The ANA Messenger - Spring Edition
Yukon River Inter Tribal Watershed Council
Building Capacity to Self- Regulate and Monitor Sewage Discharge
The Yukon River Inter Tribal Watershed Council (YRITWC) is a coalition of 70 Tribes and First Nations spanning the Yukon River Watershed; 47 of the member Tribes are located on the watershed in Alaska. Many of the Alaskan member Tribes live in rural, isolated communities with outdated or insufficient sewage systems. Few Tribal members have the necessary training to manage waste, and governments have difficulty offering competitive salaries to attract waste management specialists. YRITWC members were deeply concerned improper sewage systems could be harming Tribal and wildlife health.
The project goal was to gain a greater understanding of Tribal sewage systems across the Yukon River Watershed and build the capacity of Tribal members to monitor water quality. The project’s environmental specialist and project director worked intensively with 16 Tribes to develop site-specific water sampling strategies. The project team provided training on collecting water samples and procedures for shipping samples to the laboratory for all 47 Tribes at multiple locations. By the end of the project, staff trained 67 people in water sampling, and project staff and technicians collected 120 viable samples from the 16 targeted sites.
The environmental specialist and project director also visited all 47 sites to complete an inventory of the sewage management systems in place. In addition, project staff held bi-annual summits and several teleconferences with Tribal leaders, Elders, youth, and technicians to discuss how to adapt and improve existing systems. Project staff collected feedback and created a series of pamphlets detailing adaptation strategies.
Preliminary data show water collected at 80 percent of the sites is safe for use, a higher percent than project staff predicted, but still a cause for concern. Tribes in the other 20 percent are moving quickly to address the problem, and all Tribes recognize the need to continue monitoring. Many of the Tribal technicians are funded though the Environmental Protection Agency’s Indian General Assistance Program (IGAP) grant funding, and will be supported for the coming years to continue collecting water samples, as many have written this task into their IGAP work plans.By expanding access to water quality data, this project significantly strengthened the Tribes’ capacity to plan services, adapt existing systems, coordinate assistance, and advocate for their rights.