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Tribal Governments Role in Safe Drinking Water on Tribal Lands

Management of Tribal Public Water Systems

Tribal leaders establish a governance structure for the public water system to ensure compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), preferably with some autonomy from the tribal government. This governance structure may be an independent utility board or utility director to oversee the utility operations.

Independent governance structures are able to assume many utility-related responsibilities from tribal governments. For example, utility directors or boards typically have the following responsibilities:

  • Financial management and personnel decisions;
  • Training and certification of utility personnel;
  • Community outreach and public notification;
  • Long-term planning; and
  • Emergency response.


Below are resources that may assist with establishing utility governance and effective utility management.

  • Tribal Utility Governance – a tribal-specific utility governance program that provides training and technical assistance on utility financial and managerial capacity issues for public water system personnel in Indian country. The program includes downloadable training modules and manuals.  The program can be found at 
  • Building Water System Capacity: A Guide for Tribal Administrators (PDF)(6 pp, 2MB, About PDF) – provides information on how tribal leaders can build technical, managerial and financial capacity for their public water systems.
  • Assessing Water System Managerial Capacity (PDF)(34 pp, 378K, About PDF) – provides ideas on assessing the managerial capacity for those involved the capacity development of their PWSs.