Eastern Cherokee Band Recognized by EPA for Harnessing Rainwater to reduce consumption of local fresh water reserves.

Creative use of storm water and runoff has earned the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians kudos from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the form of a regional 2015 Rain Catcher Award in the Tribal Category for their Native Plant Facility project in western North Carolina.

At a ceremony during the agency’s Region 4 International Erosion Control Association Municipal Wet Weather Stormwater Conference in Atlanta in June 2015. The award, was bestowed for “excellence in the implementation of stormwater green infrastructure practices,” and given to the tribe.

“The project—running and maintaining a Native Plant Nursery Facility designed to provide native plants for tribal projects associated with aquatic restoration, riverbank vegetation and wildlife habitat enhancement—not only garnered the band an award but also could serve as models for other tribes,” EPA officials said.

Form the reviews and data found in the project and it’s results:

“The project employed two 6,000-gallon cisterns to capture and reuse approximately 1,750 gallons of rainwater per inch of rainfall,” the EPA said in a statement announcing the award on June 17. “The facility location received 52 inches of precipitation in the past year, resulting in approximately 91,000 gallons of rainwater captured and ultimately applied to the plants. With this rain harvesting capability, the Cherokee have reduced surface water consumption from the on-site stream by more than 36 percent.”

Eastern Band of Cherokee Principal Chief Michell Hicks said that “reusing rainwater is an important part of leaving a softer ecological footprint and thus a priority for the tribe.”

“One of the things we really focus on, without question, is the protection of our environment,” Michell Hicks said. “We ask, ‘How can we best utilize our current resources?’”

Natives have always asked ‘How can we honor the mother earth?’. We have always looked for ways to disturb at little as possible. Ways to make our presence invisible or as small as possible while maximizing the benefits mother earth provides.

“The Cherokee Native Plant Facility takes a life-cycle approach to solving an environmental problem using green infrastructure, the very thing the Raincatcher Award was designed to recognize,” EPA spokesperson Davina Marraccini said.

“The tribe wanted to restore historical floodplains for propagation of culturally significant plants and reestablishing historical fisheries communities,” Marraccini said. “The cost of plant material for reforestation of floodplains was significant. So, through collaboration and partnerships, they resolved that it would be economically opportune to breed their own plant stock.”

Sovereignty of the Cherokee nation also factors in, in the form of the reintroduction of traditional plants.

“We definitely have started a number of programs that focus on indigenous foods, including ramps, which are similar to wild onions,” said chief Mitchell Hicks. “We have also reestablished beans, corn and other vital eco-foods, and that has been very beneficial.”

Marraccini said “A major concern for many organizations in 2015 is the use of water and that the EPA recognized this project because of its strength in meeting advertised criteria and employing innovative thinking to solve an environmental challenge.”

“A significant cost in running any nursery is water use,” Marraccini said. “The cisterns installed at the native plant facility have not only reduced the amount of purchased water, which cuts costs, but also captures rainfall at its peak force, which reduces runoff quantity and velocity. The retention and reuse of this stormwater further removes pollutants, since plants filter the water they use.”

“Thinking about the environment in a business context should include thinking about everything in the business process, from materials to disposal,” Marraccini said. “That is applicable for any business or any tribe. It is the sensible method to find ways to save costs and think green. The specifics for a particular business in a particular place will be different. But the process starts with engaging partners who can help you with thinking through the challenges and coming up with solutions. That’s what the Cherokee did in this case.”

The nursery facility has provided about 75,000 plants for projects, 120,000 container plants of 32 species and a rain-harvesting capability that has reduced surface water consumption from the on-site stream by more than a third and has proven to do just that. A great example to businesses on how to be socially responsible as well as fiscally responsible. These two aren’t always mutually exclusive.

“We’re thrilled to have the Tribe as a partner in restoring our aquatic environment here in the Southeast,” Marraccini said. “The challenges in water management are substantial. The tribe’s willingness to do what they can and to find innovative ways to address the issues facing them is all we can ask of any partner.”

Congrats to the Cherokee nation for once again leading the way and demonstrating to the world your commitment to passing on a better world to our children!

~Kuwa Sumanitu Taka (pursuing wolf) aka Michelle Styles