Drinking water out of a tap on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation has been a sometimes thing since early April, but improving the situation won’t happen overnight nor come cheap.
Part of the reservation first lost its drinking water in April, according to an article in Spilyay Tymoo, the tribes’ twice-monthly newspaper. Since then other problems have cropped up, including a burst pipe in May and issues at a water treatment plant.
Meanwhile, assigning responsibility for repairs and finding money to do them is no simple task. But, says Alyssa Macy, the tribes’ chief operating officer, neither the tribes, nor the Bureau of Indian Affairs nor the Indian Health Service has invested enough in the system to keep it operating well.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs has responsibility for the core area of the community of Warm Springs, Macy says. The system itself is old, and when the tribes took over responsibility for much of the water system, the core area was not included.
To make matters worse, the water treatment plant itself is near the end of its useful life, Macy says, and the Environmental Protection Agency is requiring that problems be taken care of. Too, pumping stations have problems of their own.
Unfortunately, finding the money to fix what’s broken and replace what cannot be fixed will be complicated. Neither the tribes nor the Bureau of Indian Affairs is particularly well heeled, and the same is true for the Indian Health Service. The latter is providing engineering work, however.
And, says Macy, Oregon’s congressional delegation expects to be asked to help. That’s good. It will take the delegation’s help to put together a package of aid that almost surely will cost millions. The state’s getting into the act, as well. Lawmakers earmarked nearly $8 million in lottery bonds for Warm Springs water and sewer projects.
For now, however, many residents are drinking bottled water and showering in portable shower trucks. It may not be pleasant, though Macy says it has pulled the reservation’s residents together.