WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs (SCIA) Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) delivered the following remarks at a committee legislative hearing to receive testimony on the following bills:
· S. 2205, the Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts Act of 2015, a bill to establish a grant program to assist tribal governments in establishing tribal healing to wellness courts, and for other purposes;
· S. 2421, a bill to provide for the conveyance of certain property to the Tanana Tribal Council located in Tanana, Alaska, and to the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation located in Dillingham, Alaska, and for other purposes;
· S. 2564, a bill to modernize prior legislation relating to Dine College;
· S. 2643, a bill to improve the implementation of the settlement agreement reached between the Pueblo de Cochiti of New Mexico and the Corps of Engineers, and for other purposes; and
· S. 2717, the Dam Repairs and Improvements for Tribes Act of 2016 (DRIFT Act), a bill to improve the safety and address the deferred maintenance needs of Indian dams to prevent flooding on Indian reservations, and for other purposes.
The hearing featured testimony from Mr. Michael S. Black, director for the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior; the Honorable Nicholas Garcia, governor of the Pueblo de Cochiti; the Honorable Paul W. Day, chief judge for the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe; Dr. Martin M. Ahumada, interim president of Dine College; and Ms. Julie Roberts-Hyslop, vice chair of the Tanana Tribal Council.
Click here for more information on the witnesses’ testimony and to watch video of the entire hearing.
Senator Barrasso’s remarks:
“Today we are going to examine five bills.
“All of these bills address specific concerns for American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
“On October 22, 2015, Senators Tester and Franken introduced S. 2205, the Tribal Healing to Wellness Courts Act of 2015. This bill would authorize grants for tribal healing to wellness courts to reduce recidivism among tribal members.
“On December 17, 2015, Senators Murkowski and Sullivan introduced S. 2421. This bill would direct the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to convey certain properties to the Tanana Tribal Council and the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation.
“Both properties described in S. 2421 will continue to be used to improve health care services in their respective tribal communities.
“On February 23, 2016, Senator Flake introduced S. 2564, along with Senators Heinrich, McCain, and Udall. This bill would authorize certain grants for capital improvements for the Dine College, located on the Navajo Reservation.
“On March 7, 2016 Senator Udall introduced S. 2643, the Pueblo de Cochiti Self-Governance Act. The bill, S. 2643, so amends the Cochiti Wetfields Settlement Agreement to authorize the transfer, operation and the maintenance responsibilities for the Cochiti Dam Drainage System from the federal government to the Pueblo.
“On March 17, 2016, Senator McCain and I introduced S. 2717, the Dam Repairs and Improvements for Tribes Act of 2016 also known as the DRIFT Act.
“This important piece of legislation would address the safety of dams and flood prevention needs across Indian Country.
“According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, there are 137 high-hazard dams in 42 reservations and over 700 low-hazard dams across the United States.
“The United States has a trust obligation to maintain and operate these dams and prevent what could be a future dam failure.
“Most of the high-hazard dams are in the Western United States, including two high-hazard dams on the Wind River Reservation in my home State of Wyoming – the Washakie and Ray Lake Dams.
“On average, these BIA dams are seventy to eighty years old. According to BIA officials, these dams have an estimated maintenance backlog of over $500 million in deferred maintenance needs.
“Current funding is not keeping up with the maintenance needs of these dams.
“The DRIFT Act would require the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, in consultation with the Secretary of the Army, to address the maintenance backlog of BIA dams by creating a High-Hazard Indian Dam Safety Deferred Maintenance Fund and a Low-Hazard Indian Dam Safety Deferred Maintenance Fund.
“The high-hazard fund would receive $22,750,000 each year for Fiscal Years 2017 through 2037. The low-hazard fund would receive $10,000,000 for the same time period.
“Neglecting the deferred maintenance needs of these low-hazard dams may result in them becoming high hazard dams in the near future.
“The DRIFT Act establishes funding priorities based on criteria such as threats to public safety, natural or cultural resources, and economic concerns.
“The legislation also seeks to make other important flood prevention and dam safety policy reforms for both the BIA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“The DRIFT Act is also intended to address additional improvements and safety concerns by: establishing a four year pilot program for a BIA flood mitigation program for tribes; establishing a Tribal Safety of Dams Committee within the Department of the Interior to make recommendations to Congress for modernizing the Indian Dam Safety Act; requiring tribes regularly report their dam inventory to BIA; requiring the BIA to report annually on the safety status of their dams to Congress; and authorizing reforms to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Tribal Partnership Program for tribal cost-share requirements for feasibility studies among other provisions.
“The threat to public safety in and around Indian Country is a serious concern. It is critical that we make these necessary changes to ensure that tribes and surrounding communities are protected.
“We need to move this legislation as expeditiously as possible and get it signed into law.”
The BIA is responsible for 137 high-hazard dams and more than 700 low-hazard dams across the United States. The majority of high-hazard dams are in the western United States. On average, they are 70 to 80 years old and have more than $500 million in deferred maintenance needs.
Two of the high-hazard dams are located on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming – the Washakie Dam and Ray Lake Dam.
Barrasso introduced the DRIFT Act on March 17, 2016.
In his written testimony at the hearing, the BIA Director Mike Black testified in general support of the DRIFT Act: “the mission of the Safety of Dams Program is to protect, to the extent practicable, people who reside in or who otherwise occupy land downstream from the risk BIA dams pose. Enacting certain sections of S. 2717 would advance this mission by enabling the BIA Safety of Dams Program to better fulfill its trust responsibility to tribes. S. 2717 would improve dam safety regulation and floodplain management on Indian lands.”