Squaxin Island Tribe assumes greater water-quality authority

Members of the Squaxin Island Tribe are proud to call themselves “People of the Water”—and now they’ll have a greater role in safeguarding it. 

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved Squaxin Island’s application to administer water quality standards and certification programs under the Clean Water Act, granting the tribe authority to manage surface waters on the reservation and trust lands.

The agreement encompasses more than 2,500 acres.

Squaxin Island Tribal Chairman Kris Peters and members of the tribe’s natural resources department welcomed EPA Region 10 Administrator Casey Sixkiller on March 1 to mark and celebrate the new designation.

“We know for the future of the people, the land and the water we need to have a seat at the table,” Peters said at the building that houses the tribe’s museum, library and research center. “That’s why today is so important. Today, we have a seat at the table.” 

Peters thanked the Natural Resources staff, who’ve partnered with the EPA on previous efforts such as the collection of water health data. 

Sixkiller praised the tribe’s dedication to water quality.

“As Native people, we know this as a truth: Water is life. And nothing is more critical to that life than having strong protectors,” he said. 

Sixkiller also toured the tribe’s ongoing Shelton Harbor restoration project. 

The Clean Water Act authorizes the EPA to vest tribes with similar authority to state governments. Tribes must reach certain benchmarks before receiving approval. 

The Squaxin Island Tribe is the 18th tribe in EPA’s Region 10 to receive the designation, which it applied for in August 2022. There are 271 tribal nations among the four states in the region. 

Sixkiller said Squaxin Island’s dedication to protecting water for this and future generations will be a model as more tribes pursue and exercise greater authority. 

“You will help us lead the way,” he said.

Above: The Squaxin Island Tribe is now authorized for a greater role in managing on-reservation water quality including in Skookum Creek, pictured here as it winds its way to the estuary. Story: Trevor Pyle. Photo: Squaxin Island Tribe