Bennet, Padilla, Schatz, Wyden, Hickenlooper Lead Colleagues in Introducing Resolution Reaffirming Importance of Access to Clean Water for Tribal Communities

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) led Senate colleagues to reintroduce a resolution reaffirming the federal government’s responsibility to provide access to clean drinking water for Tribal communities. Further, the resolution calls on the Executive Branch to employ a “whole of government” approach to ensure access to reliable, clean drinking water to households on Federal Indian reservations, in Alaska Native villages, and in Native Hawaiian communities.

“Access to clean water is a fundamental human right — yet far too many Tribal communities are still forced to travel long distances for clean water,” said Bennet. “This resolution draws attention to that shameful reality, builds on our efforts to improve access for Tribes, and reasserts the federal government’s commitment to providing these communities with clean drinking water.”

“Every American should have clean water in their taps and reliable plumbing in their homes, but far too many Tribal communities in California and across the country lack access to dependable and affordable water,” said Padilla. “Inadequate water supply and aging water infrastructure threatens the public health, education, and economic development of Tribal communities, and we need a whole-of-government approach to address this crisis. I am proud to join my colleagues in fighting to improve access to reliable, clean drinking water for Tribal households.”

“Ensuring access to clean, reliable water is a vital part of the federal government’s trust responsibility to Native communities. While the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act made historic progress toward fulfilling Native communities’ water needs by clearing long-standing water and sanitation infrastructure funding backlogs, we have more work to do to protect water as a trust resource and ensure access for all Native communities,” said Schatz.

“Everyone deserves access to clean water - yet today many tribal communities across the country lack access to this vital natural resource,” said Wyden. “It’s time to reinvest and ramp up water infrastructure development in Oregon and nationwide to fully address inequalities in clean water access.”

“The lack of reliable access to clean drinking water so many Native communities face is an unacceptable deficiency,” said Hickenlooper. “It’s our trust and treaty responsibility to ensure Tribes have the basic infrastructure they need.”

“Ensuring that Native American Tribes have access to clean drinking water is an essential part of the federal government’s treaty and trust responsibility,” said Anne Castle, Co-founder, Initiative on Universal Access to Clean Water and Senior Fellow, Getches-Wilkinson Center, University of Colorado Law School. “Clean water is a basic ingredient for human existence and this resolution recognizes the need for specialized assistance to Tribes to ensure that the construction funding appropriated in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is effectively utilized.”

“The severe water insecurity experienced by Tribal communities reflects deep historic inequities and the federal government’s failure to provide permanent homelands, as promised in countless treaties and other acts,” said Heather Tanana, Visiting Professor of Law at the University of California-Irvine and Director of the initiative on Universal Access to Clean Water for Tribal Communities. “This resolution is an important step to remedying past harms and protecting Tribal futures.” 

Currently, the lack of access to clean drinking water is a significant barrier for many Native American communities. According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Native American households are 19 times more likely than white households to lack indoor plumbing. A report commissioned by the Colorado River Water and Tribes Initiative documents the different forms of lack of access to safe and reliable drinking water among tribes in the Colorado River Basin, together with some of the deficiencies in the federal programs designed to address this problem and recommendations for improvement. Lack of access to drinking water negatively impacts health, education, economic development, and other aspects of daily life. 

In 2021, Bennet introduced the Tribal Access to Clean Water Act to dramatically expand Tribal access to clean water by investing in water infrastructure. He successfully fought to include funding to improve Tribal access to clean water in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), consistent with his legislation. The BIL included $3.5 billion for the Indian Health Service Sanitation Facilities Construction program to address needs for tribal sanitation facilities and services, $1 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation to support legacy rural water supply projects, which will benefit tribes, and increased funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act State Revolving Funds. Bennet, Padilla, Wyden, and Hickenlooper reintroduced the Tribal Access to Clean Water Act earlier this year, which was revised to reflect the significant funding contained within BIL as well as the need to provide more technical assistance to implement the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding.

In addition to Bennet, Padilla, Schatz, Wyden, and Hickenlooper, this resolution is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Angus King (I-Maine), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.).

The text of the resolution is available HERE