Congress went on break last week but not before sending another pro-tribal bill to President Donald Trump.
, America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA), cleared its final hurdle on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. The 129-page package includes a number of provisions that will help tribes protect one of their most important resources.
“America’s Water Infrastructure Act will help facilitate critical water resources development projects in Indian Country," Sen. John Hoeven
(R-North Dakota), the chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs
, said in a press release
. "These projects include improving aging irrigation systems, enhancing dam safety and flood protections, and helping ensure access to clean drinking water.”
“These projects fulfill important treaty and trust obligations to Indian tribes,” said Hoeven.
The bill, also known as the Water Resources Development Act, enjoyed bipartisan support. It passed the Senate
by a vote of 99-1
last week and previously cleared the House
by a voice vote in September.
Blackfeet Nation Chairman Harry Barnes, left, joins Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in signing a water rights compact at the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., on June 12, 2018. Photo: U.S. DOI
"Water is life," Sen. Jon Tester
(D-Montana), another member of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said in a press release
touting a provision that benefits the Blackfeet Nation
In 2016, the tribe secured final approval of a water settlement with the state of Montana and the federal government
. The provision in America’s Water Infrastructure Act allows the tribe to tap into the $422 settlement fund in order to start work on key infrastructure projects as soon as possible.
S.3021 was presented to Trump for his signature
on Friday. Though it is not a strictly Indian bill, it marks the eighth pro-tribal measure that Congress has sent to the president since January 2017.
"I look forward to President Trump signing it into law soon," said Sen. Mike Rounds
(R-South Dakota), who cited provisions that will help tribes protect their water resources and address the costs of water studies and projects.
Among other provisions, the bill reauthorizes the Indian Irrigation Fund
through 2028 and the Indian Dam Safety Fund through 2030. It also increases funding levels for the Tribal Partnership Program
so that tribes can work more closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
on projects in their communities.
The bill also authorizes $20 million a year, from 2019 through 2022, for a new Indian Reservation Drinking Water Program at the Environmental Protection Agency
. The funding will enable tribes in the Upper Missouri River Basin and in the Upper Rio Grande Basin to improve drinking water systems and wastewater on their reservations.
"I’m particularly pleased that we were able to secure provisions that prioritize the water needs of rural, tribal, and low-income communities," Sen. Martin Heinrich
(D-New Mexico) said in a press release
The Lone Pine In-lieu Site is
one of 31 sites along the Columbia River where tribal members endure substandard
conditions. Photo from Columbia
River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission
Another provision benefits tribes with treaty rights along the Columbia River. It requires the Department of Interior
and the Army Corps to move forward on new housing projects for the Confederated Tribes of the
Umatilla Indian Reservation
, the Confederated Tribes of Warm
, the Nez
, and the Yakama Nation
"The tribal community – governments and citizens – have continued work on the creation of an intertribal housing authority in anticipation of a fully resumed housing collaboration," the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission
said in a statement on the bill
The tribes lost prime fishing, gathering and housing sites in Washington and Oregon to the construction of dams along the Columbia River between the 1930s through the 1970s. Although the federal government promised to build replacements, tribal citizens are still living in substandard conditions, with limited electricity and inadequate water supplies.
The 115th Congress
Since the start of the 115th Congress, lawmakers have sent seven tribal-specific bills to President Donald Trump. He has signed all of them into law:
the Indian Employment, Training and Related Services Consolidation Act. The new
law makes an Indian
Country job program permanent
. It was signed on December 18, 2017.
the Western Oregon Tribal Fairness Act. The new law helps the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of
, the Confederated Tribes of
Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians
and the Coquille Tribe
affecting their homelands. It was signed
on January 8, 2018
the Thomasina E. Jordan Indian Tribes of Virginia Federal Recognition Act. The
new law extends federal recognition to the Chickahominy Tribe
Chickahominy Tribe - Eastern
, the Monacan
, the Nansemond
, the Rappahannock Tribe
the Upper Mattaponi
. It was signed
on January 29
the Ashlynne Mike AMBER Alert in Indian Country Act. The new law makes tribes
eligible for AMBER Alert
grants for the first time. It was signed on April 13.
the Oregon Tribal Economic Development Act. The bill helps the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower
Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians
, the Confederated Tribes of the Grand
, the Confederated Tribes of
, the Confederated Tribes of Warm
and the Cow Creek Band
of Umpqua Tribe of Indians
improve their economies by resolving land and
leasing issues. It was signed on June 1.
a bill to help the White Mountain
with a critical drinking water project in Arizona and two
Pueblo tribes with economic development efforts in New Mexico. It was signed on
the Tribal Social Security Fairness Act. The new law authorizes the Social Security Administration
enter into government-to-government agreements with tribes so that tribal officials have the option of paying into and receiving Social Security benefits
-- a privilege already extended to state and local governments. It was signed on September 20
Lawmakers are in recess until the November 6 election. Once they return, they will have only several more weeks to take action on other Indian Country bills before the 115th session of Congress concludes at the end of the year.
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