For the first time in over two months, residents of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation can safely drink water from their taps without having to boil it first.
The Tribal Council of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs lifted a notice to boil water — initially issued May 30 — at 4:10 p.m. Wednesday, according to a statement from Alyssa Macy, chief operations officer for the tribes. A broken water main, coupled with a failing pump system, left the community without a supply of clean drinking water.
The boil water notice put a spotlight on the numerous and long-standing infrastructure problems at Warm Springs, one of the poorest and most neglected communities in Oregon. Residents this summer have been using bottled water trucked in from other cities and bathing in portable showers, scenes that usually play out in developing countries.
Work done over the past 10 weeks included repair on a Shitike Creek water main crossing and replacement of pressure reducing valves at five stations throughout the Warm Springs water distribution system, according to Macy. Two more stations are expected to be repaired in the coming months.
Two rounds of testing were done and the water was free of E. coli. The Environmental Protection Agency was advised of the results. Community members were alerted through social media and the local radio station KWSO.
Warm Springs residents have endured four notices to boil drinking water this year, although the last was by far the longest.
The water crisis impacted everything from private homes and businesses to schools and medical clinics. Among the affected was the Indian Head Casino, which closed its restaurant temporarily after the notice went into effect.
The casino remained open but did see a dip in attendance, particularly from Portland clients.
“The majority of the decline was from our outer markets because the situation was misrepresented in the media,” said Belinda Chavez, the casino’s director of marketing. “Mostly, the Portland coverage was inaccurate, and that had an effect on the casino. Hopefully, that turns around now.”
Chavez said many employees at the casino who reside on the reservation had suffered this summer due to the lack of potable water.
“Everyone that had to deal with that will be greatly relieved,” she said.
Others considered this week’s news as just one small step toward resolving a number of other infrastructure challenges, including aging wastewater treatment and solid waste disposal systems. The Warm Springs Tribal Council has for years tangled with the Bureau of Indian Affairs about who is responsible to pay for the chronic problems.
“This is a chronic issue so there isn’t a lot celebration yet,” said Carina Miller, a former Tribal Council member. “People are wondering who is responsible for all of this.”
—Reporter: 541-617-7818, email@example.com