Members of the Osage Nation, Osage Nation Environmental and Natural Resources [ENR] department and the on Sept. 18 issued the first water well permit to the Osage Nation Gaming Enterprise.
Issuing this permit is part of the Osage Nation’s position that its long-held mineral rights include water usage. The Tribe maintains that it should be the only entity issuing permits for water usage on its reservation.
“This paper permit may look small, but it’s a momentous event for us,” said Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear. “This permit took over 100 years to be issued. Standing up for our water sovereignty honors all those who came before us, and I thank the entire ENR team and Director Jann Hayman for making this a reality.”
Osage Nation Gaming Enterprise Board Chairman Mark Simms was the signor for the permit drilling site location, which is due west of the Skiatook Osage Casino. The goal of the project is to drill for fresh water with the intent of tying into the casino’s irrigation system. The contractor for the drilling is Osage-owned Roper Company LLC.
The Osage Nation purchased its tribal land — comprised of 1.5 million acres — in 1872. Although the Osage Nation owns all water and mineral rights to the land, its goal is to seek collaborative solutions with its neighbors.
“Finding solutions to complex issues like these always requires the parties involved to work together,” Standing Bear said. “We are committed to being good partners and we hope others will share our desire to seek a meaningful resolution regarding water rights.”
The Osage Nation’s site search for fresh water began in 2012 when the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) performed a flyover of Osage County. The USGS worked closely with the ENR department, using an Integrated Water Model to find the location of fresh water near the casino.
The results of the study were used to develop a scientific investigations report titled “Description of Landscape Features, Summary of Existing Hydrologic Data, and Identification of Data Gaps for the Osage Nation, Northeastern Oklahoma, 1890-2012.” Further, ENR’s Hayman believes the model can be applied to any area of Osage County and may be critical in helping manage long-term water usage plans.
In 2015, regulations were formed in part by the Osage Nation Water Rights Task Force, which was chaired by Geoffrey Standing Bear, a member of the Osage Nation Congress at the time. The task force’s work was instrumental in the drafting of the Osage Nation Water Regulations (available on the ENR website). According to ONCA 12-68, all natural resource regulatory authority is vested in the ENR Department.
Standing Bear said now that the first water drilling permit has been issued, future permits for specific sites will be considered on federally owned tribal land, with the possibility of restricted lands also owned by the Nation eventually being permissible for water well drilling.
“I am confident that our ENR department will work with Osage Nation Attorney General Holli Well’s office to address unauthorized drilling and come to a meaningful resolution,” said Standing Bear. “However, the minerals estate belongs to the Nation and the headright owners and no one else.”
For more information about the Environmental and Natural Resources Department, visit https://www.osagenation-nsn.gov/what-we-do/environmental-natural-resources