(Originally published in the December 2017 edition of the Wichita Tribal News)
Water is an integral part of life for both plant and animal alike. For this reason, the purpose of the Wichita Department of Environmental Programs’ Water Quality Program “is to develop and implement a Tribal water quality-monitoring program that will evaluate, restore, and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrities of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes water ways,” according to the department’s web page.
Yet, how is the water monitored? How do tribal members know if water in their area is at safe levels?
The water monitoring duties of WDEP are handled by Water Technician Corey Reeder. He started the position in April 2017 under the training of WDEP Director Jason Prince and TERO Director Craig Watkins, who formerly held the position.
“There’s always something to learn,” Reeder said about the duties of the job. “It caught my interest.”Data collection by Reeder takes place toward the end of each month at 10 sites within the Wichita tribal jurisdiction. These sites include two locations on Sugar Creek; two locations on the Washita River; and one location each on Willow Creek, Five Mile Creek, Cobb Creek, Fort Cobb Lake, Ion Creek and Chickasha Lake.
Although factors such as rain can delay testing days, the same site on these bodies of water is always used. Reeder uses a submergible device known as the “Manta 2” that obtains readings such as water depth, oxygen levels, pH, turbidity, temperature, algae and levels of ammonia or nitrates. Data from the Manta 2 is then loaded into a tablet known as the “Amphibian.” Other data is written down on a checklist that includes water color, algae presence and even smell.
After the Manta 2 is reeled in and the data uploaded to the Amphibian, the second part of the data collection process is the physical collection of water samples. This can be at either the water’s edge or, in some cases, by standing on a bridge and lowering a reel with a collection bottle attached to a wire. From this bottle, four smaller bottles are filled for laboratory samples. Two are used for testing at the WDEP offices for e. coli and enterococcus. These samples are incubated for 24 hours under black light to identify live bacteria. The other two bottles are sent to Environmental Testing, Inc. in Oklahoma City to test for items such as pesticides. If a bacteria level or findings at the ETI labs are too high, then WDEP contacts the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality for further action.Data on the Amphibian is uploaded to the federal Environmental Protection Agency site known as STORET, which houses nationwide water quality data for public usage. The information can then be of use to all people who live within the area or to those who are doing research on a national level.
One of the ways that the data is useful is the measuring of water depth. In some cases where water is consistently low, Reeder said it’s a potential sign of illegal crop irrigation through damming of public water ways.
When asked by Wichita Tribal News about what can be done by families to reduce water pollution, Reeder said to be cautious of what is placed in the earth or into a body of water.
“Whatever you put into the earth makes its way into a stream,” Reeder said. “Everything we do, it ends up in water somehow. You can spray something, it rains. We throw something away-it rains and runs off. It’s straight pollution. We’ve got to quit polluting.”
One way to reduce water pollution: Look for the EPA “Safer Choice” label when buying household products.