Environmental Protection Agency Releases Tribal Water Plan

Dec 15, 2021 | News

On October 14, 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an Action Plan to address many water-related challenges facing Indian country.

EPA’s plan recognizes that Indian tribes are more likely than others to experience water equity gaps like a lack of access to wastewater services and piped drinking water. These water equity gaps are due in part to the federal government’s failure to fulfill its trust responsibilities to Indian tribes including:

  • Funding shortfalls
  • Lack of standards to enable full implementation of the Clean Water Act on tribal lands
  • Need for training and professional development of qualified tribal water and wastewater operators

To address these challenges, the action plan identifies four primary focus areas:

1. Promote robust coordination and meaningful consultation with tribal nations.

2. Strengthen and expand water governance in Indian country.

3. Increase infrastructure funding and capacity development.

4. Honor the federal trust responsibility and protect tribal-reserved rights related to water resources.

Under these four primary focus areas, EPA’s Office of Water plans to:

· Increase consultation pertaining to the revisions of EPA rules, guidance, and policies.

· Ensure tribal participation in the preparation of the National Water Program Guidance for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

· Maintain a “Clean and Safe Water in Indian Country” website, which will serve as a central clearinghouse for information about Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act tribal programs, funding opportunities, and Office of Water tribal partnerships.

· Support expanding “Treatment in a Similar Manner as State” (TAS) programs.

· Provide $22.5 million to support improvements to tribal drinking water infrastructure.

· Provide $32.8 million for the Clean Water Indian Set-Aside Grant Program and $36.2 million for Alaska Native Villages to support wastewater infrastructure.

· Increase participation in water quality monitoring, assessment, and electronic reporting using the Assessment TMDL Tracking and Implementation System.

· Provide federal baseline water quality standards for Indian reservations that do not currently have EPA-approved water quality standards in place.

· Begin a rulemaking to recognize and ensure protection of tribal reserved rights in the water quality standards context.

· Increase partnership with tribes to improve tribal water system compliance with the EPA’s health-based standards under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

For the full EPA Office of Water Action Plan, click here.

Patterson Earnhart Real Bird & Wilson LLP actively monitors water equity gaps and water rights challenges in Indian Country. To learn more about these issues and how we can assist, contact attorney Jeremy Patterson in our Colorado office at (303) 926-5292.