Photos and Video from the Hearing Available HERE
Washington, D.C. — Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet championed his legislation to dramatically expand Tribal access to clean water during a U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing. In his remarks, Bennet called on the federal government to live up to its responsibility to care for the needs of Tribal communities, including to ensure they have access to clean drinking water. Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Chairman Manuel Heart testified in support of the legislation during the hearing.
“When the federal government established reservations for Native American Tribes, it promised a permanent and livable homeland for those it had displaced from their ancestral lands. When access to clean and safe water – a human right – is being denied, this promise clearly has been betrayed. This promise clearly has been denied,” said Bennet during the hearing. “With this bill, we have an opportunity to ensure more Native communities have access to clean water the same way every senator does and every senator’s family does.”
Currently, the lack of access to clean drinking water is a significant barrier for many Native American communities. The Tribal Access to Clean Water Act would increase funding through the Indian Health Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to support water infrastructure projects in Tribal communities and help provide clean water to the large number of Native American households that currently lack access.
“Access to clean water is a basic human right. It is essential for people to live with dignity and foundational for human health, growing economies, and a basic level of existence for communities. It is unacceptable that in the 21st Century, many Native Americans must travel for miles to collect water that is safe for drinking and everyday use. An estimated 48% of households on Indian reservations do not have access to reliable water sources, clean drinking water, or adequate sanitation,” said Heart.
Bennet introduced this bill in 2021 and 2023, and successfully fought to include funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to improve Tribal access to clean water in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Bennet’s full remarks as delivered are available below.
Today, only half of households on Native American reservations have clean water or adequate sanitation, and I know the Chairman knows these issues well. Tribal households are nearly 20 times more likely than white households to lack indoor plumbing.
Chairman Heart has told me that it is customary in the White Mesa community to bring bottled water as a greeting gift because water contamination remains a profound challenge. And Mr. Chair, the status quo is completely unacceptable to me, and it should be unacceptable to every member of the United States Senate.
No family in this country should have to raise their children without clean water. No member of a Tribe should have to accept circumstances none of us would accept for our own family. And this hardship is particularly egregious because it is a direct consequence of the federal government's failure to honor promises and treaties made to Tribes across this land.
I think that if any of us faced the challenges that the Tribal leaders are facing and that their membership is facing today, when it comes to clean water for their families and for their kids, none of us would stay here in Washington, D.C.. We would all go home to make sure that clean water was being provided. And that is why this leadership is here today.
A few years ago, we took steps to secure clean water for tribes in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including by providing Indian Health Service with $3.5 billion for their sanitation deficiency list and the Bureau of Reclamation with $1 billion for rural water supply projects.
But the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe and other Tribes have struggled to access this funding because their projects require planning and other pre-construction work before being considered ‘shovel ready’ by the government.
The Tribal Access to Clean Water Act addresses these challenges by authorizing critical technical assistance at the Indian Health Service, the Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Reclamation for Tribes to receive support for project planning and design, and take full advantage of bipartisan law funding.
This bill would help the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe replace 15 miles of 30-year-old iron waterlines which service the growing Towaoc community but regularly break. This bill is broadly supported across native communities, and I have brought letters of support from more than 20 members of the Clean Water for All Coalition, including the Navajo Nation, National Congress of American Indians, Vessel, and DigDeep.
And I’d ask unanimous consent that we enter these into the record.
Mr. Chair, thank you. And just to close, when the federal government established reservations for Native American Tribes, it promised a permanent and livable homeland for those it had displaced from their ancestral lands.
When access to clean and safe water – a human right – is being denied, this promise clearly has been betrayed. This promise clearly has been denied.
With this bill, we have an opportunity to ensure more Native communities have access to clean water the same way every senator does and every senator’s family does.
And I welcome the Committee’s feedback on how to improve this legislation so we can ensure Native Hawaiians, and Alaska Natives, and Tribes across this country can access Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds to guarantee reliable access to clean water.And I hope that once you’ve had the opportunity to look at this bill, it will earn a strong, bipartisan vote.