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Lac du Flambeau: Power to protect reservation waters a benefit to all

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Last October, the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians
took a small but important step toward responsibly managing its water-rich
reservation in northern Wisconsin. The band requested that the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency grant it the authority to develop standards
for the lakes, rivers and wetlands on the reservation.

It makes sense that water is so integral to the economic livelihood,
culture and spirit of the Lac du Flambeau Band. With 260 lakes, 71 miles of
streams and rivers, and 24,000 acres of wetlands, about half of the surface
area of the reservation is water.

Traditional fishing activities, as well as subsistence hunting and
wild-rice gathering, are vitally dependent on the quality of their water.
In fact, the name Lac du Flambeau -- meaning "Lake of the Torches" --
reflects the water-rich culture of the people.

Given the importance of water to its survival, it is no surprise that the
band is working to develop standards to protect reservation waters. What
may be a surprise, however, is that currently these reservation waters fall
into a regulatory void. Outside the reservation, the state of Wisconsin has
been approved by the EPA to set standards to protect state waters. Inside
the reservation, the Lac du Flambeau is seeking a similar approval from the
EPA.

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The interconnected waters of the Lac du Flambeau Reservation are shared by
everyone, including the non-tribal members who comprise 40 percent of the
population there. The problem is that absent the EPA's approval, the band
only has authority over the activities of its members, not the non-Native
businesses and residents living within the reservation. The practical
result on the reservation is that there are effectively no standards in
place to protect these valuable interconnected waters.

If the EPA approves the band's ability to protect its waters, the band will
then be able to develop standards to protect reservation waters -- not
waters off of the reservation. And due to the flowing nature of water,
improvements to reservation waters will only send cleaner water to
downstream users off the reservation. In a clean water-dependent economy
like that of northern Wisconsin, this can only be seen as a gift to the
band's neighbors.

The bottom line is that what the Lac du Flambeau Band is seeking is
eminently reasonable, fair and protective of the vulnerable waters we all
share. We should send letters of support to Todd Ambs at the Wisconsin
Department of Natural Resources.

Melissa K. Scanlan is the executive director of, and Andrew Hanson is a
staff attorney for, Midwest Environmental Advocates, a nonprofit
environmental law center working for clean air, clean water and a clean
government.