Tribal Council this week was preparing to declare a drought on the reservation.
This would be the first declaration of drought in the history of the tribes, a sign of the potential seriousness of the situation.
A declaration of drought would give the tribes access to federal assistance in managing the water shortage.
Tribal Council on Monday heard a water report from Utilities general manager Don Courtney, tribal emergency response coordinator Dan Martinez, and tribal water-wastewater engineer Roy Spino. The Water Board, tribal engineer, and BIA superintendent were also on hand for the report.
The Confederated Tribes need to make the declaration in order to compete for the available relief fund, Courtney said.
“The sooner the better,” Councilman Orvie Danzuka said. “The surrounding counties have already declared.”
Jefferson, Wasco, Deschutes and Crook counties have all made drought declarations for 2015, through the state of Oregon.
It was possible that Council would make the declaration on Tuesday of this week (after deadline for this publication). Martinez said the declaration should happen at least before July 4, so some added precautions can be implemented regarding fireworks.
There are many aspects to the drought. The lack of water affects the tribes’ drinking water system, Power and Water Enterprises, residential wells in rural areas, fish and wildlife, huckleberries and roots, fire response capabilities, etc.
It is possible that Sidwalter and Seekseequa wells could go dry this summer, Spino said.
A few weeks ago, the tribes’ drinking water plant was down to just one pump, creating a possible shortage for residents. Utilities put the word out for people to conserve, and the response was positive, Courtney said.
The treatment plant now has a second pump working, so the immediate near-crisis is over; but addressing the drought over the summer months will require community cooperation, Courtney said.
Other partners in the effort will be the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Indian Health Services, the federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and others, Martinez said.
An important aspect of the problem is the amount of water that is leaking from the drinking water system, said Councilman Carlos Smith. A main water line at Sidwalter has been leaking for some time now, said Wasco Chief J.R. Smith.
Utilities and tribal Planning are working on a grant that would fund the installation of residential water meters. The meters would indicate which homes are over-using water.
Residents may not be aware of their overuse, as water is leaking from pipes without anyone knowing.
The average water use per connection on the reservation is 984 gallons a day, Spino said, while the U.S. average is half that amount of water.