Indigenous communities in Nevada face deteriorating access to clean water and plumbing

For nearly seven years, the Walker River Paiute Tribe has applied for federal funds to fix a failing sewer system on their reservation. It is only after the A $110 billion infrastructure bill was passed earlier this year and funding for the project was finally pledged.

“That’s always the problem, they can’t find funding,” said Alan Roberts, the director of utilities for the Walker River Paiute Tribe.

The cost of the necessary repairs is just over $972,000, but as what is defined as a Tier 1 project, the tribe’s sewage leaks are a low priority for the Indian Health Service, which is responsible for allocating remediation funds to First Nations.

“We don’t have the money to do it on the tribal side, but they have funds for these types of projects to help us out,” Roberts said.

Repairs to the sewage system are now set to begin after India’s health service received $3.5 billion for tribal water and sanitation projects that have been neglected so far.

According to the IHS, improving sanitation facilities can reduce inpatient and outpatient visits related to respiratory, skin and soft tissue, and gastroenteric diseases. Every dollar spent on water and sewer infrastructure can save $1.23 in avoided direct health costs.

But failing infrastructure and paltry funding from Nevada’s tribes likely contributed to the growing number of Native American households in the state facing plumbing and water quality issues, according to a new study by a team of scientists from the Desert Research Institute and the Guinn Center for Policy Priorities.

The research team used U.S. Census microdata on household plumbing characteristics to analyze Native American citizens’ access to “comprehensive plumbing facilities,” including running water, flush toilets, and more. water and a bath or shower.

Researchers found that over the 30-year period from 1990 to 2019, an average of 0.67% of Native American households in Nevada lacked complete indoor plumbing, which is higher than the national average of 0.4. %.

Analysis of Native American communities in Nevada also found a steady decline in access to full indoor plumbing over the past several decades, with more than 20,000 people affected in 2019. That same year, approximately 15,000 people living in Indigenous communities in the state did not have access to running hot water.

This trend bucks the national trend of improving water and sanitation infrastructure over decades, said Erick Bandala, the paper’s lead author.

“It is very difficult to understand the main reason for this,” Bandala said. “We think the level of poverty these communities have been facing over the past decade or so may have something to do with it, but there is no clear cause for the increase.”

According to the study, the lack of access to plumbing, hot water, a shower or a toilet in the communities increased as the number of family members in a household increased, meaning a lack of accommodation on reservations only exacerbated the problem.

Other tribes in Nevada face a large-scale lack of sanitation and failing water and sewer infrastructure, leading to environmental issues that can negatively impact public health.

The Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe in Humboldt County needs funding to replace an aging water storage reservoir that has eroded the tribe’s ability to fully meet the sanitation needs of its citizens.

Tribes in rural Nevada are highly vulnerable to water insecurity due to a lack of access to water infrastructure resulting from early policy decisions made by federal agencies such as the Bureau of Reclamation, officials said. researchers.

“We need to start taking action to help these communities,” Bandala said.

Over the past 15 years, the number of violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act has also shown a significant upward trend in Native American communities in Nevada.

From 2005 to 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency recorded 187 health violations in public water systems serving Native American communities in Nevada, the most common being “volatile organic compounds” in the water or noxious gases produced by a number of products and processes, including common sources such as gasoline.

“It’s concerning,” Bandala said of the upward trend in violations. “It is a measure of the quality of the water that is delivered to the population for consumption.”

Continuous exposure to volatile organic compounds increases the risk of leukemia, birth defects, neurocognitive disorders and cancer in humans. Benzene, one of the most dangerous substances to public health and a known carcinogen, has been consistently listed as a health violation in Native American communities in Nevada, researchers have found. The report’s authors noted that more research needs to be done to see what explains the increase in breaches.

Bandala said population growth does not account for the increase in reported violations, adding that constant monitoring of water services is crucial for tribal communities in Nevada.

“When you drink water, you have no way of knowing if the water is good or not, unless visibly dirty water comes out of the tap,” Bandala said.