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Southern Ute, Ute Mountain tribes to receive funding for water, sanitation improvements

Money will go toward 7 projects this year
A sign marks the northern border of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s reservation along Colorado Highway 172 south of Elmores Corner. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute Indian tribes will receive a portion of $3.5 billion in federal funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for the Indian Health Service’s Sanitation Facilities Construction Program, Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper announced earlier this month.

The money will go toward seven projects this year for the two tribes and will help ensure access to clean water on tribal lands. According to a report from the Water and Tribes Initiative from 2021, Native American households are more likely to lack piped water services than any other racial group. Additionally, the cost of hauled water is at least 71 times more expensive than piped water.

“Everyone deserves access to clean water, but too many Tribal communities still lack it,” Hickenlooper said in the news release. “This funding from our Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill will help the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Tribes improve their water infrastructure and ensure every family can drink clean water.”

The $3.5 billion from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law mirrors provisions from the Tribal Access to Clean Water Act, which would provide $3.4 billion for the Indian Health Service to make improvements to tribal sanitation facilities and services.

The money will be used to provide services such as water wells and on-site wastewater disposal systems. The Sanitation Facilities Construction Program provides assistance to American Indian and Alaska Native communities to aid in developing and building safe drinking water, wastewater and solid waste systems and support facilities. Having proper sanitation facilities helps improve overall health outcomes all around, especially for respiratory, skin and soft tissue, and gastroenteric disease, Bennet and Hickenlooper said.

In addition to sanitation improvements, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will provide $1 billion in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act State Revolving Funds.

Previous projects funded through the Sanitation Facilities Construction Program include sewer main improvements for the Southern Ute tribe as well as cast-iron water pipe replacements. Funding for sanitation and water improvements can go toward services such as water wells and on-site wastewater disposal systems, for example. Having access to infrastructure such as water wells is important because if a family on a reservation does not use well water, they have to haul water to fill a cistern in order to have flowing water in their home.

“This critical funding for the Indian Health Service will help ensure access to clean water and sanitation for hundreds of families across the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Tribes,” Bennet said. “This is a major step forward to fulfill our government’s obligation to Tribal communities.”

Nina Heller is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at nheller@durangoherald.com.

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