December 22, 2020

Udall Champions Passage of Water Infrastructure Bill with Vital Provisions for Tribes


For Immediate Release

December 22, 2020

Contact: Ned Adriance

505.218.3378 | | @SenatorTomUdall 


Udall Champions Passage of Water Infrastructure Bill with Vital Provisions for Tribes


New provisions secured by Udall ensure Congress acts in partnership with Tribal leaders and Native communities to address environmental injustices and invest in critical Tribal water infrastructure projects


WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, secured provisions that reinforce the principles of Tribal sovereignty and self-determination in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), a bill that authorizes Army Corps of Engineers water projects nationwide. The bill passed Congress yesterday as part of the Fiscal Year 2021 funding package, and now heads to the president’s desk to be signed into law.


“Native communities have a deep understanding of how vital water resources are for preserving their way of life, but climate change and drought are threatening water supplies throughout the West. The Water Resources Development Act ensures we are making smart investments in Tribal water infrastructure that meet the needs of our changing climate,” said Udall, also the lead Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. “This bill includes new provisions to address Tribal traditional fishing rights in the Pacific Northwest, improve cost-sharing for Corps projects, and boost Corps Tribal partnership funding.


“Too often, marginalized communities – communities of color, low-income communities and Native communities – bear the consequences of environmental destruction at the hands of the rich and powerful,” Udall continued. “That’s why I am pleased that this bill will boost cleanup funding for toxic abandoned mines that threaten water supplies of Tribes and local communities across the country and includes new provisions to improve Tribal consultation for Army Corps water infrastructure projects. The president should sign this important bill and other critical legislation Congress passed yesterday without delay to secure these benefits for Native communities across the country.”


Tribal priorities in the Water Resources Development Act include:


Project Consultation: Requires the Corps to update its policies on environmental justice considerations and directs the Corps to promote meaningful involvement with minority communities, economically disadvantaged communities, and Indian Tribes in carrying out water resources development projects. The Corps must involve Indian Tribes on any Tribal lands near or adjacent to any water resources development project for the purposes of identifying lands of ancestral, cultural, or religious importance.


Cost Sharing Provisions for Territories and Indian Tribes: Adjusts for inflation the existing cost share eligibility ($200,000) for a water resources development project for a U.S. territory or Indian Tribe or Tribal organization. The $200,000 cap will now be increased on an annual basis.


Columbia River Treaty Fishing Access Sites: Requires the Corps to expedite the completion of feasibility study for construction of Tribal housing along the Columbia River to provide access to usual and accustomed fishing areas for the benefit of the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakima Indian Nation.


Abandoned and Inactive Noncoal Mine Restoration: This section increases the authorization level for the Corps’ Abandoned and Inactive Noncoal Mine Restoration program by an additional $10 million, for a total of $30 million. The program and its technical, planning, and design assistance benefits Federal, non-Federal, and Native American Tribes that have water quality problems caused by drainage and related activities of abandoned mines.


Tribal Partnership Program: Increases the per-project authorization level for the Corps’ Tribal Partnership Program by an additional $6 million, for a total of $18.5 million, a program which has helped fund several flood control and environmental restoration projects in partnership with Tribal Governments in New Mexico.


Congress typically passes WRDA every two years to authorize water resource projects across the nation for flood protection, navigation, ecosystem restoration, and more. The bill covers projects by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Bureau of Reclamation water projects and Tribal water settlements are typically handled in separate legislation.