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In 1987, Congress amended the Clean Water Act to allow qualified tribes to be treated as states. In order to adequately protect reservation water resources, some tribes have enacted narrative, non-degradation water quality standards to prevent upstream development from changing pristine water quality at the reservation boundary.

In 1995, the Sokaogon Chippewa Community enacted Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRW) Water Quality Standards for its small (1850 acre) Reservation in northeast Wisconsin. The Tribe's “state status” under the Clean Water Act and its non-degradation water quality standards were approved by the EPA. The State of Wisconsin filed suit contesting the power of the Tribe to become a state within a state under the Clean Water Act. After a six-year legal battle, the federal courts upheld the Tribe's water quality standards.

The Sokaogon non-degradation water quality standards provide a powerful tool to prevent the permitting of a massive zinc and copper sulfide mine, which was proposed to be developed two miles upstream from the Sokaogon reservation. Under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, the Tribe has the power to object to state and federal discharge permits if the upstream mine development would change reservation ambient water quality.

This paper will focus on the cultural values reflected in water quality standards and the legal history of the dispute between the State of Wisconsin which enacted standards favoring development and the Sokaogon Chippewa which enacted standards for its reservation waters designed to maintain pristine water quality. The author, Glenn C. Reynolds, is a practicing attorney and water resource specialist and is currently the tribal attorney for the Sokaogon Chippewa Community.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2003

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  • Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation is an archive of papers published in the proceedings of the annual Water Environment Federation® Technical Exhibition and Conference (WEFTEC® ) and specialty conferences held since the year 2000. These proceedings are not peer reviewed.

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