Water

Water is sacred to many tribal nations and is vital to tribal subsistence, cultural practices, health and welfare, agricultural production, and economic development. Legal rights to water resources have been long contested by tribes, states, and localities. Water allocations to tribal lands first originated in the early 1800s through tribal treaty provisions, advancing through tribal water settlements and claims, and now water resources are closely monitored for quality and safety reasons. However, according to the 2007 Indian Health Service Sanitation Deficiency System Summary Report, over 13 percent of tribal homes lack basic access to safe drinking water and sanitation services, compared to less than one percent of homes nationwide.

Similar to other infrastructure needs, water delivery systems have been severely underdeveloped and funded in Indian Country. Funding for these systems has typically benefited states and localities surrounding tribal lands. Water projects on tribal lands that were authorized by Congress have typically been underfunded and go into disrepair due to a lack of technically trained tribal individuals to maintain these systems. Additionally, tribal governments and lands have not been included in the statutory language of the Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act, which provides the Department of Agriculture with the essential planning authority for conservation, protection, and enhancement of soil and water resources. To address disparities in water access for tribal communities, the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund both have 1.5 percent tribal set-asides. NCAI, and our partners, have advocated for at least 3 percent set-aside to meet tribal needs related to water infrastructure on tribal lands.

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