HotSpots H2O: Water Outages Return to Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon as Covid-19 Cases Surge

Warm Springs Reservation, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Another Believer, Wikimedia Commons.

Nearly 2,000 people on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation in central Oregon have been ordered to boil their water for the last several weeks due to a broken pipe that decreased water pressure for a substantial portion of the reservation.

Some residents do not even have water to boil. Nearly one hundred people’s taps are completely dry, Oregon Live reports.

Similar pipe bursts have happened on the reservation for the last three summers. When a section on the main line ruptured in May 2019, a boil water notice was active for over three months

The difference now is the pandemic. Nearly 3 percent of the reservation’s population has been infected with Covid-19, a rate 16 times the state average.

“When you can’t practice sanitation, then we’re in trouble,” Danny Martinez, the Tribal Emergency Manager, told Oregon Live.

Last Tuesday, the Oregon government approved $3.6 million for emergency repairs to the water system. This amount is less than half of the $7.8 million that was earmarked for the reservation last year, but that funding was canceled earlier this month because of revenue problems linked to Covid-19, the Bend Bulletin reports. 

While they are steps in the right direction, these emergency funds barely scratch the surface of the estimated $200 million that is needed for a complete overhaul of the water system. 

A solution is desperately needed. “Everything is affected by lack of water,” said Martinez during last year’s water crisis, from fire hydrants to “the sprinkler system, the cooling systems, air-conditioning systems, the restrooms, the toilets.” 

Even with the emergency funding, pipe repairs could take weeks. This leaves people without access to clean water for hand washing, the “single most important thing anyone can do to be healthy,” Melissa Sutton, a senior health advisor at the Oregon Health Authority, told Oregon Live.

Some small-scale relief efforts are underway. Residents are distributing clean drinking water and hand sanitizer. A local social justice organization, MRG Foundation, has been soliciting donations for water infrastructure in Warm Springs. Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs granted funding for two mobile shower trailers and wash stations. 

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