Bennet, Heinrich Introduce Bill to Expand and Improve Tribal Access to Clean Water

The Tribal Access to Clean Water Act Would Help Fulfill the Federal Government’s Trust Obligation to Support Tribal Communities

Denver – U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced a bill to dramatically expand tribal access to clean water by investing in water infrastructure. This bill would increase funding through Indian Health Service, Bureau of Reclamation, United States Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency to address the significant backlog of water infrastructure projects in tribal communities and provide clean water to the overwhelming number of Native American households who currently lack access.  

“Clean water is a fundamental necessity for every community, ” said Bennet. “The unacceptable reality is that many of our Tribal communities and Alaska Native villages still do not have access to clean drinking water. Our bill would take much-needed steps to reduce this disparity  to ensure that Tribal communities, regardless of where they live, have access to safe, clean water.”

“It is shameful that many Tribal communities, including in New Mexico, lack access to clean drinking water,” said Heinrich. “The federal government has a trust responsibility to invest in water infrastructure projects for Tribal communities that will finally deliver clean water to all families in Indian Country.”

"Our country's investment in infrastructure must at a minimum include the funding necessary to provide basic water service to Native Americans," said Manuel Heart, Chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe of Colorado and of the Ten Tribes Partnership. "The funding provided in this bill is an essential element of the federal trust responsibility to sovereign tribal Nations and communities and a step in the direction of a more racially just and equitable nation."

“I appreciate Senator Bennet’s leadership to help end the drinking water crisis in Indian Country.  Introduction of the Tribal Access to Clean Water Act of 2021 is the first step to ensuring that Native people across the United States have access to clean drinking water,” said Jonathan Nez, President of the Navajo Nation. “The proposed funding will address a water crisis, create jobs, and pave the path towards social and racial equity.”

"Alaska Natives and Native Americans are dying from COVID-19 at the highest rate of any racial or ethnic group in the United States, and research shows a connection between lack of access to clean drinking water and COVID-19 infections," said Anne Castle, co-leader of the initiative on Universal Access to Clean Water for Native Americans. "With this infrastructure funding, we have the opportunity to provide Indian country with the same basic water service taken for granted by most Americans."

"Providing access to clean water for American Indians and Alaska Natives has far-ranging benefits: it creates good-paying jobs, invests in future generations, and offers the chance to address long-standing and persistent injustice," said Daryl Vigil, co-facilitator of the Colorado River Water and Tribes Initiative. "Now is the time to make this investment."

Currently, the lack of access to clean drinking water is a significant barrier for many Native American communities. According to data from the Indian Health Service, nearly half of Native American households do not have access to reliable water sources and clean drinking water. 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 March, Bennet and Heinrich introduced a resolution reaffirming the federal government’s responsibility to provide access to clean drinking water for Native American communities. 

A one page summary is available HERE and a section-by-section breakdown is available HERE. The bill text is available HERE