Portland, Oregon — The Department of the Interior today announced $27 million in new projects to protect Tribal communities by repairing and upgrading clean water systems and replacing failing dams. Several tribal fishing access sites along the Columbia River were among the projects. The funding is part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda.
“We applaud the Biden Administration for its commitment to tribal communities,” said Aja DeCoteau, executive director of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. CRITFC is the intertribal organization that operates and maintains the 30 Columbia River tribal fishing access sites on behalf of its four members: the Yakama, Umatilla, Warm Springs, and Nez Perce tribes. “This crucial funding addresses an urgent need and will enhance the well-being of tribal members who live and fish along the Columbia River.”
The $4.14 million allocation to the Columbia River tribal fishing access sites will fund vital water and sanitation system repairs and upgrades. Notable investments include $2.9 million at the Cooks In-Lieu site and $1.2 million at the North Bonneville site. These funds will be utilized to ensure compliance with Environmental Protection Agency Safe Drinking Water Act standards and complete necessary upgrades to continue providing safe and clean drinking water.
The tribal fishing access sites were originally designed in the 1990s before increases in salmon abundance dramatically increased the number of tribal fishers using the Columbia River. Some sites have usage that is up to 500 percent higher than initially designed for, which strained the water and sanitation systems. As the situation declined, tribal leaders brought it to the attention of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and federal elected officials.
After a visit to several of the sites in 2016, Senator Merkley (D-OR) and Representative Blumenauer (D-OR) sponsored the Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act. It was signed into law in 2019 and authorized the Secretary of the Interior to assess sanitation and safety conditions at Bureau of Indian Affairs facilities that were constructed to provide affected Columbia River Treaty tribes access to traditional fishing grounds and expend funds on construction of facilities and structures to improve those conditions, and for other purposes.
The projects funded by the Biden Administration were originally identified by the assessment authorized by the Columbia River In-Lieu and Treaty Fishing Access Sites Improvement Act.
Today’s announcement follows the recent White House Tribal Nations Summit, which highlighted the federal government’s commitment to investing in Indian Country and strengthening nation-to-nation relationships.
“This investment is a significant step towards fulfilling federal treaty promises and obligations to the tribes,” said DeCoteau. “Working together, we can ensure that tribal fishers exercising their treaty-reserved rights to fish can do so from sites that are safe and sanitary.”