In the hinterlands, a slip, fall, snake bite or injury can be life-threatening. More than once, the tribe’s monitoring team has experienced “can-you-hear-me-now” moments when weak cell tower signals make contact with the world non-existent.
“The hardest parts about water monitoring are the elements and locations,” Shields said. “In summer, the locations become overgrown. I often have to cut paths through the brush to get to streams. In August, heat exhaustion is a concern. On more than one occasion, I have had run-ins with cottonmouth snakes, both in and out of the water.”
Winter presents its own set of challenges.
“We monitor in cold weather as well,” Shields said. “Temperatures can be below freezing. We have to have proper cold weather equipment to stay dry and warm as we work in the water. It is a dangerous time of the year.”
Over the years, Chickasaw Nation water monitoring experts have consistently monitored 15 sites. Data collected will be used as baseline data for future generations to determine the overall health of the watersheds.
Chickasaw Nation Environmental Services has partnered with the Oklahoma Conservation Commission and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) to take water samples measuring water flow, chemistry and potentially harmful bacteria.
Technicians who make up the water program receive ongoing training and are certified by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. The proper use of the latest testing equipment, sampling techniques and science are used for precise data collection.
Training includes web-based seminars, national conferences and hands-on training in the field. The training provides for improved data collection and information.
“We use a lot of the same equipment methods as the USGS and EPA,” Shields said. “We train with them and share information. We used to send our data to a private company for compilation. A few years ago, I was trained by the EPA to submit the data, which saves us a lot of money.”