The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe is considering using CARES Act funding to improve basic utility services for tribal residences, according to a tribal council member.
But a tribal member who has lived without household water for months said the response to repair her home has been lagging.
The pandemic shutdown has hurt tribal finances and delayed infrastructure projects, said tribal council member Lyndreth Wall. He said several homes in Towaoc lack basic services.
“I know it has been frustrating for people in this harsh environment of the pandemic. We are aware of these off-the-grid problems and are looking in the direction of using the CARES funding to address them,” he said.
As part of an $8 billion stimulus package for Native American tribes, the Ute Mountain Tribe has been allocated $5.9 million, according to an analysis by the University of Arizona Native Nations Institute.
In June, the tribe received $300,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to prepare, prevent and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Social distancing, face coverings and hygiene are critical components of limiting the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“One of the biggest COVID preventions is washing with soap and hot water,” Wall said. “I want to help my people and change living conditions so that is available for everyone.”
Towaoc resident Magalena Lansing has been without running water in her residence at 210 Mike Wash Road since she moved there in the fall.
Three broken pipes need repair in order to restore water service, she said, but it has been a struggle to get them fixed.
“Emotionally and physically, it is taking a toll on me,” Lansing said. “I’ve been asking and asking the tribe to get the pipes fixed, but I can’t get them to. It feels unfair. I’m willing to pay for it.”
She has hauled her water for eight months, and she takes showers at a relative’s home or at the Towaoc RV Park. She uses a bucket for a toilet and buries the waste in her backyard.
“It’s not healthy. I need running water and know there are others in my situation. I’m looking for work and need to be able to shower – you know, be presentable for interviews,” she said.
The residence has lacked water service for many years, Lansing said. In January, it was evaluated by public works officials, she said, but no work has been done.
To help out while a solution was sought, the tribe provided a hotel room for Lansing in Cortez.
Lansing, 49, suffers from severe arthritis and collects a disability check. She recently moved back to Towaoc from Denver and worked for years in the home care industry and in retail. She is looking for a job.
A local plumber agreed to repair the pipes, but Lansing said the person was not allowed past the security checkpoint. The checkpoint was set up to limit visitors in an effort to prevent exposure to the virus in the community.
The tribal government provides water for residents, and public works can do repairs. A private contractor can be hired, Wall said, but a portion of the labor must be hired from within the tribe’s employment program, and a fee is required. The contractor must also test negative for COVID-19.
The contractor agreement needs to be set up in advance and may be why the plumber for Lansing’s home was turned away, Wall said.
The tribe has taken a hit financially because of the pandemic shutdowns, he said, and the tribal council is working out how to recover. The Ute Mountain Casino, a major revenue generator, has been closed since March.
Infrastructure improvements are a priority but are expensive, Wall said.
Residences in south Towaoc could receive basic utilities only if the town began a $50,000 project that required boring under a road and adding pipeline.
“She’s not the only one. It’s heartbreaking, and I’m meeting with my fellow council members to find a solution,” Wall said.
Lansing said a petition is circulating in Towaoc demanding improved services for several residences.