Sierran Masthead

Task Force Works to Improve a Watershed

As you read about water quality issues, you may come across the term watershed. Watersheds are an important part of Indiana’s environment. The following story defines watersheds and then discusses the specific activities of a watershed task force in one part of Indiana.

by Jane McPeters, Eagle Creek Watershed Chairperson

A watershed is like a large funnel--the slope of the land moves rainwater and melting snow downward toward a common endpoint. The rainwater or melting snow washes off the surface of the land down into the streams and into a central point, either a lake, river, or reservoir.

The faster the water moves off the land and into the streams, the more pollutants and sediments it picks up. Water that moves slowly, or better yet soaks into the land and moves slowly into the surrounding waters, carries less pollution and sediment.

Different types of land cover affect the movement of the water and what the water contains. Forests and wetlands are very good at absorbing water. Parking lots don’t absorb any water at all. Cornfields absorb water somewhere between forests and parking lots. Some housing developments with many plants and grasses and minimal paving may be better at absorbing water than cornfields and developments that are densely built and full of paving. Land use within a watershed is critical to the quality of the water and the environment. Simple Tasks Help Watersheds

Simple things like mulching garden beds, leaving grass clippings on the lawn, planting trees and shrubs, building smaller parking lots, building porous parking surfaces, recycling, limiting fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, and proper disposal of hazardous wastes can really help. People in the watershed can contribute to increased water quality by changing the way they treat the land.

All these changes have associated costs and problems. For instance, failing septic systems can dump raw sewage in creeks during heavy rainfalls, but the cost of replacing these systems may be greater than the value of the house. Do you leave a family homeless because it can’t replace its septic system? That is why a task force that represents everyone in the watershed is critical for finding ways to improve water quality and the environment while considering the disparate needs of the people. Eagle Creek Watershed and Task Force

Eagle Creek Watershed is located to the northwest of Indianapolis in parts of Marion, Hamilton, Boone, and Hendricks Counties. It is made up of farms, suburban developments, small towns, and urban/commercial development.

The Eagle Creek Watershed Task Force is composed of “concerned individuals from a variety of backgrounds, viewpoints, and agencies who have come together to improve water quality and the environment of the Eagle Creek Reservoir, the streams that flow into it, and the surrounding lands they drain.”

“The mission of the task force is to improve water quality and the environment of the Eagle Creek watershed by working cooperatively with those who impact, and are impacted by, watershed activities.” The task force was started as a cooperative effort between the Indiana Farm Bureau, the Indianapolis Water Company, and Novartis Crop Protection.

The task force has issued its first draft of a proposed watershed management plan. It is in the process of soliciting comments and changes. Based on two years worth of sampling from 10 sites within the watershed from early spring through fall, the task force has data to show that

  • Elevated E. coli bacteria concentrations are present throughout the watershed. Eagle Creek (in the watershed) has been reported as E. coli bacteria impaired to the EPA. At times, other streams in our watershed have shown high E. coli concentrations.
  • Nutrient runoff is elevated, creating algae blooms that are degrading the environment for macro invertebrates in the watershed.
  • Seasonal herbicide runoff, particularly triazines, may remain in Eagle Creek Reservoir for some time after first detected in the creeks and affect the quality of the drinking water in Eagle Creek Reservoir.<.li>

The task force does not know if the E. coli is a result of failed septic systems, livestock animals, applications of manure to fields, or wild animals (geese, deer, or raccoons, for example); probably it is a combination of all of these sources.

To help determine the source of the E. coli bacteria in the watershed, the task force has applied to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) for a grant to develop an Indiana statewide DNA E. coli bacteria database of livestock animals and humans. The Indiana Farm Bureau, Sierra Club, the Indianapolis Water Company, and others are partners in this grant application.

The technical committee believes that the use of best management practices along the streams and drain tiles in the watershed could lower triazine levels.

Examples of these practices are using filter strips of grasses or other permanent plantings along stream banks and refraining from applying chemical treatments along creek banks. The use of constructed wetlands throughout the watershed to collect and filter sediments and pollutants would also help improve water quality.

These are just some of the first suggestions the task force is making as it considers what to do to meet its goal of improving water and the environment.

Copyright © 2007 Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, all rights reserved.[11/12/02]efp

Spring 1999