The Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma and NEO Partner on Grant for Wetlands Research and Water Project


Fuhr and Hale signing agreement

Miami, Oklahoma – The Peoria Tribe received a grant from Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA) to develop a passive water treatment system on Tar Creek that Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, (NEO) will manage and maintain. This wetlands area will enable students at NEO to have numerous educational opportunities in biology, chemistry and other projects.

According to the Oklahoma Water Science Center, (OWSC), the years of mining in search of heavy metals left many abandoned mines resulting in ground and water contamination in many areas of the United States, including Tar Creek.  The former Picher Mining Field, (which occupied approximately 40 square miles), of northern Ottawa County, Okla., was a primary source of lead and zinc to the U.S. from the early 1900s to the 1940s and is the largest superfund site in the U.S, meaning a site where toxic wastes have been dumped and the Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), has designated them to be cleaned up.
According to data from the U.S. EPA Office of Water, the 303(d) Listed Impaired Waters program is a system which provides impaired water data and impaired water features reflecting river segments, lakes, and estuaries designated under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, (CWA).

Tar Creek is on the Okla. 303(d) list for lead, and is also heavily contaminated with residual heavy metals, such as zinc and cadmium, and is characterized by a reddish-brown color resulting from iron oxide.

The grant proposal for the project states that approximately five miles of the Tar Creek stream flows through Peoria land and subsequently into the Neosho River Watershed. In addition to that, Tar Creek flows directly adjacent to the NEO campus.

This project is a collaborative effort between NEO A&M College and the Peoria Tribe.
“The Peoria Tribe is pleased to announce that we have received a grant from the EPA, Clean Water Act Division, to partner with Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in an effort to treat contaminated water in Tar Creek prior to entering the watershed,” said Peoria Chief John Froman. “This project will create a passive retention pool and wetlands area that will enable NEO to offer many educational opportunities for various biological and chemical projects.”
The Tar Creek project focuses on two main objectives: 1.) the Tar Creek wetlands development of toxic substance removal, and 2.) the development of implementing a nonpoint source educational program with NEO utilizing the wetlands and retention pools.
NEO’s Dean of Agriculture and Natural Science, John Lomax, has been working with Chief John Froman of the Peoria Tribe, discussing the future of the Tar Creek Wetlands project.  Froman was also a former student of Lomax’s.

Lomax said, “This grant provides a hands-on education tool for NEO students to study the water-quality monitoring of Tar Creek.”

Together the Peoria Tribe and NEO propose to restore wetlands adjacent to the current channel of Tar Creek. The project consists of approximately five acres of wetlands and retention pools and will provide natural means such as retention, plant uptake and additional riparian zones (the forest adjacent to natural bodies of water), which will assist in the removal process of heavy metals and other contaminants.

“This partnership is a tremendous opportunity for NEOP students and faculty to study the effects of the former Picher mines and its impact upon the environment; Tar Creek in particular,” said NEO A&M College President Dr. Jeff Hale. “This project opens doors, for the college, Peoria Tribe and surrounding communities, to become more knowledgeable about our surrounding ecological conditions.”
Millions of cubic yards of mine tailings (locally known as “chat”) still remain in the area.  Residents of the Picher area were reported to have elevated blood lead levels and rates of kidney disease. Today, the area does not support vegetation, leading to suspension of fine sediment particles by winds, according to an OWSC article.

Construction of the actual wetlands is expected to start early summer and will take place in an excavated depression located on the east side of campus across Tar Creek, (adjacent to the Central Street Bridge). Tar Creek, at this point, travels through approximately four miles of heavily contaminated mine tailings and is a mile from flowing into Neosho River, (which makes up the Neosho River watershed).

The retention pond/pool project will be located in an area where it has received maximum loading from the mine field but has not been diluted by other major streams. This will provide the most accurate readings of lead and other contaminant levels from the stream.
“Perhaps, one of the most important aspects of the grant from an educational perspective is the opportunity this project poses to NEO students,” Lomax said. “Our students will learn from environmental activities that will emphasize the importance of the environment and particularly nonpoint source pollution.”

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