KBIC becomes first tribe in MI to set own water quality standards

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BARAGA COUNTY, Mich. (WJMN) – The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) has been testing the water quality of Lake Superior for years to help protect the waters and its tribal members. Now the tribe can begin developing its own water quality standards.

The KBIC has been following the federal standards for water but received its official state authority in April 2020 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Stephanie Cree, a water resource specialist for the tribe, said this has been a long time coming.

“KBIC started this process many years ago, and for it to finally come to fruition has been really great. So we’re really hoping that KBIC has paved a way for other tribes here in Michigan to get this authority as well,” Cree.

The KBIC is the first tribe in the state of Michigan to receive this water quality standard authority.

According to the EPA, “With this authority, the KBIC can develop water quality standards as states can do under Sections 303 and 401 of the Clean Water Act. Once EPA has reviewed and approved the standards, the Tribe will administer its surface water quality program, building upon its existing successful environmental programs.”

After the devastation of the 2018 Father’s Day flood in the Keweenaw area, Cree said the tribe noticed the beaches weren’t being monitored for bacteria. In collaboration with the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department (WUPHD) to begin monitoring public beaches.

Weeks following the flood, the KBIC closed its beaches on the reservation for the first time in its history due to high bacteria levels.

“We took it upon ourselves to start going out and monitoring it and grabbing weekly samples. We come out once a week on Thursdays, grab some samples at three spots at each beach, and then we drive them to Amasa to get analyzed and we post the results the next day and let people know whether the beach is safe to swim at or not,” said Cree.

The Natural Resources Department of the KBIC does surface water monitoring four times a year in lakes, rivers, streams, groundwater, wetlands, and wells.

In the summertime, the crew focuses mainly on the beaches to monitor and test for bacteria. Each beach is sampled in three different areas for E. coli, fecal coliform, and microbial source tracking.

On July 22, the KBIC will walk the 17 miles of shoreline along the reservation for its annual Water Walk. It begins at 6 a.m. at First Sands Beach in Pequaming and continues around the Bay to Sand Point in Baraga.

The walk helps to bring awareness to Lake Superior and the healing of its waters.

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