On the reservation of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs in Central Oregon, it’s wildfire season. As of August 25, two fires were burning. Fortunately, firefighters have been able to bring in air support to help put out the fires, because on the ground, 60% of the reservation is dealing with low water pressure, due to breaks and other failures in the water lines that carry water throughout the reservation, to homes as well as hydrants. And the water problems go beyond pressure. Pipeline breaks and water quality problems at the treatment plant have resulted in a third summer of boil water requirements and bottled water distribution centers for residents and businesses.
At the same time, the reservation has been hit hard by COVID-19, with hundreds of cases and multiple deaths, out of a total population of less than 4,000. The Warm Springs infection rate is some sixteen times the average for white Oregonians. Clean water and sanitation are critical for dealing with the pandemic, and the reservation’s water problems make the situation just that much more dire.
However, there is finally some good news – both federal and state legislators have recognized the urgent need and have provided some crucial funding. The state Emergency Board unanimously approved $3.58 million to jump-start emergency repairs, and Oregon Senators Wyden and Merkley were able to break loose a $269 million federal grant to help with infrastructure repairs.
In the hot days of summer, with fires and COVID burning through the reservation, the help can’t come soon enough.