Water wells near troubled Oklahoma river going bad


Turning on the tap and getting a glass of clean water is a luxury many of us take for granted, but that is not the case everywhere in Oklahoma and the problem is getting worse.

The issue of drinkable drinking water is a problem in Kay County, particularly to those who live along the Salt Fork River. That also happens to be home to many Native Americans who are members of the Ponca Nation.

The tribe has some homes that are part of a water system that was put in years ago. It pipes in treated water from Ponca City. However, no more homes can be put on that system, so many homes rely on water wells.

Kim Grass Sr. works for the tribe's utility division and says he’s had to deliver water from the treated system to homes who have had wells test positive for dangerous contaminants.

Grass escorted us to homes with private wells. We tested the water using a meter that detects “Total Dissolved Solids,” or TDS. The TDS reading does not tell you what compounds are in the water, but it will tell you how much ‘stuff’ is mixed in with that water.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency recommends a maximum TDS reading of 500 parts per million for palatable drinking water. In Oklahoma City, tap water measures around 70 ppm. Some dissolved solids are good because they are minerals your body needs. However excessive material in the water can cause strong odors, bad taste or potentially other problems.

Wells tested by FOX 25 ranged from nearly 300 ppm to more than 700 ppm.

Pamela Littlevoice’s well is the newest well drilled on Ponca Nation land.

“I don't even give it to my dogs,” Littlevoice told FOX 25, “I get my dogs spring water from town.”

Littlevoice uses the water for her bathrooms and that is about it. She imports the water she drinks. Her family’s well has never been great water, but she says in the last few years it has gotten worse. The new well is no exception and the problem is being felt all around homes that border the Salt Fork River.

“They used to have good water across the road, when i was young because we used to go get water there,” Littlevoice said, “But now their water is bad.”

The Littlevoice well is likely the last well that will be drilled on Ponca Nation land. Grass said the company that contracts with the tribe will not drill in that part of Kay County.

“Their engineer told their inspector they couldn't do any more over here,” Grass said, “Because every time they do it turns up bad.”

Grass says it's a shame that water surrounds them, but none of it fit to drink.

The state does not have regulatory control over tribal land, however the Ponca Nation is working with the EPA. The agency said last year, it awarded a general assistance program grant of $109,000 to the Ponca Tribe which the tribe is using to map their water infrastructure, develop a surface-water monitoring program and work with the state of Oklahoma regarding issues at the Salt Fork River.

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