Interior Department launches collaborative initiative to boost tribal water, sanitation infrastructure

(UI) — The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Reclamation and Indian Health Service (IHS) unveiled a collaborative initiative aimed at bolstering safe drinking water and community sanitation infrastructure projects across Indian Country.

This partnership was announced by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Michael Brain during the inaugural Clean Water Summit at the White House. Brain's announcement was accompanied by remarks from Indian Health Service Deputy Director Benjamin Smith and Yakama Nation Chairman Gerald Lewis. Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton also highlighted Reclamation's contributions to climate and drought resilience efforts in the Western region during a panel discussion at the event.

Under the newly established Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), the Bureau of Reclamation and the Indian Health Service will work in tandem to conduct studies, planning, and design activities essential for the development of domestic water infrastructure projects. The collaboration is intended to expedite the completion of such facilities within Tribal communities, aligning with President Biden's Executive Order 14112, which emphasizes interagency cooperation to facilitate Tribal access to resources.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Michael Brain underscored the significance of modern water infrastructure, emphasizing its role in promoting public health, economic growth, job creation, and climate change resilience. The MOU, coupled with the substantial resources allocated through President Biden's Investing in America agenda, represents a significant step toward ensuring essential water and sanitation infrastructure across Indian Country.

Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton echoed these sentiments, emphasizing Reclamation's commitment to leveraging funds from the Investing in America Agenda to address the needs of Tribal communities. She expressed Reclamation's readiness to collaborate with the Indian Health Service on potential projects, such as the identified pilot project on the Yakama Reservation in Washington State.

The Yakama Reservation project emerged following an IHS engineering investigation revealing elevated arsenic levels in the water system of the Georgeville community. The Yakama Nation and IHS agreed to construct a treatment system funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to mitigate arsenic contamination. The MOU empowers the Bureau of Reclamation to provide technical assistance for this and future projects, reinforcing the partnership's effectiveness in addressing critical infrastructure needs.

Indian Health Service Director Roselyn Tso emphasized the paramount importance of safe and reliable water systems for public health, acknowledging the enduring challenges faced by many Native American communities. Tso commended the Biden Administration's unprecedented investment in water and sanitation infrastructure in Indian Country, affirming that the MOU with the Bureau of Reclamation will expedite project completion and facilitate meaningful partnerships with Tribal nations.

In recent years, Reclamation has been actively engaged in the Federal Infrastructure Task Force to Improve Access to Safe Drinking Water and Basic Sanitation for Tribal Communities. With additional resources allocated through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, the Bureau has committed substantial funding to Tribal water infrastructure projects. Notably, the Bureau recently earmarked $320 million for Tribal domestic water supply initiatives, part of a broader $550 million allocation under the Inflation Reduction Act and President Biden's Justice40 Initiative.

President Biden's Investing in America agenda, recognized as the largest investment in climate resilience in U.S. history, is bolstering efforts to enhance water access and climate resilience in Tribal communities. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has allocated $250 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for repairing Tribal water infrastructure, including dams, irrigation systems, and water sanitation facilities.

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