DEQ meets the requirements to implement water quality standards through Clean Water Act

Christopher Lomahquahu
Gila River Indian News


The tribal water quality program gets a step-up in water quality standards, thanks in part to the Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water Act. Last year, the Gila River Indian Community was granted certification to administer water quality standards under the CWA. 


Willard Antone III, GRIC Department of Environmental Quality Sr. Environmental Planner & Policy Analyst, said the authorization will allow the Community to develop water quality standards on par with the federal government. 

According to the application for certification, the Community is recognized by the Secretary of the Interior and meet the requirements set forth in the CWA, to carry out water quality standards. 


“It’s a form of self-governance, and implementing our sovereignty in a way that is important to the Community, its interests,” said Antone. The adopted water quality standards apply to surface water, which entails natural flowing water ways and washes that occur during heavy rainstorms. 


The CWA certification pertains to the management and protection of water resources, that are within the border of the Community, such as surface water quality standards. It also allows the Community to enact civil and criminal codes or ordinances governing the conduct of members of the Community and non-members on GRIC. 


Antone said the certification provides levels of standards that are meant to protect human health, to see what is happening with the quality of the water while allowing wildlife to thrive. 


He said through the designation, it also opens the door to several other opportunities for training and resources locally and nationally. “We are at the table, developing our own policies, which involves talking with many of our own stakeholders,” said Antone, “We will have to make sure all the right people are in place to show the federal government, that we are doing our due diligence to develop effective policies.” 


The certification also provides an opportunity to for the Community to attend meetings and conferences to gain valuable knowledge on water quality standards and share their information with other tribal nations. “It’s about sharing a lot of these things with other tribes, because the EPA doesn’t have a lot of resources to be everywhere and so tribes like us are contacts to help other tribes,” said Antone 


As part of the certification, DEQ staff can attend regional meetings to talk with EPA staff and legal counsel about topics that are important to the Community. 


“It about meeting with people we need to work with, project officers, our grant specialist, their lawyers, if we need to pull somebody in to address an issue, they’re right there.” 


Antone said it’s about breaking down barriers and continuing to accomplish, what they need to do. “There are things, that we still have to contend with, but the route we are taking is to protect our culturally significant resources, like our water, plants, and other things as stewards over the land.”