairs with New Mexico In Depth. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.

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