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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Tribal and First Nation Partners Participate in Clean Water Act Training

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

For the first time, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) collaborated on a Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 106/319 Training for natural resource professionals from northeastern Tribes and Nations. The training provided basic water quality information, monitoring and sampling techniques, restoration and maintenance of water resources, and nonpoint source pollution program management.  The training was hosted by the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts during the first week of May. A group of about 20 to 25 people, with representation from 10 Tribes and Nations, were in attendance.

"We are grateful to have been a part of this training. It was amazing to have members of both New England and New York Tribes and Nations travel and be together for this in-person event,” said Jason Sorenson, a hydrologist with the USGS New England Water Science Center and the Northeast Region (NER, or North Atlantic-Appalachian Region) Tribal Liaison. “It was as much of an exchange of ideas and experiences between professionals as it was a training. Everyone who attended had something to contribute. Speaking for myself, I know I learned a lot, and there is still a lot to learn.”

The goal of the training was to share water resource monitoring techniques, equipment, and processes used by federal agencies with our Tribal and First Nation partners, and to teach about nonpoint source assessment, management, and project implementation. The week-long event included a mix of field and classroom sessions spanning topics from water quality, culvert and riparian assessment, ecology, invasive species, fish tagging and tissue sampling, and climate change. Because some Nations have more experience and larger water resource departments than others, the training included both beginner and advanced tracks. Many of the presentations and demonstrations were joint efforts between the USGS and the EPA.

Sorenson worked with Bessie Wright (EPA Region 1 Tribal Liaison for the Clean Water Act Section 319), Aimee Boucher (Region 2 Tribal Liaison for the Clean Water Act Section 319) and others from EPA Regional offices, EPA Headquarters, Cornell University, and the University of New Hampshire to organize the event.

“This was a bit of a special training because it ended up being a joint nonpoint source pollution and water quality monitoring training, and it was across two regions with help from EPA headquarters as well as the USGS,” Wright said. “It was fantastic, I cannot praise USGS enough for everything that they did to help with the training.”

In addition to Sorenson, other staff members from the New England Water Science Center who attended the training included hydrologic technicians Kim Campo and Casey Beaudoin and hydrologist Adam Benthem.

Additionally, one member from the USGS Wetland Aquatic Research Center in Gainesville, Florida, traveled north to participate in the seminar. A member of the center’s Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Program, botanist Ian Pfingsten discussed the aquatic invasive species found in New England. Pfingsten offered identification tips for the most common aquatic invasive plants in the area and brought a presentation from fishery biologist Wesley Daniel, who was unable to attend.

“Although I was instructing on species identification, I saw this as a chance to learn from [our Tribal Partners],” Pfingsten said. “Our USGS group has contacted Tribes in south Florida for management advice on invasive fishes.”

Connecting with the Wampanoag Tribe

Alex Haro, a fish biologist at USGS S.O. Conte Anadromous Fish Research Laboratory at Turners Falls, Massachusetts, prepared a pre-recorded presentation on “Fish Passage Evaluation and Monitoring” for the training. The session taught attendees how to assess the efficacy of fish passages, such as fish ladders, culverts, or dam removals, and described what fish tracking method option is best depending on a study’s overall objective. Haro has developed and trained people on telemetry techniques for more than 30 years, and he has worked with the Wampanoag Tribe intermittently for 15 years. The Tribe originally asked him to install a video camera on one of their tidal creeks to stream and record video for fish counting – a camera site that is still currently active.

Michelle Staudinger, the Science Coordinator of the USGS Northeast Climate Adaptation Science Center (NECASC), co-hosted a fish tagging demonstration with Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) Tribal Environmental Department staff over two nights during the training. NECASC includes an academic consortium of institutions throughout the region and is hosted by University of Massachusetts - Amherst.

Staudinger has an active collaboration and partnership with the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). Her graduate student and NECASC Fellow Asha Ajmani is co-funded by NECASC and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) to do post-restoration monitoring of the Squibnocket Pond-Menemsha Pond complex after the creek connecting the two ponds was dredged in 2019. The main goal of the study is to restore the populations of river herring and American eel that migrate up the creek between salt and freshwater because these fish serve as a Tribal Trust Resource. Ajmani captures the fish during the migrations, implants passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags that log the timing and directionality of the fish’s movements, and provides the telemetry data to the Wampanoag Tribe.

Large schools of herring swimming inland in search of freshwater to spawn is an all-day occurrence along the coast of Massachusetts in the spring. However, the herring run in Martha’s Vineyard is unique because it happens at night and appears to be restricted to certain tidal and lunar cycles. Because the new Moon coincidentally took place during the week-long training, when the herring were expected to enter the pond complex, Staudinger took the opportunity to conduct two nighttime fish tagging events as a demonstration of the project for the Tribal attendees.

“It has been a longstanding goal for us at the NECASC to engage and assist regional Tribal Nations on climate adaptation science. This was a perfect opportunity to talk about the work that we are doing with the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), so that if other Tribes are also interested in setting up programs to restore and track fish on their Tribal Lands, they could see an example of a successful partnership with USGS,” Staudinger said.

Both demonstrations were well attended with training attendees and USGS and EPA presenters who were excited to observe the herring run, ask questions, and learn how to properly catch and tag fish.

More Than a PowerPoint

In addition to the fish tagging demonstrations, Staudinger led a “walk-and-talk presentation” on culvert restoration in cooperation with Benthem, Ajmani, Wright, and Sorenson.

“All of the attendees were professionals from either the EPA or natural resource departments from Tribes and Nations of New England and New York, so we had a wide range of experience from laboratory expertise to people who install culverts and stormwater control infrastructure,” said Sorenson.

They brought attendees to the different drainpipes in the area to discuss the design differences between a useful and an ineffective culvert, how climate change impacts flow, and how design and maintenance influences fish and wildlife passage.

“The presentation was really impactful because you have a visual memory,” Staudinger said. “When we had a good culvert, we could make the point of how easy it was for water, fish, and wildlife to move underneath versus one that was completely blocked – on one culvert you could see a tree growing out of the pipe. I feel like the magic happened in the side conversations that started to develop, just people truly being able to see the site and think about their own locations.”

A Possibility for More

Looking to replicate this event, Wright said this initial collaboration served as a “proof of concept training” to support similar Tribe and First Nation trainings in the future. “It was kind of a very special moment,” Wright said. “One that I hope we can continue and repeat because it was a really great collaboration.”

This article originally appeared on the USGS website