Sierran Masthead

Citizens Learn How to Help 208 Waterways That Fail Standards

by John Ulmer
Chapter Conservation Chair

Some 40 citizens participated in two workshops held to train citizens to get involved in the state’s watershed evaluation program to curb pollution in Indiana’s rivers and streams.

Glenn Pratt of the Hoosier Chapter, along with the Clean Water Network, organized the information-packed workshop on understanding and participating in the Total Maximum Daily Load process. TMDL is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive and still meet water quality standards. The workshop was conducted by Merritt Frey, a Clean Water Network policy analyst and author of The Ripple Effect, a handbook for examining water clean-up plans.

The last review of our state’s waters listed 208 water bodies that are impaired, meaning the water does not meet basic water quality standards. Almost 80 percent of the impaired waters failed more than one standard. This list, called the 303d list, is updated every four years and must be reported to the EPA. The list will be updated in 2002, and will probably increase as portions of impaired streams will be listed individually for cleanup. Once a water body is listed, the state must provide a cleanup plan and schedule. This is what the Clean Water Act called for when it was passed by Congress nearly 30 years ago. To date, Indiana has created one cleanup plan, so there is still time for you to become involved in the process.

The TMDL pollutant levels are set by Indiana and may be chemical, biological, or physical. Examples are high levels of nitrogen or phosphorous, E coli bacteria, or excessive levels of sediment. The idea is to identify the pollutant that is impairing the water and determine its concentration in the water. It is then a matter of computing the maximum pollutants that can be introduced into the stream in a day and not exceed the concentration set by the state water quality standards.

We now know the maximum amount of pollutants that can be introduced into a stream each day and not exceed the water quality standard. That’s the TMDL for whatever the pollutant is. If math is not your strong suit and your chemistry is a little rusty, do not worry. Your involvement and common sense are the most important parts of the equation.

To see if water near you is listed, go to and click on Indiana. Get in the loop for the development of cleanup plans; it’s a public process. Call Cyndi Wagner, TMDL Program Manager, at (317) 308-3214 and ask to be put on the mailing list for cleanup plans on your nearest water body.

From here on commonsense questions kick in. Does the cleanup plan set daily pollution limits? Does it account for all pollution sources? Is there a margin of error or a safety factor? Is there a plan to reduce the pollution, and is it reasonable that it will be put into effect and result in cleaner water? Will the plan be monitored to see if it is working?

It is pretty straightforward, but the plan can become ineffectual without your participation. If you are interested in cleaning our waters, find more information at and click on “impaired waters.” Or call the chapter office at (317) 466-9992.

Copyright © 2007 Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, all rights reserved.[7/20/02]efp

Winter 2001-2002