The Environmental Protection Agency is currently seeking public comment on an application for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) to set their own water quality standards. The KBIC is based out of L'Anse Township in the Upper Peninsula.
Stephanie Cree, water resources specialist for the tribe, says they would be the first one in Michigan to have that authority.
“It's gonna allow us to set our own water quality standards for the waters here on the reservation, where right now we follow the standards of state and federal guidelines," she says.
Cree says that if their application is approved, the tribe would be able to regulate on or off-reservation polluters if they are affecting waters on the reservation. The tribe wants their standards to be more stringent than EPA standards, but Cree says they won’t make any of them unreachable.
“We have close to 15 years of water data that we'll look at from the waters we've tested here, from the past," she says. "We're gonna take all that into account.”
KBIC's Natural Resources Director Evelyn Ravindran says they want to keep current water quality for now.
“Where there is impairments that we see, maybe we see it as more of a long-term goal that gradually those standards change over time," she says.
The tribe wants standards on the reservation to be more protective, because they are more exposed to environmental contamination through fishing, hunting and gathering practices.
They also see stewardship of the water as a cultural responsibility. Ravindran says they hope to someday be able to set their own air quality standards as well. They want air quality on the reservation to be regulated at standards similar to those for a wilderness area.
Stephanie Cree says there are other tribes in Wisconsin and Minnesota that have approval to regulate their own water quality, and she hopes it will spread through Michigan.
“After we get approved, I hope that other tribes will follow us," she says.
The public comment period for the tribe’s application ends May 23.