Climate ChangeEnvironmentPollutionWater Management

For American Indians an extra defense against water pollution

New standards advanced by US Environmental Agency can reduce water pollution in Indian territories

Half a million Native Americans will finally have protection against water pollution. The US Environmental Agency (EPA), in fact, has proposed for the first time federal standards for water quality in Indian reserves, hitherto never included in the Clean Water Act. Now there is a 90-day public observation period, in which two public hearings will also take place.

According to the EPA, “this proposal would extend the same existing water quality protection framework for most US waters to water bodies on the territories of more than 250 tribes and is the result of decades of coordination and collaboration”.

If it is carried out, this proposal could protect the quality of water in Indian reserves until the tribes are able to adopt their own standards for water bodies crossing their territories. The EPA estimates that this first step will improve protections for over 120,000 km of rivers and streams and 750,000 hectares of lakes, basins and other surface waters within the Indian reserves. They would gain the aquatic life and health of the residents.

Water quality standards define the objectives for the condition of a water body, designating its uses as fishing and swimming, establishing maximum levels for pollutants and outlining policies to protect against degradation.

Positive reactions from the tribes involved in the process of promoting new standards.
Russell N. Hepfer, vice president of the Lower Elwha community, expressed his support for the work of the EPA, but also stressed that resources are needed: “I appreciate that the EPA recognizes that most tribes do not have water quality standards. This proposal will provide protection for fish, wildlife and tribal communities that depend on clean water – said Hepfer – Each tribe is unique, most have no programs or funding to ensure compliance with the standard. The EPA should support the tribes with funding for implementation and enforcement”.

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