Former Cherokee Nation Tribal Councilwoman Cara Cowan Watts earned her Ph.D. in Biosystems Engineering from Oklahoma State University in December 2015.
The title of Cowan Watts’s dissertation is “Critical Review of US Environmental Protection Agency Numerical Nutrient Criteria with Respect to Culturally Significant Waters as a Designated Use.”
Cowan Watts’s dissertation addressed the Cherokee Nation’s lack of Tribal water quality standards for numerical nutrient standards based on baseline conditions in the Cherokee Nation.
Moving waters such as rivers and streams are of special significance in Cherokee Nation culture and ceremonies, so twelve rivers and streams were identified as a portion of the Culturally Significant Waters of the Cherokee Nation based on a tribal community survey using a Use Attainability Analysis. Culturally Significant Water as a designated use was defined based on community surveys.
To address excess nutrients in the Cherokee Nation, a total phosphorus numerical nutrient criterion was determined using data for Culturally Significant Water bodies, literature guidance and the US Environmental Protection Agency recommended nutrient criteria process for the respective Aggregate Nutrient Ecoregion.
The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers criterion of 0.037 mg/L total phosphorus for a 90-day geometric mean was evaluated and determined not to be protective of Cherokee Nation’s Culturally Significant Waters. A total phosphorus criterion of 0.016 mg/L was recommended to protect Cherokee Nation Culturally Significant Waters from benthic algae greater than 100 mg/m2 Chlorophyll a.
Cowan Watts work establishes a technical basis for a legally-defensible standard to protect Cherokee Nation and Oklahoma’s river and streams from excess nutrients which may cause algal blooms.
Cowan Watts was able to complete her Ph.D. with the financial assistance of OK-LSAMP which is the National Science Foundation’s Oklahoma Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). To learn more about OK-LSAMP, go to https://ok-lsamp.okstate.edu/. Cowan Watts has never received financial assistance from the Cherokee Nation for any of her degrees.
Today, Cowan Watts has taken the helm as CEO and majority owner for Tulsa Pier Drilling which is a commercial pier drilling operation created by her husband, Doug Watts, almost 20 years ago. Cara is focused on growing their family owned business and creating jobs in Rogers County. In addition, Doug and Cara co-operate their corriente cattle operation, Sideways Cattle Company, in Justus, Oklahoma.