Self-determination, sustainability & Indigenous water governance: tribal water quality standards in the western U.S.

Authors: Sibyl Diver*, Stanford University
Topics: Indigenous Peoples, Natural Resources, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: environmental governance, water quality, self-determination, tribes, Indigenous knowledge, TEK, environmental policy and management
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Galvez, , Marriott, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines how U.S. tribes are engaging in self-governance through environmental management, particularly with Indigenous waters. The work engages with broader concerns about the importance and challenges of including Indigenous knowledge within dominant policy frameworks. Water quality issues are of the utmost concern for many U.S. tribes, who face different water quality challenges ranging from extractive industries contaminating water sources, to agricultural runoff, to warming temperatures that increase toxic algae levels.

To address these challenges, some U.S. tribes are self-organizing their own water quality standards that apply to tribal lands. Tribal regulations are enabled through Treatment as a State (TAS) provisions in the Clean Water Act. TAS tribes are required to meet minimum federal standards and work with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, when tribes adopt more stringent standards than their neighbors, these may be used to require cleaner practices off-reservation by upstream water users, which has important implications for multi-jurisdictional governance.

This paper specifically analyzes tribal water quality standards across the U.S. and develops a typology of different tribal resistance strategies being applied through existing regulatory frameworks. The project considers how tribal standards intersect with or depart from federal and state standards, in terms of stringency and cultural uses. The work is occurring in parallel with case study research on tribal water governance implementation and enforcement.

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