Bennet, Tribal Leaders, Advocates Celebrate Investments in Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill to Improve Tribal Access to Clean Water

Improvements Mirror Bennet’s Legislation to Help Fulfill the Federal Government’s Trust Obligation to Support Tribal Communities

Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, Tribal leaders, and advocates celebrated funding signed into law as a part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) that will improve Tribal access to clean water. The provisions in the IIJA largely mirror the Tribal Access to Clean Water Act introduced by Bennet and U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

After President Joe Biden signed the IIJA into law last month, the Initiative on Universal Access to Clean Water for Tribal Communities released a report to help the administration, federal agencies, and Tribes rapidly deploy IIJA resources to the places they are needed most. 

“Clean water is a fundamental human right, but far too many Tribal communities and Alaska Native villages currently lack access to it,” said Bennet. “I’m glad critical funding to help fix this shameful disparity was signed into law as a part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — and I’m glad the Initiative on Universal Access to Clean Water for Tribal Communities released a roadmap to help guide the administration and agencies as these new funds are deployed. Every day, we must continue working to ensure all Tribal communities have access to safe, clean water.” 

"The IIJA is making an unprecedented investment in tribal water infrastructure, fully funding the Indian Health Service's water and sanitation program for the very first time," said Anne Castle of the Getches-Wilkinson Center at the University of Colorado Law School and co-leader of the initiative on Universal Access to Clean Water for Tribal Communities. "Senator Bennet's leadership in addressing this long-standing gap in tribal water infrastructure has been both critical and steadfast. Our new report recommends steps to make the most of these urgently needed funds."

"Our country's investment in infrastructure must be a priority including the funding necessary to provide access to basic clean water to Native American tribes” said Manuel Heart, Chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe of Colorado and of the Ten Tribes Partnership. "We appreciate Senator Bennet’s leadership on this issue with his Tribal Access to Clean Water Act and his efforts to help secure this funding in the infrastructure bill. This work is an essential element of the federal trust responsibility to sovereign tribal Nations and communities and a step toward a more racially just and equitable nation."

“This is a historic moment.  We are happy to see this large infusion of funding that will provide access to clean water for Tribes; the funding of Indian Health Service’s water and sanitation projects for water storage projects; and for rural water projects.  All of these projects will assist Indian Country.  We thank Senator Bennet for his leadership on these issues.” said Southern Ute Indian Tribe Chairman Melvin J. Baker. 

“I appreciate Senator Bennet’s leadership to help end the drinking water crisis in Indian Country.  The IIJA funding addressing water in Indian Country will create jobs and pave the path towards social and racial equity,” said Bidtah N. Becker, Associate Attorney, Navajo Tribal Utility Authority.

The IIJA provides $3.5 billion for the Indian Health Service (IHS) Sanitation Facilities Construction program, which is consistent with the $3.4 billion provided to IHS in the Tribal Access to Clean Water Act to address needs for tribal sanitation facilities and services. Also in line with the Tribal Access to Clean Water Act, the IIJA increases funding for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act State Revolving Funds (SRF). The IIJA also provides $1 billion in funding in line with the senators’ legislation for the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to support legacy rural water supply projects, which will benefit tribes.

Bennet continues to push for other provisions in the Tribal Access to Clean Water Act: 

  • Providing funding to assist tribes with operation and maintenance needs for water infrastructure through the Indian Health Service
  • Increasing funding for Native communities at USDA Rural Development, by providing $500 million for the Community Facilities Grant and Loan Program for Native communities, and ensuring that Native communities are eligible and treated equitably when considered for grants and loans.  
  • Improving funding for Tribal water projects by providing another $1 billion for a competitive grant program within the Bureau of Reclamation's Rural Water Supply authority for new Tribal clean water access projects

In March, Bennet led a group of his Democratic colleagues in introducing a resolution reaffirming the federal government’s responsibility to provide access to clean drinking water for Native American communities.