By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has submitted its finalized Water Quality Standards (WQS) document to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for approval. After undergoing a draft and public comment phase, the finalized WQS was presented to EPA officials in the Office of the Principal Chief on the morning of Thursday, Nov. 8.
“I’m very proud of our team at Environmental & Natural Resources for really taking the lead on this and really getting something on paper that gives our program that ability to ensure that our waters are protected for future generations,” said Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed who praised the Tribe’s relationship with the EPA.
The 36-page WQS document begins with an introduction that states, “The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians recognizes tribal waters are the source of life, tranquility, and prosperity. Tribal waters include, but are not limited to, streams, rivers, natural springs, and wetlands that support a diverse array of environmental, cultural, and economic values. The Tribe recognizes that protecting these waters requires a strategic and integrated approach across all tribal watersheds to encourage prudent use of the Tribe’s water resources and enhance its quality and productivity.”
The EPA will review the finalized standards and give their final ruling in around 60 days. Once approved, the Tribe will have the same footing as a state in regards to water quality regulation. According to the EPA, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians began this process several years ago and received the status of “treatment in a manner similar to a state” on Jan. 26, 2015.
“Our mutual goal is to protect human health and safeguard the environment, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee is blessed to oversee such wonderful natural resources,” said Trey Glenn, EPA Region 4 administrator. “These Water Quality Standards and the consideration of that is a very important step in the protection of those resources, to ensure that this generation and future generations will be able to enjoy the beautiful resources that you have now.”
Michael Bolt, EBCI Water Quality Section supervisor, said the Tribe is a leader in Indian Country on many fronts including protection of natural resources. “This standards application gives us protection for water quality. Water is the essence of life, and it’s so intertwined in the tribal culture and it’s got to be one of the highest priorities for us to keep it in good shape. That’s what this application is really all about.”
When approved, the Tribe will become the 45th federally recognized tribe in the country to have federally-approved Water Quality Standards. “These are not just proud words on a dusty shelf, these are real, live standards that we can use,” said Bolt. “They’re a tool in a toolbox. We look forward to seeing this come to fruition…we have a unique place in this universe, and we’re at the headwaters of these beautiful streams. Everyone else will benefit from us being able to protect them. Our neighbors in North Carolina will be thankful that we’ll be able to protect them.”
The EBCI Water Quality Standards document also states, “The Water Quality Code states that the DANR (Department of Natural Resources) is responsible for establishing water quality standards to facilitate the following management goals:
- restore, maintain, and enhance the water quality for all beneficial uses of tribal waterbodies;
- protect human health, social welfare, aquatic life, wildlife and the economic well-being of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians;
- ensure that no contaminants are discharged into Cherokee waters from either point sources or non-point sources without being given the degree of treatment or control necessary to prevent pollution;
- establish numeric and narrative standards that provide a legal basis for water pollution control; and
- encourage prudent use of the Tribe’s water resources and enhance its quality and productivity as state in goals of the Cherokee Legacy Plan.”