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Biden-Harris Administration Supports Tribal Water and Sanitation Infrastructure

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Biden-Harris Administration Announces New Interagency Effort to Support Tribal Water and Sanitation Infrastructure

Washington — The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and Indian Health Service (IHS) today announced a new memorandum of understanding to further develop safe drinking water and community sanitation infrastructure projects across Indian Country. Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Michael Brain made the announcement at the White House’s first-ever Clean Water Summit, alongside Indian Health Service Deputy Director Benjamin Smith and Yakama Nation Chairman Gerald Lewis. Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton also spoke on a panel at the event to uplift Reclamation’s investments in climate and drought resilience across the West.

Through the memorandum of understanding, the agencies will collaborate to complete studies, planning, and design to be used in constructing domestic water infrastructure projects. The collaboration is aimed at accelerating the completion of such facilities in tribal communities. The MOU follows President Biden’s Executive Order 14112, which directs federal agencies to work together to remove barriers and streamline tribal access to resources.

This new interagency effort is a significant step towards addressing the long-standing water and sanitation infrastructure challenges faced by tribal communities across the United States. For far too long, many tribal communities have been plagued by inadequate access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation facilities, leading to serious health risks and a diminished quality of life. The Biden-Harris Administration recognizes the urgent need to address these issues and is committed to working with tribal leaders and communities to improve access to clean water and sanitation services.

The collaboration between the Bureau of Reclamation and Indian Health Service is a crucial aspect of this effort. By combining their expertise and resources, these agencies can effectively plan, design, and construct domestic water infrastructure projects that meet the specific needs of tribal communities. This collaborative approach will help expedite the completion of these projects, ensuring that tribal communities can access safe and reliable drinking water as quickly as possible.

Furthermore, the memorandum of understanding aligns with President Biden’s Executive Order 14112, which emphasizes the importance of interagency cooperation and removing barriers to tribal access to resources. By streamlining the process and eliminating unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles, the federal government can better support tribal communities in their efforts to improve water and sanitation infrastructure.

Overall, this new interagency effort marks a significant milestone in the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to addressing the water and sanitation infrastructure needs of tribal communities. By working together and leveraging the expertise of multiple agencies, the federal government can make substantial progress in ensuring that every tribal community has access to clean and safe drinking water. This is not only a matter of public health but also a crucial step towards achieving environmental justice and empowering tribal sovereignty.

Investing in water infrastructure is a critical step towards addressing the pressing needs of tribal communities. The Interior Department recognizes that modern water infrastructure is not only essential for the health and well-being of individuals and families but also plays a pivotal role in fostering economic opportunities, job creation, and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, Michael Brain, emphasizes the significance of this endeavor, stating, “Through this new agreement and the resources allocated from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, we are taking a significant stride towards ensuring essential water and sanitation infrastructure throughout Indian Country.” The commitment to providing adequate water infrastructure is a testament to the administration’s dedication to improving the quality of life for tribal communities.

Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton highlights the comprehensive approach adopted by the administration, leveraging funds from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda to further support tribal communities. The collaboration between the Indian Health Service (IHS) and the Bureau of Reclamation allows for the exploration of opportunities to implement projects that address water and sanitation needs.

One such project that has been identified as a potential pilot under this agreement is located on the Yakama Reservation in Washington State. The small community of Georgeville, within the reservation, was found to have high levels of arsenic in its water system through an IHS engineering investigation. In response, the Yakama Nation and IHS have agreed to construct a treatment system to remove arsenic from the water supply, utilizing funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Bureau of Reclamation and IHS allows for technical support to be provided for this project, as well as future initiatives. This collaboration ensures that the expertise and resources of both agencies are utilized effectively to address the water infrastructure needs of tribal communities.

By investing in water infrastructure, the government is not only addressing immediate health concerns but also laying the foundation for long-term sustainable development. Access to clean and safe water is a fundamental right, and this agreement signifies a step towards fulfilling that right for tribal communities across the country.

Improving Access to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation

“Having access to safe and reliable water systems is an essential matter of public health,” said Indian Health Service Director Roselyn Tso. “Unfortunately, far too many Native American communities are still awaiting these basic services. The Indian Health Service appreciates the Biden administration’s historic multi-billion-dollar investment in water and sanitation infrastructure in Indian Country. This agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation will accelerate the completion of these critical projects and reduce barriers for our tribal nations to partner with our agencies.”

In 2022, Reclamation joined the Federal Infrastructure Task Force to improve access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation to tribal communities. With new resources provided through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, the Bureau has committed significant funding towards tribal water infrastructure projects. Earlier this month, the Bureau made $320 million available for tribal domestic water supply projects, as part of an overall $550 million allocated through the Inflation Reduction Act and as part of President Biden’s Justice40 initiative for domestic water assistance for disadvantaged communities.

The Indian Health Service is currently in its third year of funding water and sanitation projects through a $3.5 billion investment from the Biden-Harris administration and today announced allocation decisions of $700 million in fiscal year 2024. President Biden’s Investing in America agenda represents the largest investment in climate resilience in the nation’s history and is providing much-needed resources to enhance western communities’ resilience to drought and climate change, including providing significant resources towards expanding access to clean water in tribal communities.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs has also dedicated $250 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law towards repairing tribal water infrastructure – including dams, irrigation, and water sanitation systems.

These investments are crucial in addressing the long-standing water and sanitation challenges faced by Native American communities. Access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation facilities is not only a basic human right but also plays a vital role in improving public health outcomes and reducing the risk of waterborne diseases. For too long, many tribal nations have been disproportionately affected by inadequate water infrastructure, leading to health disparities and economic burdens.

By allocating significant funding towards tribal water infrastructure projects, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Indian Health Service are taking a step towards rectifying this issue. The collaboration between these agencies and the Biden administration demonstrates a commitment to addressing the needs of Native American communities and ensuring that they have access to the same basic services as other parts of the country.

Moreover, the inclusion of tribal water infrastructure in President Biden’s Investing in America agenda and the allocation of resources through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law highlight the recognition of the unique challenges faced by tribal nations and the importance of investing in their long-term sustainability. These investments not only contribute to improving access to safe drinking water and sanitation but also promote economic development and environmental stewardship in tribal communities.

However, it is important to acknowledge that these investments alone are not enough to fully address the water and sanitation disparities in Native American communities. Sustainable solutions require ongoing collaboration, engagement, and empowerment of tribal nations in the decision-making processes related to water infrastructure projects. This includes ensuring that tribal governments have a voice in the planning, implementation, and management of these projects, as well as access to technical expertise and capacity-building support.

In conclusion, the multi-billion-dollar investment in water and sanitation infrastructure in Indian Country, coupled with the dedication of resources from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, represents a significant step forward in improving access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation for Native American communities. However, sustained efforts and continued collaboration are necessary to address the historical inequities and ensure that all tribal nations have access to the fundamental resources needed for the health and well-being of their communities.

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