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USET’s Summit Provides a Wellspring of Experience for Attendees

The word is out: The Wampanoag Tribe of Gayhead (Aquinnah) has near perfect drinking water.

This little-known fact was revealed during the first Tribal Drinking Water Contest at the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) second Annual Tribal Utility Summit, hosted this year by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians at their Wind Creek Casino and Hotel in Atmore, Alabama. The summit took place April 5–7.

The Tribal Utility Summit is an annual training and networking opportunity for tribal water, wastewater and solid-waste professionals. The event is a collaborative effort sponsored by USET, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Nashville Area Indian Health Services (IHS). More than 120 tribal professionals, vendors and federal agency representatives attended the three-day event. Training and continuing education units were provided in areas including chlorine safety, confined space entry, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems and controls or computer monitoring systems, lift stations and pumps, asset management and transfer-station operation. In addition several attendees tested for 608 Certification—that’s training in how to handle solid waste products, such as safely removing Freon from discarded refrigerators so that it doesn’t affect air quality.

Scott Williams, a licensed water plant operator who worked in the industry for more than two decades and is now USET’s technical assistance specialist, introduced the idea of a drinking-water contest, which was held during the summit by the USET Certification Board for Water and Wastewater Operators and Laboratory Analysts hosted the first Tribal Drinking Water Contest for USET members’ water treatment facilities. With the USET offices in Nashville, member tribes spread out from Maine to Florida, and with the summit being held in Alabama, it took a bit of ingenuity by Williams to coordinate the contest.

“I went out and found sanitary gallon jugs from a bottle supplier and we sent them to each tribe, gave them a shipping time for the jugs to arrive at Atmore and asked them to ship overnight,” Williams said. “The jugs were refrigerated when they arrived. When I got down there I found 10 jugs of water, which was great. I was hoping for six.”

Samples were received from all over USET’s south and eastern territory. A panel of judges ranked the water on a scale of one to 10 for clarity, odor and taste. The first-place Wampanoag Tribe won with a score of 9.7. Second and third places were awarded to the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, in northern New York state, and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in Connecticut.

All of the contestants had good water, Williams said.

“All of the drinking water was quality safe-to-drink water. Most of the tribe’s systems use well water. One of the reasons I’m here is to help them with technical assistance and water treatment training and encourage them to take pride in their work and products. But what I’ve found so far is all the tribes try very hard and do very well with meeting regulations,” Williams said. “Tribes are sovereign nations and are not subject to state or local jurisdiction, rules, and regulations. However, tribes are subject to Federal Regulations, unless specifically excluded, which includes the Safe Drinking Water Act as enforced by EPA. It has been our experience that tribes follow the EPA regulations and consistently exceed those regulations to provide safe drinking water to their tribal members.”

Williams, who has been on the job with USET for about six months, has visited four of the organization’s 26 member tribes so far and has plans to visit the others. USET provides training and certification services to its members free of charge. The services are also available to tribes around the country.

USET was established in 1969 as a nonprofit inter-tribal organization dedicated to promoting Indian leadership, improving the quality of life for American Indians and protecting Indian rights and resources on tribal lands. USET represents its member tribes at the regional and national levels.