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EPA: Native American Tribes Hit Hard by Climate Change

Jan Lee headshotWords by Jan Lee
Energy & Environment
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Drought conditions in the Pacific Northwest aren’t letting up. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency forecasts that while there may be some improvement in Nevada and Arizona, the lack of rain will likely continue through the winter in California.

This is particularly bad news for the country’s Southwestern tribes, who have been hit hard by diminishing water levels and parched soil conditions. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, some 44 tribes in California are in jeopardy of running out of water, as communities struggle to address drought conditions that now cover more than 60 percent of the state.

In response to these concerns, the EPA announced last Wednesday that it would award southwest tribal communities a total of $43 million to deal with improvements needed to counteract the drought conditions.
According to the EPA, most of this funding will go to poorer communities that can’t afford the infrastructure improvements. That includes Arizona tribal communities, which received $19.5 million to boost water energy infrastructure and restore watersheds. Another $4.8 million will be invested in Nevada communities to help bolster livestock water resources.

Northern California tribes will receive $5.4 million to help rebuild infrastructure and support community environmental education projects. About 50 percent of that funding will be earmarked for water quality projects such as wastewater reclamation and treatment, improved watershed resources and water energy projects. The funding will also help local communities establish environmental protection strategies for dealing with the changing local climate.

The announcement coincided with this year’s Tribal/EPA Region 9 Environmental Conference, which was held in Sacramento, Calif. and was projected to have record turnout from tribes around the region.

This is not the first time that tribes in the Pacific Northwest have received funding from the EPA. In 2010, the Yurok Tribe in Klamath, northern California received an unspecified amount of funding under the EPA’s Climate Justice Grant program. The money was earmarked to combat climate change. Erosion, rising sea levels and increased flooding in the Klamath River Watershed were challenges at the time. In 2007, the Navajo People of the remote community of Black Falls Arizona was awarded a $20,000 Environmental Justice Grant to address uranium-polluted drinking water sources. Water rights continue to be an issue of contention between the Navajo Tribe and the federal government.

The latest applications for environmental funding are part of a larger effort by tribal communities to address climate change issues and adaptation. The Swinomish Tribe on Washington’s Fidalgo Island was reportedly the first tribe to adopt a climate change declaration in 2007, after tidal surge flooded and damaged part of their property. Since that time, the tribe has adopted steps to bolster coastal and wildfire protection measures. Their early efforts prompted other tribal communities to do the same, heightening awareness about ocean acification on Washington’s Pacific Coast and water scarcity in southwestern New Mexico. The Mescalero Tribe in New Mexico has outlined a number of projects to address climate change adaptation. They include constructing a new solar array, a solar-powered water pump and an emergency holding tank for community water.

Other tribes, such as the Nez Perce in North Idaho, are implementing carbon sequestration projects into the restoration of tribal lands that were destroyed by wildfire.

Many of these projects are dependent upon grants by the EPA or Bureau of Indian Affairs, both of which provide funding for climate justice-related projects. The US Army Corps of Engineers has also been called in to bolster fire mitigation in areas around tribal lands, such as in Santa Clara Pueblo, NM, which has been deluged by flooding following drought-related wildfires in 2011.

Image 1: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers discussing flooding mitigation due to wildfires outside Santa Clara Pueblo NM - USACE

Image 2: Dry section of Folsom Lake Calif.  during 2013 drought - Planetlight

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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