From historic floods and damaging winter storms to the COVID-19 pandemic, the past few years have put our communities to the test. We made it through these disasters thanks to heroic efforts by Cherokees and many others on our reservation in northeast Oklahoma, but they have also exposed gaps in our essential infrastructure. 

Through these challenges, we have seen dramatic illustrations of how much public health and safety depend on clean, accessible water systems. That’s why the Cherokee Nation has invested almost $1.5 million during the past year in improving water delivery systems across northeast Oklahoma. 

Funding from the federal CARES Act has enabled us to ensure safer water for hundreds of households across the CN. Our tribal government has collaborated with city and county governments to protect and repair essential infrastructure and increase capacity in local water systems. These investments not only help us respond to recent emergencies, they will improve the lives of both Cherokee and non-Cherokee people on our reservation for years to come.

Upgrades to water and sewer infrastructure in Cherokee communities are a critical part of keeping our most vulnerable citizens healthy in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, frequently washing your hands and regularly cleaning your household surfaces are two primary methods to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These projects help ensure northeast Oklahoma’s rural water systems can fulfill the demand for water as well as help stop the virus from spreading. 

I’m proud of the 17 projects we completed. They include replacing worn equipment at a water treatment plant in Cherokee County, upgrading water distribution lines in rural Adair County and rehabilitating a water storage system in Nowata County. The size of investments varied from $180,000 to Bluejacket in Craig County to assist with the community’s wastewater treatment plant, to a $25,000 investment to provide a generator for water supply wells in Kenwood in Delaware County. We completed CARES Act water infrastructure endeavors in Adair, Cherokee, Craig, Delaware, Mayes, Muskogee, Nowata, Ottawa, Tulsa and Washington counties. Almost 20,000 people will be impacted by these efforts. 

Water infrastructure projects are also an opportunity to create jobs and to build better partnerships with our neighbors on the Cherokee reservation. The CN is well known as an essential partner for the local and municipal communities within our boundaries. Together we are helping to grow the whole region, ensuring that northeast Oklahoma remains a great place to live and to raise a family. 

These investments were an important part of our overall pandemic response, which included direct assistance to elders and struggling families, job protection and job training, health care, education, and more. We tried to strike a balance between meeting immediate emergency needs and helping Cherokees to rebuild and emerge from the crisis even stronger. To learn more about the ways the CN has responsibly used federal CARES Act funding, visit the Respond, Recover, Rebuild website at https://www.respondrecoverrebuild.com/.