Infrastructure Bill to Aid US Tribes with Water, Plumbing

For decades, Native Americans have felt neglected by the government. Many tribes have inadequate plumbing and some even lack indoor plumbing altogether and have to haul water to their homes for their basic needs. But after signing the infrastructure bill, President Biden announced funding to their communities. $3.5 billion is being allocated for the federal Indian Health Service, which provides health care to more than 2 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives, plus pots of money through other federal agencies for water projects.

According to AP News, tribal leaders say the funding, while welcome, won’t make up for decades of neglect from the U.S. government, which has a responsibility to tribes under treaties and other acts to ensure access to clean water. A list of sanitation deficiencies kept by the Indian Health Service has more than 1,500 projects, including wells, septic systems, water storage tanks and pipelines. Some projects would address water contamination from uranium or arsenic.

About 3,300 homes in more than 30 rural Alaska communities lack indoor plumbing, according to a 2020 report. On the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American reservation, about one-third of the 175,000 residents are without running water.

Residents in these places haul water for basic tasks such as washing and cooking, sometimes driving long distances to reach communal water stations. Instead of indoor bathrooms, many use outhouses or lined pails called “honey buckets” that they drag outside to empty. Some shower or do laundry at community sites known as “washeterias,” but the equipment can be unreliable and the fees expensive.

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