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Water for Warm Springs: Helping Tribal Allies in Time of Need

Water for Warm Springs: Helping Tribal Allies in Time of Need
Dorothea Thurby, from left, Britany Archer and Johnson Bill refill empty bottles for a local resident while working at the water distribution site at the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. (photographer: Ryan Brennecke, Bend Bulletin)
By Kevin Gorman
Executive Director

October 26, 2020

When I was just a few years out of college in the late 1980s, I lived in Flint, Michigan. While Flint was already in deep decline from its economic peak in the 1950s, it wasn’t yet infamous for its unsafe drinking water. The tragedy of Flint may seem light years away from our water-rich Pacific Northwest, but one needs to look no further than the community of Warm Springs to see that a similar crisis is occurring in our own backyard.

The people of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs—the largest Indian reservation in the state of Oregon—are now in the second year of a devastating water crisis due to a series of pressure breaks in their community water lines. Over 60% of Warm Springs residents do not have regular, consistent access to clean water for personal or domestic use. Many Warm Springs residents have been under a series of boil water orders for the past two years.

This injustice is playing out as most of us consider fresh, clean water as an unspoken right. Lack of stable water pressure, however, prevents many of the people of Warm Springs from being able to shower, wash dishes, do laundry, or provide adequate water for livestock. Fresh, clean water for the Tribe is not a given, it is not even a reality. That’s why Friends has joined with eight other conservation organizations in a new partnership with the Confederated Tribes of Warm SpringsMRG Foundation, and Warm Springs Community Action team to help the people of Warm Springs restore their access to and infrastructure for clean water.

The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs has been a leader in conservation and environmental advocacy, both before and after our organization came into existence. Recent victories to stop the building of coal and oil terminals along the Columbia River was in large part due to the efforts of Warm Springs and other Tribes around the Pacific Northwest. Now we have an opportunity to support the Warm Springs Tribe in addressing an important public health issue.

We champion the existing innovative work by Tribal leaders, the Warm Springs Community Action team, and the MRG Foundation in the creation of The Chúush Fund—an inventive financing tool allowing both the public and institutional funders alike to directly assist the people of Warm Springs in confronting this crisis. And this campaign aims to build upon that work.

Our goals are simple and two-fold: strengthen available financial resources to meet immediate, emergency health needs and advocate for policy solutions needed to help the people of Warm Springs restore their access to and infrastructure for clean water. It is our hope that by collectively raising our voices, we can bring attention to an issue currently getting lost in the blizzard of political discourse.

Water is not only the basis of life, but together it is one of the most powerful forces on our planet, carving the canyons and valleys that make the Pacific Northwest one of the most beautiful places in the United States to live. It’s a basic human right that all who live in the Pacific Northwest should equally enjoy.

Ensuring safe, drinkable water is not a quick fix, as we are seeing in Flint, Michigan. But just as the people across the country took action when they learned of the unsafe water of Flint, we must engage and remedy the water crisis of the Warm Springs Reservation.

I hope you will join us to support the efforts to bring this injustice to light and to an end.

Chúush: Water for Warm Springs Campaign

How you can help

Donate: The best way to give is through the MRG Foundations’ Chúush Fund. The link for direct donations is To donate by check, please send a check made out to “MRG Foundation” with “Water for Warm Springs” in the Notes line, to: PO Box 12489, Portland, OR 97212. Institutional funders interested in assisting should contact Dena Zaldúa, Development Director with the MRG Foundation (

Please note: The Warm Springs Tribe is currently not accepting gifts of bottled water due to storage issues.

Advocate: Write to Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley thanking them for sponsoring the Western Tribal Water Infrastructure Act (S 3044) and expressing support for its passage. S. 3044 would authorize $30 million annually for tribal water projects in Oregon.

Educate: More on The Chúush Fund can be found online at the MRG Foundation’s website and we encourage you to share a recently produced community video exploring the impacts of the water crisis and how the public can help:

More on the Chúush: Water for Warm Spring Campaign and Friends' participation in the effort can be found at:

Chúush: Water for Warm Springs Campaign - Participating Organizations