EPA and the Chickasaw Nation: Working Together to Ensure Long-Term Sustainability and Quality of our Water

By Ann Keeley

Some very exciting events took place last week here in Ada, Oklahoma—EPA’s Robert S. Kerr Environmental Research Center hosted the 50th Anniversary dedication of the Center. A highlight of the celebration included the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between our groundwater remediation and ecosystem restoration scientists and the Chickasaw Nation, a federally recognized American Indian Tribal Nation, also located in Ada.

The Chickasaw Nation will conduct research, lead community outreach efforts, and initiate development and implementation activities in support of the Chickasaw-Choctaw Regional Water Plan and Arbuckle-Simpson Drought Contingency Project that focuses on water conservation, water supply security, and drought resiliency for the communities within the Chickasaw Nation. Our scientists will contribute through research and development activities in support of programs and regional priorities, and the development and analysis of sustainable water and land management systems to improve the environmental quality and community health and awareness in south central Oklahoma.

The MOU being signed at the ceremony

Lek Kadeli  and Bill Anoatubby sign the Memorandum of Understanding between EPA and the Chickasaw Nation during the Robert S. Kerr Environmental Research Center’s 50th Anniversary Event Celebration.

Lek Kadeli, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Management in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, and Bill Anoatubby, Governor of the Chickasaw Nation, gave remarks in honor of the signing.

Kadeli confidently predicted that in another 50 years at the Ada 100th Anniversary, this collaboration will be recognized not only for its scientific achievement, but for the water resource management decisions that allowed this region to thrive. “The people of Ada, Oklahoma and the people of our nation will benefit from the collaboration of the Chickasaw Nation and the Office of Research and Development.” Kadeli stated.

Anoatubby shared with everyone how EPA was the first federal agency to develop policies to work with tribes as sovereign nations, and expressed his appreciation for our Agency being on the forefront of these efforts. With sincerity and conviction he went on to say, “Being able to work with the EPA lab will have a positive impact not only for both parties, but also for the surrounding community. The goals of the MOU can’t be separated from the community goals – they are one in the same – ensuring the long-term sustainability and quality of our water.” The ceremony concluded with Kadeli and Anoatubby signing the official written agreement.

Distinguished guests at the event included EPA officials; current and retired colleagues; and leaders from regional, state, and tribal governments. Also attending was the President of East Central University, John R. Hargrave, other local affiliated academics, and business and community leaders.

At EPA’s Kerr Center, we are committed to helping the Chickasaw Nation and other regional federal tribal nations strengthen their ability to manage associated environmental programs. Through our work, partnerships and mission, we ensure that tribes have a voice in decisions that affect their land, air, and water.

About the Author: Dr. Ann Keeley is an Environmental Microbiologist, and Chief of the Ecosystem Subsurface Protection Branch in Ada, Oklahoma. She has a B.S. in Health with emphasis in clinical microbiology, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Environmental Microbiology from Mississippi State University. Her research area is combined treatment technologies. She joined EPA in 1998.

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How Science has Changed at the Robert S. Kerr Environmental Research Center over the Last Fifty Years

By Jane Ice

This week the Robert S. Kerr Environmental Research Center in Ada, Oklahoma is celebrating its 50th anniversary. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing a few researchers at the Center—Jack Keeley, Joe Williams, and Dave Jewett—to discuss how science has changed here over the last 50 years . Afterward I was in awe, and felt as if I’d just interviewed The Beatles. Keeley, Williams, Jewett, and others stationed at the Center over the last five decades are truly the rock stars of groundwater science.

three pictures of scientists over different years

Scientists at the Robert S. Kerr Environmental Research Center over the last 50 years

Keeley began his environmental career in 1965 at the Kerr Center and worked at EPA from its inception in 1970. His work led to the creation of EPA’s first groundwater program in 1979, a time when nobody understood much about groundwater or groundwater research. Keeley remembers, “It was considered mysterious and cult-like.”

The 70s and 80s brought positive changes and opportunities for the Center. More efficient methods made scientific results easier to obtain and more accurate. Keeley and staff worked for years with local and regional colleges and universities to help build their curricula. “We created a new profession of scientists equipped to deal with all phases of groundwater research,” said Keeley. “We literally had people from all over the world come to this laboratory just to work with our scientists – Sweden, Germany, France, and other countries. We were that famous at one time.”

Williams joined EPA in 1987, when information technology was becoming more common in the workplace. Among his many contributions was his leading role in creating EPA’s first public wiki internet site: EPA Watershed Central Wiki. “This site helps managers discover the correct tools to use in developing a watershed management plan; and creates an environment to foster the exchange of lessons learned and best watershed management practices across the nation,” said Williams.

Jewett joined EPA in 1997, when much of the research focused on contaminated site characterization and groundwater remediation. Ecosystem restoration was also part of the Center’s mission at that time.

When discussing future directions Jewett said, “Research will always be necessary to improve efficacy and cost effectiveness of various technologies and strategies to characterize and remediate contaminated groundwater.” Williams commented, “I definitely see a relevance and need of aquifer storage and recovery for water reuse where that might apply to drinking water supplies or support for watershed scale ecosystems. The need for subsurface remediation research for in situ remediation at contaminated sites remains a high priority for the nation.”

scientists work at their stations in different yearsAs world leaders of unprecedented, successful, sustainable ground water science, Keeley, Williams, and Jewett shared their passion and appreciation for the ability to share information with other science organizations “We are experts in understanding subsurface groundwater flow and transport of naturally occurring and human-generated contaminant mass,” said Jewett. “We have transitioned from contaminated sites research to national and global studies regarding water resources. We study how water impacts ecosystem goods and services, how we value those water resources, and determine what we can do to improve those resources for future use.”

With the help of these scientists and everyone at the Center, groundwater research has become an integral part of human health and environmental protection today. As we look back on all that has been accomplished here over the last 50 years, one thing is clear—all you need is science!

Note: Jack Keeley, Director of Research, retired in 1988. Joe Williams is Deputy National Program Director for Office of Research and Development’s Safe and Sustainable Water Resources research program, Dave Jewett is the Chief of the Subsurface Remediation Branch and Co-Chair for EPA’s Tribal Science council.

About the Author: Jane Ice is a Public Affairs Specialist with the National Risk Management Research Laboratory in Cincinnati, Ohio. She joined EPA in 1990.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Another Trip Back in Time: Kerr Lab Time Capsule Reopened in Honor of 50th Anniversary

By Richard Lowrance

On Wednesday, June 8th, a group of us gathered with anticipation and nostalgia at EPA’s Robert S Kerr Environmental Research Center in Ada, Oklahoma, as a cornerstone box was dusted off and unsealed. As division director, I had the honor of opening the time capsule and displaying the contents which included time-stamped artifacts representing preserved memories, major milestones, and key accomplishments of our predecessors dating back 50 years.

corner stone box with contents surrounding it

Time capsule contents

Current center employees gathered along with twenty former employees, including one of our former directors, Clint Hall (1980-2001). Originally opened in 1996 on the 30th anniversary of our research center, the time capsule was opened again in honor of the center’s 50th anniversary, which will be commemorated during our 50th Anniversary Event and Technical Symposium on August 3rd.

Items placed in the time capsule during the Center’s dedication in 1966 include a copy of the Robert S. Kerr’s book Land, Wood and Water; a 1966 Kerr Lab employee roster; a poem, “White Oak,” written by Thelma Stroud as she sat beneath an oak tree near Kerr’s memorial; a copy of the memorial address delivered in Congress upon Kerr’s death in 1963; and an invitation to the original dedication of the RSKERC building.

Additional items placed in the time capsule in 1996 include a video message from Lab Director Clinton W. Hall describing the role of the lab and EPA; a newspaper clipping from the Ada News on the opening of the time capsule; a laboratory brochure; a 1996 organizational chart and employee roster; and various reports produced by researchers at the Kerr Lab.

A group of us gathered to open the time capsule. From left to right: Ann Runyan, retiree (she was here in 1966), Jack Keeley, retiree (also here in 1966), Clint Hall, former Division Director (1980 – 2001), me, Michael Brooks, Environmental Engineer, John Skender, Facilities Manager is standing behind Michael.

A group of us gathered to open the cornerstone box. From left to right: Ann Runyan, retiree (she was here in 1966), Jack Keeley, retiree (also here in 1966), former Division Director Clint Hall, me, Michael Brooks, and John Skender (behind Michael).

Built in the 1960s, the Kerr center is one of the original regional water research laboratories established under the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration. It became part of the newly-formed EPA in 1970. By the late 1990s, the research mission expanded to include ground water remediation and ecosystems restoration. Over the last 50 years, our scientific excellence and research advancements have changed how communities, regions, and the Nation protect and manage its ground water and ecological resources.

The Anniversary Event and Symposium will recognize our achievements and showcase past, current, and future research at the center to the scientific community, elected officials, regional and program representatives, and the greater community. The state of ground water issues and research in the United States will also be discussed. At the closing of the August 3rd event, we will have an opportunity to add new items to the capsule before it is sealed and returned to the cornerstone box. New items will likely include documents identifying current employees, high profile research efforts, and major accomplishments that align with our mission to protect human health and the environment.

About the Author: Richard Lowrance has been the Ground Water and Ecosystems Restoration Division director since June 2014. Before that he was a research ecologist with USDA Agricultural Research Service for 31 years.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.