May 12, 2022

Neguse, Moore, Blumenauer, LaMalfa Unveil Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Expand Tribal Access to Clean Water

The bill will be considered in a hearing the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife this afternoon. Watch here. 

Washington D.C.— Today, the bipartisan Tribal Access to Clean Water Act, introduced by Congressman Joe Neguse, Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI), Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) will be considered by members of the House Natural Resources Committee. Introduced last week, the bill addresses the significant underinvestment in water infrastructure projects on Tribal lands by increasing funding to the Indian Health Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and United States Department of Agriculture. The Act is led by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) in the U.S. Senate.

The Tribal Access to Clean Water Act will be included in today’s Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife hearing on legislation relating to tribal water access. 

“In the midst of a pandemic that has disproportionately harmed Native Americans, it is crucial that the Federal government reaffirm its commitment to providing access to reliable, clean drinking water in Tribal communities,” said Congressman Joe Neguse, Chair of the U.S. House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. “Our bill, the Tribal Access to Clean Water Act, emphasizes a whole-of-government approach, and collaboration with Tribal governments, to make sure clean drinking water is attainable and that federal agencies have the resources they need to complete water infrastructure projects. I look forward to working with Native American leaders to ensure the protection and reliability of this basic resource.”

“Clean water is a fundamental human right," said Senator Bennet. "But right now, the reality is that far too many Tribal communities and Alaska Native villages still lack access. Our legislation would build on the investments we fought to include in the bipartisan infrastructure law to help reduce this shameful disparity and ensure that all Tribal communities, regardless of where they live, have access to safe, clean water.”

“Clean drinking water is an essential right that should be afforded to all communities. But in too many Native American communities, many lack plumbing and running water, creating an environmental and health hazard for residents. This bipartisan legislation will invest in water infrastructure on tribal lands and help secure clean drinking water for Indian Country.” said Congresswoman Gwen Moore. 

“As Chair of the International Water and Sanitation Caucus, I have been a longtime advocate for water, sanitation and hygiene priorities. Nearly 2 million people, the majority of whom are Native American, still live without access to basic indoor plumbing and safe drinking water in the United States today. That is unacceptable. Access to clean, safe drinking water and sanitation is not only essential in the prevention of unnecessary disease and death, it is a basic human right. The Tribal Access to Clean Water Act will help ensure that the federal government is affirming tribal communities’ right to clean drinking water and safe water infrastructure projects.” said Congressman Blumenauer.

“Decades of neglect have compounded and led to the crumbling of critical water facilities in Indian Country. Current funding and programs for construction of water infrastructure on tribal land hasn’t been enough to prevent nearly half of all Native American households from having the basic drinking water or sanitation service they need. Ultimately, the federal government should fulfill their treaty obligations and assist in service repair operations and management. I’m pleased to co-lead this bipartisan measure which will expand clean water supply in tribal land throughout our country.” said Congressman Doug LaMalfa. 

"This bill recognizes the pressing need in Indian Country for the support of the necessary human resources to realize the full benefit of the investment in Tribal water infrastructure provided in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act," said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. "Technical support and operation and maintenance assistance are critical components of a successful effort to remedy the lack of access to clean and safe water in Tribal communities, including the Navajo Nation where as much as 40% of our people live without running water." 

“Representative Neguse and the co-sponsors of this bill are demonstrating through this historic legislation their commitment to achieving nationwide and complete access to safe drinking water for Native Americans,” said Anne Castle, co-leader of an initiative on Universal Access to Clean Water.  “This bill will complement the infrastructure funding newly made available and ensure that clean water projects are optimally designed for the communities and appropriately operated and maintained for long term benefit.” 

Other bills up for consideration include Rep. Stansbury’s bill to increase water conservation and efficiency grants (H.R. 6238), Rep. O’Halleran’s bills to amend the White Mountain Apache Tribe Water Rights Quantification Act of 2010 (H.R. 5880) and to authorize construction of a water project relating to the water rights of the Hualapai tribe (H.R. 7633). 

Witnesses include: The Honorable Jonathan Nez, President of Navajo Nation; Dr. David Raff, Chief Engineer at the Bureau of Reclamation; The Honorable Dr. Damon R. Clarke, Chairman of the Hualapai Tribe; The Honorable Kasey Velasquez, Chairman of the White Mountain Apache Tribe; Sandy L. Kerl, General Manager of the San Diego County Water Authority; Matt Lutz, Sheriff, Muskingum County, Ohio. 

The Tribal Access to Clean Water Act is led by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) in the Senate. The Act is supported by a broad coalition of stakeholders including the Chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe of Colorado and of the Ten Tribes Partnership, the President of the Navajo Nation, the Initiative for Universal Access to Clean Water for Native Americans, the Colorado River Water and Tribes Initiative, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), and the Upper Colorado River Basin Tribes. 

Read the bill text HERE.

Read letters of support from NCAI HERE, and the Upper Colorado River Basin Tribes HERE. 

Background:

The lack of access to clean drinking water is a significant barrier for many Native American communities. According to data from the Indian Health Service, nearly half of Native American households do not have access to reliable water sources and clean drinking water. A report commissioned by the Colorado River Water and Tribes Initiative documents the different forms of lack of access to safe and reliable drinking water among tribes in the Colorado River Basin, together with some of the deficiencies in the federal programs designed to address this problem and recommendations for improvement. Lack of access to drinking water has significant impacts on health, education, economic development, and other aspects of daily life.

As Chair of the U.S. House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Congressman Neguse has led his colleagues in advocating for increased Tribal sovereignty and respecting the government to government relationship that exists with Tribes. In April 2021, Congressman Neguse introduced a resolution reaffirming the federal government’s responsibility to provide access to clean drinking water for Native American communities. He also unveiled his plan for “Restoring Our Lands and Communities” last March, a public lands agenda that will guide the Subcommittee’s work and put local communities at the forefront in restoring our parks, forests and public lands and tackling western wildfires. 

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