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Warm Springs will receive nearly $24 million to replace problem-prone water treatment facility

This 40-year-old water treatment plant, pictured here on March 28, 2019, in Warm Springs has a history of not meeting federal safe drinking water standards.
Emily Cureton
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This 40-year-old water treatment plant, pictured here on March 28, 2019, in Warm Springs has a history of not meeting federal safe drinking water standards.

Two federal agencies have announced a significant allocation of funds to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs for a sorely needed water treatment plant.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Indian Health Service announced Tuesday that Warm Springs would receive a combined $23.8 million in funds for the new treatment plant. Once online, the plant will serve around 3,800 people living in Warm Springs, the EPA said in a press release.

A completion date is not yet set, although the design phase is expected to start next year.

“This is the largest tribal water system award in Region 10 and we’re proud to be a part of such a historic investment in our community,” EPA administrator Casey Sixkiller said in a written statement.

The EPA noted the new facility will continue to draw water from the Deschutes River.

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs have struggled for years with issues at their water treatment plant, which was built in the early 1980s. People who live on the reservation have faced frequent water outages before and during the pandemic, raising questions about public health safety. The aged water treatment facility also was forced to shut down temporarily last March following a fire, and has faced scrutiny from the EPA for violations.

Tribal officials could not be reached before publication Tuesday. Warm Springs Council Chairman Jonathan Smith said in the release that the federal funding was a “historic investment,” that came as the result of partnerships between the tribe and federal agencies.

While the problems in maintaining the facility and treating the water have been documented for years, the large price tag for a new facility was a major barrier. Oregon lawmakers at times have provided smaller bundles of funding to fix immediate issues in Warm Springs, but a long-term solution has been evasive until Tuesday’s announcement.

The EPA stated much of the funding going to build the replacement facility will come from the recently passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

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Joni Land