Water Quality Program to protect and restore tribal waters

WQP Staff Audrey Harvey collects a water sample.
Photo Credit:

Plan to benefit tribal membership 

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe Water Quality Program (WQP) is directed by Tribal Council to Protect and Restore Tribal Waters for the benefit of Tribal Membership. To meet this goal, WQP, an office of the Environmental Program Division, engages in several activities on the Reservation’s lakes, streams and groundwater resources. There are two main objectives for the Water Quality Program: Protection of current high quality waters and restoration of degraded waters and to bring degraded waters back to high quality. Working with SUIT Wildlife, Range and Agricultural Divisions and other SUIT agencies, the WQP strives to ensure water is suitable for cultural, drinking water, aquatic life, and agricultural uses.

To protect water quality, and to understand the health of the aquatic resource, the WQP routinely collects metals and nutrient water samples and macroinvertebrate (stream insects). Major surface waters assessed are the La Plata, Animas, Los Pinos, Piedra, Navajo, San Juan Rivers and many smaller streams that feed them. The WQP also monitors Capote Reservoir and Scotts Pond. Using some new technology, probes are deployed in several rivers 24/7 for 8 months of the year. These probes sample and store data on temperature, oxygen levels and pH that is critical for fish and other aquatic life. Additionally, the WQP tests tribal member drinking water wells for any kind of groundwater contamination like bacteria or selenium. This service is free of charge for tribal members on the reservation, contact Kirk Lashmett 563-0135, for more information.

The data collected by the WQP is used to develop Water Quality Standards (WQS). WQS specify the level of quality each river and lake should meet to not become “polluted” and also describes how to keep them at that quality. Presently, about forty tribes (Including the Ute Mtn. Ute) and all 50 States have WQS approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.

One of the tools included in WQS to protect water quality is the ability to comment on permits and other land use activities on the reservation that may impact Tribal Waters. The WQP does not issue permits, but may provide comments and conditions to protect water quality. An example of this is when WQS are used to set discharge limits for waste water treatment plants. The WQS can also influence activities outside of the reservation, as any upstream discharger is legally obliged to protect Tribal downstream waters.

The most common water quality issue on the reservation is sedimentation from degraded stream banks and excessive nutrients. Sediment can smother streambeds and kill the insects fish like to eat. Nutrients are an essential part of river and lake ecosystems, but when they are in excess, they cause prolific aquatic plant life. This plant life can cause changes to oxygen and pH levels, which results in stress to fish and other aquatic life, sometimes leading to death.

If waters are not at a good quality, the WQP’s Non-Point Source Program works to help correct the problem. The WQP works with farmers and ranchers within the exterior boundary of the reservation to improve irrigation through our Cost Share Program. This program improves the effectiveness of irrigation by supplying gated pipe to producers on the reservation. The program also assists in the planting of field filter strips and buffers, and other measures to reduce runoff from irrigated lands. The non-point source program also is willing to provide any technical assistance to local farmers and ranchers to improve water quality.


The Non-Point Source program also reduces sediment pollution by stabilizing stream banks that are eroding due to instability. The program uses native materials and natural channel design techniques to prevent excess sediment from fouling fish habitat and damaging infrastructure. The program also revitalizes and protects the riparian zone, the areas around the rivers, by planting native riparian plants that benefit water quality, wildlife and all tribal members. Contact Pete Nylander for more information to how to become involved in any Non-Point Source programs.

The WQP seeks tribal member assistance in the development of the Water Quality Standards and other programs that protect Tribal Resources. Please see the advertisement for vacancy in the Drum or contact WQP Program Manager Curtis Hartenstine 563-0135 for more information.

To top