Partner Blog

Tia Hastings, From Indian Health Service, Talks Tribal Water

Tia Hastings is an Environmental Engineer with the Indian Health Service. She provides engineering and project management services for projects with Native American Tribes and Nations for the New York and New England areas.


Q:  Can you please describe your position with Indian Health Services (IHS) and what sort of responsibilities your position entails?:

TH: I am an Environmental Engineer and Project Manager in the Nashville Area Indian Health Service in the Division of Sanitation Facilities Construction (SFC). SFC is under the direction of the Office of Environmental Health and Engineering (OEHE) within Indian Health Service (IHS). The IHS Nashville Area, has five field offices in addition to one Area office located in Nashville, TN to serve the tribes and nations from Maine to Florida and west to Texas. I work in Manlius, NY and serve the nations in NY. The IHS Nashville Area provides services to 30 tribes with over 17,500 Indian homes.
I develop projects to provide water, wastewater, and solid waste services to Native American communities. I work directly with the Native communities in New York State to assist in determining needs for projects, assisting the Nations with developing those projects, obtaining funding and implementing those projects. I provide site assessments, survey work, design, and construction inspection, write engineering reports, prepare project documents, track finances, process payment requests, and oversee construction. I also provide homeowner trainings and do community outreach.

Q:  Does IHS have a private well program? If so, can you tell me a little bit about it?:

TH: The Sanitation Facility Construction (SFC) Program supports the mission of the Indian Health Service to raise the health status of the American Indian and Alaska Native people to the highest possible level by planning, designing and overseeing the construction of water, waste water and solid waste facilities. The preferred alternative for the provision of safe drinking water is to connect tribal homes to community water systems that have a higher level of regulatory over-sight from the tribal government and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In cases were community water systems are not available or economically feasible to construct, a private well is the preferred alternative to provide access to drinking water. When installing a private well, the SFC Program will complete the necessary planning and inspection activities which include well sighting, constructing inspection, hydraulic pump test and water quality analysis to ensure the water quality meets EPA’s primary drinking water standards. If the water quality doesn’t meet the primary drinking water standards then a point-of-use device will be recommended and installed if desired by the homeowner. Finally, the SFC Program provides homeowner training to help ensure the facility provided will remain operable over the facility design life.

Q:  Can you describe one of your private well/clean drinking water program’s successes?

TH: A Tribal homeowner was having difficulty with the water in his home. The treatment system and filters were constantly clogging and were becoming expensive to maintain. IHS did a site visit to the home and determined that the home was connected to a very old hand dug well. The investigation and water testing performed by IHS revealed the well water did not meet the primary drinking water requirements. The water main for public water was down the road but did not extend to the home. We got approval and funding to extend the water down the road to this home, and connected it to the public water system. The home now has clean, uncontaminated public water.

Q:  Are there any other stakeholders that IHS works with that is involved with helping Native Americans get access to clean water via private wells or offers some other sort of assistance? And if so, what is their role?

TH: IHS works with other funding agencies to provide funding assistance for projects to provide drinking water, waste water and solid waste facilities. We also work with agencies and tribal organizations to provide homeowner trainings, project assistance and utility trainings. We have worked with the Environmental Protection Agency, Rural Community Assistance Partnership, United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Water, United States Geological Survey, United South and Eastern Tribes, and our tribal partners to provide access to clean water.

Q:  Does IHS house any private well data for tribal lands? If so, is it available to the public? If it is, can you provide a link or contact information?

TH: IHS keeps and maintains data on all private wells that were installed by IHS. This data is not considered public data as it contains homeowner information. Requests for private well water quality data should be submitted to the tribe.

Q:  What are some of the challenges with making sure residents of tribal lands have safe water?

TH:  Source water quality is a challenge in making sure residents on tribal land have safe water. Some of the Nations are in areas where groundwater quality is very poor, and treatment systems for individuals would be quite expensive to maintain. Additionally, and proximity of homes to open dumps and inadequately treated wastewater can impact water quality. IHS works with tribal governments and communities to overcome these challenges to help ensure tribal homes have access to safe drinking water.

Q:  Are there any other clean water related issues that are currently plaguing tribes that IHS assists with?

TH: Annually the IHS assesses and reports on the sanitation facility needs in Indian communities. These assessments are done in collaboration with tribal governments. At the beginning of FY 2016 approximately, 7,500 Indian homes in the Nashville Area were in need of some form of new or improved sanitation facility. The total cost of this work in the Nashville Area was estimated to be $112 million with 64% of this need related to the supply of drinking water ($71.7 million), 29% related to wastewater disposal ($33.1 million) and 7% related to solid waste ($7.3 million). These needs include the replacement of aging and/or poorly maintained water distribution systems, sewer collection systems (mains, manholes and pumping stations) and closure of open dumps. The Indian Health Service strives to provide the necessary sanitation facilities and technical assistance to support operation and maintenance of the provided facilities so that tribal communities have sustainable access to safe drinking water and waste disposal that enhance and protect public health.