Ada — Brent Shields is a physician of sorts. He checks the health of streams and rivers as they flow through the Chickasaw Nation.
Shields is a Chickasaw Nation Environmental Services technician. He goes about his daily rounds and shares information he gathers with state and federal environmental agencies.
“We monitor streams year-round,” Shields said. “It’s hot during the summer and cold during the winter. We have to be careful of snakes, poison ivy and hypothermia.”
For the past 10 years, technicians have monitored creeks, streams and rivers within the Chickasaw Nation. Shields and his fellow technicians are not required by any state or federal agency to conduct water quality testing. They complete regular testing because the Chickasaw Nation desires its streams and rivers stay healthy and vibrant. The tribe utilizes grants provided through the federal Clean Water Act to assist it in being responsible stewards of its natural resources.
The tribal technicians closely monitor sites declared “impaired water systems” by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.
“’Impaired’ does not always mean bad or polluted,” environmental specialist Ambrie Johnson said. “Many of the streams are classified as impaired simply because there has been little or no data collected on them.”
Current monitoring sites include locations around Ada, Tishomingo and Sulphur. The rivers, streams and creeks are contained within two primary watersheds - Little Sandy and Clear Boggy.
“People are familiar with our Pennington Creek and the Blue River locations,” Shields said. “The other sites are in rural and more remote locations.”
Advanced equipment is used to gather samples measuring stream flow, temperature, pH balance, chloride and other data.
The team also uses equipment you might recognize from your garage or tool shed. Machetes and weed-eaters come in pretty handy, particularly during the growing season. Thermal waders and protective clothes ward off hypothermia and stave off trench foot.