The Cherokee Nation entered into an agreement with the town of Welch on Thursday to help pilot a study to provide healthier drinking water for residents. Welch is in Craig County.
The tribe secured $10,000 through Indian Health Service to assist the town with a $40,000 study. A city grant will fund the remaining costs.
“We have a responsibility to do all we can to help provide safe and consumable water for our citizens in northeast Oklahoma,” said Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden. “This is an investment and partnership that will create a healthier population and have a positive long-term effect. We’re just glad that the Cherokee Nation is able to assist this community to provide safer drinking water to residents for years to come.”
As part of the pilot study, Colorado-based Water Remediation Technologies will use specialized equipment to filter out radium from the town’s water source. The specialized filtration system uses a media filter, which uses a bed of sand, crushed granite or other material to filter water for drinking.
The system has been successful in other states but is untested so far in Oklahoma.
The study will last up to three months and be monitored by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. If the study is successful, the tribe and town of Welch will seek additional funding to build a permanent Water Remediation Technologies filtration system to keep the community in compliance with quality water standards.
“The Cherokee Nation’s help with this project is great because not only are we receiving monetary support, but the tribe has brought in engineers to help with logistics of the project,” said Mayor of Welch Winston McKeon. “I’m just so impressed with the Cherokee Nation, because no matter where you go, whether it’s small communities or large communities within the county, you’ll see the designated signs noting projects being funded by Cherokee Nation tribal money. That is a wonderful thing. I’m pleased and proud the town of Welch can be a part of that.”
Welch is under a consent agreement from the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality to remove elevated levels of radium in its water supply.
The water filtration system project is the first community partnership ever between the Cherokee Nation and town of Welch.
Overall, Cherokee Nation’s engineering program has provided water improvement projects to 23 homes in the Welch area and about 121 homes in Craig County.
“Developing partnerships with our communities inside the Cherokee Nation not only betters the lives of our tribal citizens, but all Oklahomans in the area,” said Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez, who lives in Welch. “It is critical that our tribe continue to further develop these established partnerships in order to create the most optimal living conditions possible for those within the Cherokee Nation jurisdiction.”
Other current Cherokee Nation projects in Craig County include extending the waterline in Craig County Rural Water District #2. The tribe paid $27,415 for the engineering costs of the more than three-mile waterline expansion connecting the rural water district with the town of Ketchum. The project will serve five tribal homes.
Cherokee Nation Chief of Staff Chuck Hoskin Sr., who represents the area in the Oklahoma State Legislature, said he believes partnerships are the best way to tackle local infrastructure issues.
"The local communities know best what problems should be addressed. When we work together at all levels of government, we can support those communities and help solve the problem," said Hoskin.
The Cherokee Nation has completed 10 water and sewer projects with $250,000 from tribal funds and $1.28 million from Indian Health Service funds throughout the 14-county tribal jurisdiction in fiscal year 2013. For more information on the Cherokee Nation engineering program, visit www.cherokee.org and click under the services and community tabs.