Manataba Messenger

Page 2 C O L O R A D O R I V E R I N D I A N T R I B E S W A T E R CONTINUED FROM COVER WRRC Annual Conference 2020, Water at the Crossroads: The Next 40 Years CHAIRMAN PATCH’S REMARKS The Colorado River Indian Tribes are working to help our- selves with our water development, as are many other tribes. We have worked hard to understand the value of our water. Through this process, we realized that water users in this State need our water. That is why we have been participating in DCP and other River programs. This raises money for us to use to improve our lives and our irrigation project, while at the same time helping to save the life of the Colorado River and its continued availability for all of us. The irrigation project on our Reservation is a federal irri- gation project owned by the United States. It is not held in trust for our benefit but is a federally owned piece of infra- structure. It is operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 2006, the Government Accountability Office identified over $134 million dollars of backlogged deferred mainte- nance for this irrigation project. Put more directly, ignored maintenance. Even with this backlog, we still had to fight with the BIA to begin slowly raising the O&M rate from one of the lowest in the country. We have to fight to get basic safety features installed like guardrails and ladders for the ditch riders. We have put together a major study on our irrigation sys- tem that pointed this out and many other deficiencies in our irrigation system that have been ignored. We have given this study to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the State of Arizona, and the Department of the Interior and have spent years talking about these problems. The BIA does not collect enough in O&M and then doesn’t spend the O&M they do collect. But when CRIT tries to spend our own money to keep the system from falling apart, the BIA puts roadblocks up to prevent us from being able to improve water deliveries and avoid cata- strophic failures. Let me repeat that point. They build roadblocks to prevent us from spending our own money to improve the BIA operated federal asset. In 2016 Congress addressed Indian Irrigation Projects in the WIIN Act recognizing the needs of BIA Irrigation Projects and authorized funding for improvements but did not appropriate any money at that time. I provided testimony about the deferred maintenance at CRIT in 2017 as part of a consultation process on how to spend any money that might be appropriated. In 2019 Congress made its first appropriation of $10 million dollars to be shared among all Indian Irrigation Projects. The BIA is scheduled to receive $411,000 dollars from the WIIN Act for the CRIT Project. Even this small amount of money is causing pro blems because we think it should be spent on the highest priority items to keep the project opera- tional and the BIA disagrees. Four years after saying we need $134 million dollars the Project is receiving $411,000 and the list of deferred maintenance gets longer. We keep going backwards. Nothing improves and the money never gets to the places it needs to go. Let’s look at drinking water and wastewater treatment on reservations. The Indian Health Service is charged by federal law to provide safe drinking water systems and wastewater treatment on our reservations. We do not have compre- hensive taxing authority, nor are we able to get bonds to build or improve infrastructure the same way cities, counties and private water providers can. We know the problems in Indian Country—we have been studied to death. Especially now, the Coronavirus pandemic has exposed to everyone the needs of Indian country in a very sad and public way. Our needs are urgent, and they are not getting fixed. There is always a few hundred thousand dollars of federal funds for a study but little change. We, all of us in this country, must change the way we do things because we have talked enough. The studies do not get us clean water nor do they improve our infrastructure. Here are some facts about the infrastructure the Indian Health Service is charged with providing. • A minimum of 130,000 homes on reservations lack water and wastewater infrastructure. Given the short- age of homes on reservations and the number of people across several generations who share one home, this could be as many as 500,000 people. o In 2016, Indian Health Service estimated the cost to address all tribal drinking water and wastewater infra- structure deficiencies to be in excess of $3.2 billion. o In 2016, the most recent year for information, IHS and all other federal agencies combined provided $370 million in funding. ▪ This represents about 11% of the funding identified by IHS in 2016 as needed ▪ The projects that receive funding are often not the projects presenting the most significant health risks • The project rating system used by IHS and EPA dis- courages projects that have a relatively high cost per home o Tribes received direct funding from the Treasury for the COVID response. This was a positive development. But, we are told we cannot use this money for water or wastewater improvements---even when it is known that this is one reason for our high rates of infection on our reservations. • When the pandemic hit the Navajo Reservation, and as it hits the rest of our homelands, we face the added threat of racism. This includes social media threats to shoot the Indians and individual abuse from people who should be our neighbors. I am frustrated that these problems are lasting genera- tions without anyone seeming to care. The nation should wake up and realize its time to deal with all people of every race and gender to work together for a better tomorrow, to heal our differences and to heal mother earth and recognize that there is global warm- ing so that we can convert to alternative green energy so that future generations can see the blue skies all around the world, see the Himalayan mountains and see the native species coming back. Many positive things have been said about the tribal participation in the DCP by CRIT and Gila River. CRIT was happy to help and would do so again. The funding we are receiving from the DCP System Conservation Agreement with the State is keeping our government going while our other enterprises have been closed. But we know that we had this opportunity because we have the rights to water that others want to use. This time, through the DCP, we are getting paid for our resources. This is a big step forward from the historical taking of our land, our gold, and our water, always leaving us with less. As for a crossroads—Yes, we are at a crossroads. Will there be real change for the lives of Indigenous People or more study, more blame, and more death. We will soon learn that answer. What are the road signs to know if this time in our his- tory will bring a different result? Some of the road signs pointing to a different future will be: • If reservation lands are included in federal programs for infrastructure funding or will the money go to States? • If IHS receives funding—will it be spent quickly and effectively for real water and wastewater and medical care improvements for our people? • Will the discussions about future water needs with tribal elected leaders be discussions about the future water needs of the Tribes or will they remain focused on how much others need to use our tribal water? Tribes have 20 percent of the Lower and Upper Basin water, so how could we not be a part those discussions and solutions? We strive to have that recognized by the larger stakeholders and all Federal and State entities. This is an unprecedented time in our history. We are hoping for a better water future and a better overall future for all of us and our country. I hope that my voice is heard here today as it represents many voices across our state. If not my voice, I hope that someone’s voice is heard to address these problems. It is always important that we work together for the benefit of all. Thank you for your time and this opportunity to talk with you today.