Access to clean water is a human right. It is hard to imagine the tap not working, especially during a pandemic. Yet thousands of people at the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Indian Reservation are living without safe drinking and washing water.
The combined pressures of climate change, population growth and aging public infrastructure has placed increased strains on publicly owned and operated water systems across the Pacific Northwest. The community of Warm Springs is now facing one of most dire water emergencies our region has seen in recent history.
The people of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs — the largest reservation in the state of Oregon — are now in the second year of a devastating water crisis due to a series of pressure breaks in key community water lines. More than 60 percent of Warm Springs residents currently do not have regular, consistent access to clean water — preventing many families from regularly showering, doing laundry, or providing adequate water for livestock or crops. We should be yelling across the mountains and valleys that this is a crisis, because it is. And as a community, we are not doing enough.
Columbia Riverkeeper has joined a coalition of conservation groups to champion the existing innovative work by the Warm Springs Community Action team, Tribal leaders, and the MRG Foundation in the creation of The Chúush Fund — an inventive financing tool allowing public and institutional funders to directly assist in confronting this crisis.
We aim to build upon that work by mobilizing efforts to support the original stewards of our land. Immediate collective action is needed. An estimated $200 million is needed for repairs requiring multi-sector support from local, state, and federal levels to help return reliable and safe water access to the people of Warm Springs.
Our goals are two-fold: Strengthen available financial resources to meet immediate, emergency health needs and advocate for policy solutions needed to help the people of Warm Springs restore their access and infrastructure for clean water.
Access to clean drinking water is essential to healthy, vibrant communities. It’s a basic human right that — as this illustrates — is not enjoyed equally across the Pacific Northwest. All have a responsibility and role to play in helping the people of Warm Springs restore clean and stable water to their community.
You can donate to help solve this crisis and provide much-needed supplies and relief at www.mrgfoundation.org/the-chuush-fund.
Brett VandenHeuvel is executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper.