By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) submitted its finalized Water Quality Standards (WQS) to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in November 2018, and the agency approved them on Wednesday, April 10, 2019. The Tribe becomes the 45th federally recognized tribe in the country to have federally-approved Water Quality Standards.
“Having the EPA approve the Tribe’s WQS is a critically important step in protecting mostly pristine tribal natural resources and is an excellent example of the federal government fulfilling the trust responsibility to sovereign tribal nations,” said Michael Bolt, EBCI Water Quality Section supervisor.
EPA Acting Region 4 Administrator Mary S. Walker said in a statement, “The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has demonstrated strong stewardship for its land and resources. Approval of the water quality standards will go far to ensure critical tribal surface waters are protected.”
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed said, “I appreciate all the hard work done by our program staff. They are highly certified to do what they’re responsible for and I have full faith in the work they do for the EBCI.”
The 36-page WQS document for the Tribe 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 WQS 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 stated in the goals of the Cherokee Legacy Plan.”
Bolt told the One Feather in November when the finalized standards were presented to the EPA, “Water is the essence of life, and it’s so important in the tribal culture and it’s got to be one of the highest priorities for us to keep it in good shape.”
He added, “These are not just proud words on a dusty shelf. These are real, live standards that we can use. 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.”