Environmental Leadership on Tribal Lands

Go to EPA's Science Month pageAbout the author: Sara Jacobs recently celebrated her 10th year working at EPA Region 9. She has spent most of her years in the Drinking Water Office, but is currently on a detail to the Superfund Division, working with the Navajo EPA.

When I saw that Lenore Lamb had been chosen as one of the EPA Pacific Southwest Environmental Award Winners, I was thrilled since I know first hand of Lenore’s accomplishments as the Environmental Director for the Pala Band of Mission Indians. I met Lenore in 2001 and three wells, three kids (two were mine), and eight years later, I have seen Lenore grow from a one woman show to managing a staff of 12. She’s gone from a young, eager environmental learner to an expert and leader in her field. Her efficiency and energy amazes me and I get the impression that she does the work of three people. (She tells me it’s due to large quantities of caffeine.)

Here are just some of her contributions:

  • Providing safe drinking water and wastewater disposal for both the Pala Band as well as a tribal community in Mexico by securing funding and overseeing infrastructure projects.
  • Developing a “Green Team,” with representatives from the Pala Casino Resort and Spa, that has implemented energy and water efficiency programs and diverted 170 tons of solid waste since implementation of their program last year.
  • Active involvement in the Upper San Luis Rey Resource Conservation District. Lenore has been instrumental in the clean up of illegal dumpsites along the creek beds within the reservation boundaries.
  • Supporting education and outreach programs through annual earth day events, tribal publications, exercises for the Pala Boys and Girls Science Club, and by developing a “Creating and Managing Tribal Transfer Stations” course.
  • Securing tribal funding and overseeing design and construction of a transfer station. The facility is open to the public, includes electronic waste collection, a green waste and composting program, a secured hazardous waste collection location, a state certified buy back center for recyclables, and a used oil collection program.

image of cardboard stacked at Pala Transfer Station

From my own experience working with tribes, I know that tribal environmental managers face enormous challenges. I’m even more impressed by Lenore since her accomplishments are more forward thinking than many non-tribal governments, even in a state like California, which is often on the cutting edge. Lenore has not only made significant contributions to improving the environment at Pala, she has contributed to improving environmental conditions throughout Indian Country.

To learn more about the Pala Band’s environmental programs, go to http://www.palatribe.com/programs/environment/. Look for additional environmental tribal leaders in future posts.