Senate hearing next week on Tribal access to clean water: it takes more than just a pile of money

The U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee is holding an important hearing Thursday on S. 2385, a bill to refine the tools needed to help Tribal communities gain access to something that most non-Indian communities in the western United States have long taken for granted: federally subsidized systems to deliver safe, clean drinking water to our homes.

Inkstain readers should find these numbers familiar:

  • 48 percent of households on Native American reservations don’t have the sort of basic plumbing we all mostly take for granted – piped (and clean!) water into our houses, sanitation systems to take away waste
  • Per the Universal Access to clean water for Tribal Communities project, “Native American homes are 19 times more likely than white households to lack indoor plumbing.”

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act allocated a lot of money to fix this stuff, but as is so often the case with large government investment efforts, there remain capacity issues associated with getting the money effectively spent. As the Universal Access folks explain:

While groundbreaking and long overdue, the funding now available for construction and repair of domestic water systems in Indian country is not a complete solution. Technical assistance is urgently needed to allow Tribes to plan and design the systems necessary to remedy the longstanding problem of lack of access to clean drinking water and bring those plans to the “shovel ready” stage where they can take advantage of available construction funding. In addition, Tribes need support to develop the managerial, financial, and regulatory capacity necessary for a fully functional and self-sustaining utility. Construction funding is not currently available to connect essential community facilities, like schools and clinics, to centralized water and sanitation, and this support is absolutely necessary to support a basic level of Tribal economic development. Finally, because Tribes cannot rely on the same types and volumes of revenue streams to support operation and maintenance of water systems, initial and temporary O&M assistance helps to ensure that the benefits of the historic investment in infrastructure are fully realized.

This is the sort of bill (there’s a companion on the House side) that makes a huge amount of sense, but could easily get sidetracked in the chaos of Congress. The ideal path is for the crucial vetting to happen in a process such as Thursday’s hearing, and then to attach it to one of those omnibus things that Congress uses these days to get non-controversial stuff done.

Clean water for Native communities should pretty clearly be non-controversial.


  1. Native Americans are like North American Palestinians. “One state” or “two states?” The trust funds were ripped off. The Koch brothers stole millions in oil. Etc. They are just now trying to make a plan to improve water and sanitation on the reservations. Shouldn’t this have been done decades ago?
    There is a group who have designed solar powered energy units with batteries for remote use on the reservations. I can see those combined with prefabricated bathrooms. Compost toilets. Gray water for irrigation. Urine for fertilizer. Water storage tanks filled by trucks. Electricity for phones, lights, pumps, television, water heating, cooking, refrigerators, etc.

  2. The current “chaos of Congress” that Rhea talks about will be fatal. Too much Democracy will be fatal. A divided America and uncertainty of purpose will certainly lead to our démise. We are surrounded by chaos that is irrigated by the Internet, Cell Phones, and the competition for military supremacy. Let us surrender now to those who threaten us and avoid war death and destruction and get on with life and leave tose depots with the problems we now face : infrastructure, health care, housing, unemployment, environmental degradation, climate change. It has been building for decades. The Navajos don’t have clean water. Come on. Another Band-Aid Bill. Lets cut to the chase. 40 years ago the Navajo Nation had a program in place to provide water to every Chapter House and Hogan. I was naively so impressed. Then I was hired to assist the Cental Tunisian Development Authority in bringing water to every small settlement of Tunisians. I suggested that they follow the Navajo Model. They sent the Director of the CTDA to New Mexico to New Mexico where I had arranged for him to visit with the Navajo Water Authority. I have a photo on my credenza of the Navajo Officials, Reda Fekhi, Jim Dunlap, Roger Barnes and myself. Fekhi was so impressed he returned to Tunnisa with the New Mexico Model on his lips. Well what has happened on the Res is the last 40 years to this program. NADA, HICH BIR SHEY, POTE, GAR NICHTS, NE RIEN. SHI CHIDDY B’TWHO ADIN. Giving the Navajo’s money for a water system is welfare for bureaucrats. What has happened to all of the oil and gas and uranium and coal revenue. They have had their drink at the Federal Trough already and failed. I am so disappointed.

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