Healing the waters: a holistic native American Indian approach

June 28, 2001

For the Pacific Northwest Indian tribes, integrating spirituality and science is a practical reality and a way to keep precious resources vibrant for future generations.

The tribes have been in this area for thousands of years and have relied on the nearby water for their mainstay of fish, clams, oysters, crabs, and mussels. They also found food in cattail tubers and the bulbs of water lilies. They were fishers par excellence and experts at building canoes. But now, water pollution and development threatens this precious source on which their way of life depends.

That's why the Suquamish Tribe (Chief Sealth aka Chief Seattle's Tribe) and the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe asked geologists to help them manage water quality through a long-term approach. These tribes have reservations on a large peninsula in the central portion of Puget Sound. Their vision is to implement programs to protect their water resources for at least seven generations.

David R. Fuller is a water resources manager and hydrogeologist for the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe. He will provide an overview of the water quality issues as well as the approaches, projects, and activities these two tribes have taken to address their water concerns at Earth Systems Processes on Thursday, June 28, in Edinburgh, Scotland. The Geological Society of America and the Geological Society of London will co-convene the June 24-28 meeting.

One example Fuller will present is the wetland monitoring program. The Suquamish Tribe established staff gauges and monitoring wells in this upland wetland. The project included weekly water level measurements, precipitation monitoring, and basic water quality monitoring for 18 months to establish changes in hydrology and quality. Wetland vegetation was mapped and impervious surface areas were determined with GIS and GPS to assist in the analysis of the changes in water quality and quantity in the wetland as a function of increased impervious surfaces from development in the watershed. The monitoring is continuing with renewed interest this year due to drought conditions in Washington. The tribe is implementing recommendations for wetland and watershed protection and best management practices to pro-actively protect the water and its cultural resources (i.e., wetland plants and animals) that the tribe has traditionally used.

A second example is the Port Gamble S'Klallam tribe's review and analysis of a closed, up gradient, off-reservation unlined and leaking landfill. In this case, the toxic plume daylights from the unconfined aquifer on the Port Gamble S'Klallam Indian Reservation as the headwaters of small creeks. The creeks then flow less than one half mile into shellfish beds in Port Gamble Bay. The Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe is working with the State of Washington, the landowner, and the landfill operator to remediate the problem.

And a third example is a watershed study to help protect the largest native salmon run in central Puget Sound from land-use and development pressures. A sidelight of this project was documentation of the structural control of the drainages supporting this salmon run. This project is similar to most of the other tribal projects in that it's long-term and strives to be pro-active in nature.

"Tribal activities and technical participation have made definite impact to regional water resource programs," Fuller said. "The Suquamish and Port Gamble S'Klallam tribes have provided leadership roles on local, county, and State water resources studies, water resource planning committees, and technical advisory committees."

One of the most effective models Fuller will mention is the Coordinated Tribal Water Quality Program. Under the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, this program has been effective in stretching limited financial resources and facilitating inter-tribal technical communication.

"We will provide the professional community with a recognition that tribes are out there using science and have both data and understanding to contribute to the environmental and scientific community," Fuller explained.

"My perspective on the tribal approach and direction I have received is to look at the big picture and long time frame. Most of my 'clientele' hasn't been born yet and won't be for some time to come!"

During the Earth System Processes meeting, June 25-28, contact the GSA/GSL Newsroom at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre for assistance and to arrange for interviews: +44 (0) 131 519 4134

Ted Nield, GSL Science and Communications Officer Ann Cairns, GSA Director of Communications

The abstract for this presentation is available at: http://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2001ESP/finalprogram/abstract_4631.htm

Post-meeting contact information:

David R. Fuller
Natural Resources Department
Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe
Water Resources Manager/Hydrogeologist
31912 Little Boston Road N.E
Kingston WA 98346 USA
+01 360 297 6323

Ted Nield
Geological Society of London
+44 (0) 20 7434 9944

Ann Cairns
Geological Society of America
+01 303 447 2020 ext. 1156

To view other Earth System Processes press releases, see http://www.geosociety.org/pubntrst/media.htm

Geological Society of America

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