Warm Springs residents brace for water outage to continue into Root Feast

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Thousands of residents of the Warm Springs Reservation are once again unsure if and when they will have access to clean running water, following an electrical fire that destroyed a transformer at the water treatment plant. drinking water Friday.

Brutis Baez, a member of the Warm Springs tribe, woke up Monday morning surprised that he could still take a short shower and use the bathroom at home.

“But, who knows when it will end?” Baez said.

Monday afternoon, his faucets were dry.

He prepares his family for the expenses and disruptions associated with the lack of running water. It means paying to put his elderly mother in a hotel room for a few days, even as she prepares for one of the most important traditional festivals of the year. This means buying more expensive food from restaurants because cooking and cleaning is so strenuous. This means figuring out where to shower every day and arranging transportation to get there. Baez hopes to stay home, which means he will have to walk or drive to a line of porta-potties serving his entire neighborhood.

Warm Springs Confederate Tribes officials have declared an emergency and issued a water conservation advisory for the Agency’s water system, which serves the reservation’s most populated areas. About 4,000 people are told to prepare for blackouts. Pacific Power crews were on site Monday to remove the burned transformer with a crane and install a replacement, Tribal Utilities Chief Chico Holliday told KWSO on Sunday.

Holliday originally predicted the blaze could lead to weeks or even months of water cuts, but offered a more optimistic, though still undefined, update to the radio station.

“It wasn’t as devastating as I thought because of the amount of smoke. This [transformer] went off for almost an hour,” Holliday said.

He didn’t say how long the repairs were likely to take, and a Pacific Power spokesperson declined to comment on the timeline.

Tribal officials could not immediately be reached for comment. A water distribution center is accepting donations, including bottled water or gift cards to places where water can be purchased, Tribal Emergency Manager Danny Martinez told KTVZ over the weekend. . Those interested in donating should call 541-647-9001. The distribution facility is open from 9 p.m. to 4 p.m. at 1116 Wasco St. in Warm Springs.

Erland Suppah Jr., brings five gallon jugs of water to his home on Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in Warm Springs, Ore.

Nathan Howard/AP

Oregon emergency officials did not immediately respond to an emailed question about state-provided resources.

The Federal Environmental Protection Agency is coordinating with the tribal government, Oregon Health Authority, Oregon Office of Emergency Management, Indian Health Service and FEMA, according to EPA spokeswoman Suzanne Skadowski .

She said the agencies are “immediately focused on assisting the tribe’s short-term needs, while the long-term water treatment action plan is established.”

The community of Warm Springs grapples with the uncertainty of water as it begins one of the most important cultural events of the year – preparations for Roots Day. The women gather roots over the course of five days, culminating in a ceremony on Sunday to give thanks for the onset of spring, the renewal of the first sources of food and for drinking water.

Baez, whose mother is the party planner, said her family would make the most of their time together.

“I don’t really see it as ‘Poor Us’ and ‘Oh My God,'” he said. “I’m 100% sure [the water problems] will still happen. And whenever Indians get together, we’re always going to have a great time and reminisce.

Problems with the reserve’s water infrastructure have endangered human health and posed environmental problems for years. More than two years ago, the tribes met with federal and state agencies to find money for needed upgrades, but those talks have yet to result in a concrete plan for a new mill. drinking water treatment.

A preliminary engineering study to replace the plant has been completed, but details of who will pay and how much are still under discussion, according to Skadowski.

Democratic Oregon senators have promised the $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed in November will bring water stability to Warm Springs.

Senator Ron Wyden “now works closely with Senator [Jeff] Merkley and the EPA to ensure that adequate resources are allocated as soon as possible to address this unconscionable situation,” his office said in a statement.

Charging individual users for water has long been a point of tension in Warm Springs and could become an issue with infrastructure money. Water pricing has proven divisive on the reservation, even though a pricing system is generally a requirement of federal funding programs. The issue could be taken up by Tribal Council after a slate of councilors faces an election later this month.

This story can be updated.

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