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Hickenlooper, Bennet, Heinrich, Neguse Introduce Bill to Expand and Improve Access to Clean Water In Tribal Communities

Jul 19, 2023

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senators John Hickenlooper, Michael Bennet, and Martin Heinrich, alongside U.S. Representative Joe Neguse reintroduced legislation to dramatically expand Tribal access to clean water by investing in water infrastructure. This bill would increase funding through the Indian Health Service, United States Department of Agriculture, and the Bureau of Reclamation to support water infrastructure projects in Tribal communities and help provide clean water to the large number of Native American households who currently lack access.

“Too many Tribal families still don’t have access to clean water and reliable wastewater infrastructure. Our bill builds on clean water investments we secured for Tribes in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, makes sure Tribes can get their fair share in the rural grant process, and helps meet sanitation needs,” said Hickenlooper.

“Access to clean water is a fundamental human right — yet far too many Tribal communities in the 21st century are still forced to travel long distances for clean water,” said Bennet. “This legislation builds on our efforts to improve clean water access for Tribes in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and is another step toward ensuring that Americans in every community have access to safe, clean water.”

“Nearly a third of Native American households do not have access to clean and reliable water supplies. That is shameful and unacceptable,” said Heinrich. “We delivered historic federal investments to make real progress in connecting more Tribal communities to water and wastewater infrastructure. But we must do more.  This legislation will address the significant backlog of infrastructure projects that is standing in the way of delivering clean drinking water to Tribal communities.”

“The Tribal Access to Clean Water Act makes certain that clean drinking water is accessible by everyone, and will help address the lack of reliable, clean water in our Tribal communities. This bill emphasizes a whole-of-government approach and collaboration with Tribal governments to increase access to clean drinking water and ensure federal agencies have the resources necessary to complete water infrastructure projects,” said Neguse.

“We thank Senator Bennet for his continued leadership in ensuring that Native people have the same level of basic water service most Americans take for granted,” said Manuel Heart, Chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. “This bill’s recognition of the need for the support of an independent and functional Tribal utility to professionally manage water supply facilities is not only essential to realizing the benefit of investment in water infrastructure, but also a critical step toward increasing Tribal independence and governance capabilities.”

“For far too long, many American Indians and Alaska Natives have gone without a basic ingredient of life – access to a clean and safe drinking water supply,” said John Echohawk, Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Native American Rights Fund and member of the Pawnee Nation. “These are not isolated or regional deficiencies, but rather a nationwide disparity in the fundamental basic services available to Native Americans.  This bill will help to address gaps in current support for Tribal drinking water access and help to fulfill the Federal government’s trust responsibility to Native American Tribes.”

“While groundbreaking and long overdue, the funding now available for construction and repair of Tribal water systems is not a complete solution,” said Heather Tanana, co-leader of the initiative on Universal Access to Clean Water for Tribal Communities. “This legislation will remove barriers to implementation of federal programs and maximize our opportunity to provide Tribes with the access to clean and safe drinking water that is a component of the federally promised permanent, livable homeland.”

Currently, the lack of access to clean drinking water is a significant barrier for many Native American communities. According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Native American households are 19 times more likely than white households to lack indoor plumbing. 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 negatively impacts health, education, economic development, and other aspects of daily life. 

In addition to Hickenlooper, Bennet, and Heinrich, this legislation is also cosponsored by U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Ron Wyden, Angus King, Alex Padilla, and Bernie Sanders.

The text of the bill is available HERE. A summary of the bill is available HERE.


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