On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced $43 million for environmental projects on Native American grounds throughout the Southwest. According to EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest Jared Blumenfeld, 44 tribes in California are in danger of running out of water. With tribes in Arizona and Nevada also suffering through extremely dry conditions, the biggest change in this year’s funding will be for more drought-specific projects. Often this involves reaching remote communities with little access to outside resources.
“In many cases, they’re poor, rural communities, and those communities don’t have a lot of capacity for infrastructure,” Blumenfeld told The Associated Press. “In some cases, you go to the tribes and the only paid people are the environmental folks.”
The announcement coincided with the start of the three-day Annual Tribal/EPA Conference conference in Sacramento.
Blumenfeld singled out California’s Native American communities as being most at-risk. California’s multi-year drought has impacted everyone from urban lawn owners wanting to conserve water to rural farmers growing pumpkins to honey producers. Currently eighty percent of the state is in extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Fully $5.4 million of the funding will go to invest in northern California tribes’ environmental programs, water infrastructure development, community education, and capacity building. About half of that will go to environmental programs and community outreach, while the other half will be used for a variety of water quality projects, such as watershed protection, water and energy efficiency, and wastewater reclamation and treatment. Most western tribes have small governments and the funding will help them develop and establish environmental protection programs and make informed decisions on managing and maintaining their environmental resources.
“The federal government is committed to protecting human health and the environment in Indian Country,” said Blumenfeld. “This funding will help conserve precious water resources, create jobs, and improve the quality of life on tribal lands.”
In Arizona, tribes will receive $19.5 million to restore watersheds and improve water and energy efficiency. Of that, $16.8 million will go to water projects and the rest will go to cleaning up open dumps and supporting outreach. The announcement comes shortly after the EPA granted $25 million to the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority of Arizona for safe drinking water projects and wastewater infrastructure improvements on non-tribal lands.
Nevada tribes will receive $4.8 million, again to be split between water projects and other environmental programs, such as troughs to keep livestock away from tribal water resources.
The EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region is home to 148 tribal nations and the area of Indian Country within California, Arizona, and Nevada is about equal to the entire area of the six New England states combined.
Earlier this year, the National Climate Assessment found that in the Southwest climate change poses challenges for an already parched region that is expected to get hotter and, in its southern half, significantly drier.
“Just think of this year’s California drought — the type of hot, snowless, severe drought that we expect more of in the future,” Gregg Garfin, a lead author of the Southwest portion of the National Climate Assessment, told ThinkProgress. “For the Southwest, climate change is water change.”
Native American tribes in the Southwest are some of the most immediately vulnerable to these changes and require the most urgent adaptation measures.