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Nevada’s Native Communities Confront Declining Water, Plumbing Access

By TheNevadaGlobeStaff, September 8, 2022 7:22 am

Nevada’s Native Communities Confront Declining Water, Plumbing Access

Author: Nevada Globe Staff

NEVADA – Walker River Paiute Tribe has requested federal funds to rebuild its sewage infrastructure for seven years. This year’s $110 billion infrastructure bill finally promised funds for the project.

Alan Roberts, Walker River Paiute Tribe’s public utility manager, said, “They can’t find funds.”

As a tier one project, the tribe’s wastewater leakage is a low priority for the Indian Health Service, which allocates First Nations sanitation cash.

“We don’t have the money on the tribe side, but they do,” Roberts added.

The Indian Health Service has been awarded $3.5 billion for water and sanitation projects that have been neglected.

IHS says sanitation improvements can reduce inpatient and outpatient visits for respiratory, cutaneous, and gastroenteric diseases. Every dollar spent on water and sewer infrastructure saves $1.23 in healthcare expenditures.

According to a new report by the Desert Research Institute and the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities, crumbling infrastructure and insufficient support for tribes in Nevada undoubtedly contribute to an increasing proportion of Native American houses with plumbing and water quality problems.

The research team analyzed U.S. Census microdata on household plumbing to examine Native Americans’ access to piped water, a flush toilet, and a bathtub or shower.

In Nevada, 0.67 percent of Native American households lacked indoor plumbing between 1990-2019, more significant than the national average of 0.4%.

Native American communities in Nevada have seen a loss in access to indoor plumbing over the last few decades, with 20,000 individuals affected in 2019. In the same year, 15,000 Native Americans lacked hot flowing water.

This goes against the national trend of upgrading water and sanitation facilities, said article author Erick Bandala.

“It’s hard to tell,” Bandala remarked. We think the increased poverty in these neighborhoods over the last decade may be a factor, but there is no apparent causation.

According to the study, a lack of plumbing, hot water, a shower, or a toilet in communities grew with household size, therefore a lack of homes on reserves further aggravated the situation.

Other Nevada tribes have poor sanitation and inadequate water and sewer facilities, which can harm public health.

Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe in Humboldt County require cash to replace an aged water storage tank that limits the tribe’s ability to meet its residents’ sanitation needs.

Researchers say rural Nevada tribes are vulnerable to water insecurity due to early policy decisions by federal agencies like the Bureau of Reclamation.

Bandala: “We must help these communities.”

Native American communities in Nevada have seen a rise in Safe Drinking Water Act breaches over the previous 15 years.

From 2005 to 2020, the EPA documented 187 health-based violations in public water systems servicing Native American communities in Nevada. The most common were “volatile organic compounds” in water or hazardous fumes produced by products and activities like gasoline.

The rise of violations worries Bandala. It measures the population’s drinking water quality.

VOC exposure raises the incidence of leukemia, birth abnormalities, neurocognitive impairment, and cancer in humans. Researchers identified benzene, a recognized carcinogen and one of the most dangerous chemicals for public health, in Nevada’s Native American villages. More research is needed to understand the surge in infractions, according to the report’s authors.

Bandala said population growth doesn’t explain the rise in breaches and that tribal village in Nevada need ongoing water utility monitoring.

“You can’t tell if water is good unless it’s plainly unclean,” Bandala remarked.

Credits: Nevada Current

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