Heinrich, Senate Democrats Urge Biden Administration To Prioritize New Water Infrastructure, Address Backlogs For Tribal Communities

The lawmakers are calling for plans to build new lines and connections to Tribal homes and communities in President Biden’s historic American Jobs Plan

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) is leading 10 Senate Democratic colleagues in a letter to President Joe Biden requesting that the administration include plans to focus on clean and reliable water and sanitation projects for Tribal communities that currently lack access to clean drinking water systems in the American Jobs Plan.

“While the necessity of repairing existing water infrastructure is undeniable, for many rural tribal communities the investment in new water and sanitation connections is vital,” the senators wrote. “We commend the inclusion of $600 million for Indian Health Service (IHS) related construction, leasing, and improvement projects in the American Rescue Plan. We urge you to include additional direct investments in new water and wastewater service lines for tribal communities through the IHS Sanitation Facilities Construction (SFC) account or other related programs in your economic plan.”

The senators added, “Focusing solely on repairing and replacing existing water lines fails to address the lack of any water and wastewater lines to homes in many tribal communities. We appreciate your attention to this request and hope that you will incorporate a much-needed infusion of federal assistance in new water and sanitation infrastructure for Tribal communities into your Build Back Better plan. We look forward to working with you to advance your plans for long-term economic growth.”

The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Angus King (I-Maine), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Ron Wyden (D-Wis.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). 

Read the full text of the letter below or by clicking here

Dear President Biden:

As we work together to further essential investments in infrastructure, we write in support of a heightened focus on clean and reliable water and sanitation for tribal communities in the Build Back Better plan. 

While the necessity of repairing existing water infrastructure is undeniable, for many rural tribal communities the investment in new water and sanitation connections is vital. We commend the inclusion of $600 million for Indian Health Service (IHS) related construction, leasing, and improvement projects in the American Rescue Plan. We urge you to include additional direct investments in new water and wastewater service lines for tribal communities through the IHS Sanitation Facilities Construction (SFC) account or other related programs in your economic plan.

According to the IHS’s 2019 Annual Report to Congress on Sanitation Deficiency Levels, 582,416 homes on tribal lands need sanitation facility improvements. On the Navajo Nation alone, roughly 30 percent of residents live without access to running water or adequate plumbing. The current backlog of feasible projects on the IHS Sanitation Deficiency Levels list is over $1.2 billion. Total, the IHS estimates that a $2.57 billion investment is necessary for all IHS and tribal sanitation sites to comply with all applicable water supply and control laws. The federal government has a trust responsibility to support access to clean and reliable water systems for tribal communities. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has only emphasized the need for an increased federal investment in tribal public health infrastructure.

Tribal communities have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in part due to the inability to meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) sanitation and hygiene recommendations. CDC supported research displays that populations with a lower proportion of homes with water service present higher hospitalization rates for respiratory related infections and viruses. Recent studies regarding COVID-19 infections among tribal communities display that cases were upwards of 10 times more likely in homes without indoor plumbing. Providing a robust investment in tribal water and sanitation infrastructure is necessary to protect these populations now and in the future. We encourage your administration to build on your commitment to investing in the health and safety of Tribal communities.

Focusing solely on repairing and replacing existing water lines fails to address the lack of any water and wastewater lines to homes in many tribal communities. We appreciate your attention to this request and hope that you will incorporate a much-needed infusion of federal assistance in new water and sanitation infrastructure for Tribal communities into your Build Back Better plan. We look forward to working with you to advance your plans for long-term economic growth. 

Sincerely,