Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency joined the Indian Health Service at a groundbreaking ceremony on the Tule River Reservation for the largest funded stimulus Tribal wastewater infrastructure project nationwide. EPA is contributing $6.3 million to the project through the Clean Water Indian Set Aside program and the Indian Health Service is providing an additional $1.8 million.
“This sewage treatment plant will have a tremendous positive impact on the lives of the Tule River residents,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “When completed, the facility will bring immediate health benefits to the many families it will serve.”
“The Wastewater Collection, Treatment and Disposal System Project implemented by IHS and EPA, is one of the most needed projects that has been developed for the community of the Tule River Indian Reservation. The project is extremely important for the enhancement and safeguarding of water quality, natural resources and community health on the Reservation as well as downstream,” said Chairman Ryan Garfield of the Tule River Tribal Council. “In addition to resource preservation, the project has provided employment to both Tribal and non-Tribal members in the local community. Without the implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding through the Obama Administration, the Tule River Indian Reservation would not have had the necessary resources to support this project and provide these services to our community.”
“This project aligns perfectly with the IHS’ desire to renew and strengthen our partnership with the Tule River Indian Tribe,” said Margo Kerrigan, Director of the California Area Indian Health Service. “This project will improve quality of, and access to, wastewater sanitation for current and future residents.”
The Tule River Indian Reservation does not have adequate wastewater service for its residents. A 2007 Tule River wastewater feasibility study by the Indian Health Service concluded that 30% of all septic tank/drainfield systems failed and an additional 30% are expected to fail. This failure rate exceeds EPA’s reported national average of 10-20%. As a result, health risks from surface effluent and poor wastewater service are now major issues for the Tribe.
Upon completion in 2012, the new system will serve 268 homes, provide 6.9 miles of collection system pipeline and establish 371 residential connections. The project will also provide for a wastewater treatment facility that will treat an average daily flow of 0.1 million gallons per day, one MGD in effluent storage pond capacity, and a 7.5 acre leachfield for effluent disposal.
The Clean Water Indian Set-Aside program provides funding for planning, design, and construction of wastewater infrastructure for Indian Tribes and Alaska Native Villages in either an interagency agreement or a direct grant. Annually, 1.5-2% of the Clean Water State Revolving Fund is “set-aside” for tribal wastewater infrastructure, which has averaged $4M each year since the program’s inception in 1987.
The Tule River reservation was established in 1873 and currently owns over 55,400 acres. The Tribe has a current population of 1,623 members, with 876 living on the Reservation in 285 homes.