Tonkawa Tribe Develops Water Resource Plan

July 15, 2019
A warning sign concerning the impaired river posted as part of the Tonkawa Tribe Water Resources Project

Between 2012 and 2016, the Tonkawa Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma developed a water resource plan and tribal water regulatory system. Prior to the project, the tribe had never assessed the water resources within their jurisdiction which was facing an unprecedented drought, and had two bodies of water that violated water quality standards.

During the grant, the tribe contracted the U.S. Corp of Engineers to asses, analyze, and compile a report on the water resources in their boundaries. The project used existent data and observational data to assess the water resources. The project also compiled treaties pertaining to water rights and spoke with Elders about the cultural, spiritual, and ceremonial importance of water. Next, the project director worked with the Tribal Environmental office, Tribal officials, and the Environmental Protection Board quarterly to develop a management plan, which was then approved by the tribal business committee.

Moreover, this grant amended the current environmental protection code to create a water quality standard and pollution control code, including a fine schedule for enforcement. Furthermore, the project erected signs and conducted outreach to notify the tribal members about the public health and safety hazards of the polluted river. Additionally, the grant focused on developing a non-point source management plan to apply for the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 319 program to create and fund the program to clean up water pollution. This plan included the development of a bank stabilization timeline and identification of methods to stop erosion of the river bank.

ANA funding has helped the tribe create two strategic water and pollution management plans. Previously, the tribe had no environmental water standard codes, nor mechanisms to enforce them. Now, the tribe has the ability to punish and fine violators to ensure the new water quality codes are upheld. The regular patrols for prosecution of water pollution and dumping has reduced the amount of dumping, especially by non-tribal members. Additionally, people are more knowledgeable about the toxicity of the water and the dangers of eating the fish. The outreach has changed some fishing behavior, such as some community members choosing to fish in other locations.

Furthermore, the tribe has gained the capacity and skills to apply for EPA 319 program funding to begin cleaning up the polluted waterways. This has allowed the tribe to exert more sovereignty and reduce its reliance on the EPA. Additionally, tribal codes have extended tribal sovereignty. Moreover, this project has increased partnerships for the tribe in the region, and has increased the stature of the tribe as a leader in water issues in the region. Although this project is over in its current state, the capacity building and environmental codes set the stage for future pollution reduction.

Key Results:

  • 1 set of environmental water quality codes developed
  • 2 strategic water and pollution management plans developed
  • 1 comprehensive hydrology study completed