Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

March 4, 2014

Whitewater River Watershed Project volunteers needed

Debbie Blank The Herald-Tribune
The Batesville Herald-Tribune

---- — HARRISON, Ohio – Recently a $158,469 nonpoint source pollution grant, funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, was awarded for the Whitewater River Watershed Project’s southern portion from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said technical coordinator Heather Wirth.

The grant will last for 27 months through March 2016. Nonpoint source pollution means it’s unclear what is causing pollution as opposed to specific companies dumping waste into streams.

The project’s goals are to monitor the water quality, increase community awareness and create a watershed management plan.

Its cost is estimated at $264,115. The remaining $105,646 will be in-kind matches, with time spent at meetings and cleanups and expertise from Soil and Water Conservation District personnel counted.

“These projects start with concerned citizens,” educational outreach coordinator Chelsea Tooley pointed out at a Feb. 21 meeting. Wirth began writing grant applications in 2010, the grant was awarded in late 2013 and Wirth and Tooley were hired in January.

The Whitewater River area is one of over 2,267 watersheds in the United States. According to Tooley, “It’s quite a large watershed,” located in four counties in two states: Franklin and Dearborn in Indiana and Butler and Hamilton in Ohio.

Many stream segments are listed by IDEM officials as being impaired. Tooley said, “In this area the most common forms of impairment are 20 for E. (Escherichia) coli,” a type of bacteria, mostly due to septic issues. Those streams are located south of Brookville, between Brookville and Oak Forest, from Whitcomb and Cedar Grove east to the state line, south of South Gate and between St. Leon and West Harrison. E. coli and dissolved oxygen due to soil drainage were found in six streams east and south of Brookville and also between Mount Carmel and West Harrison. Some pathogens were specific to an area.

“Are there worse streams?” she asked. “Absolutely.” This watershed “falls in the middle of the pollution range.”

Fifty-five percent of the watershed’s land is rated highly erodible. “We’ve got some new developments happening. We’ve got some urban runoff.” Other culprits causing pollution include excessive nutrient applications, overgrazing pastures, cropland tillage, livestock contaminating water to which they have access and faulty septic systems.

There are seven septic hot spots. Tooley explained, “It means there is a large concentration of septic systems that have not been maintained or replaced.” Malfunctioning systems “lead to direct waste heading into our waters.”

Since November, IDEM employees have been testing water at 10 Franklin County and three Dearborn County sites on the Indiana side of the project, while Wirth and Dearborn County Soil and Water Conservation District volunteers will test four Ohio sites, using Hoosier RiverWatch guidelines. According to her, “One of the struggles with watershed management is you can’t get a consistent set of data anywhere.” Tests will continue for a year. At future meetings, water monitoring data will be available.

Currently, high school students have been invited to participate in a logo contest.

In addition to field days, cleanups and newsletters, community education will include signage and storm drain markings.

Tooley noted, “Community involvement is so important in writing a management plan. We will decide how to solve problems collectively.”

The two leaders are seeking volunteers. Persons who are interested in serving on the steering committee, cleanups, field days, receiving newsletters, water testing or serving on a monitoring or outreach committee may e-mail Wirth at heather.wirth@in.nacdnet.net. Each should include a name, phone number, e-mail address, address, city, state and ZIP code, and specify the area of interest.

The organizers are hopeful 10-20 individuals who are really interested in the project will volunteer for the steering committee, which next meets in mid-March. Tooley explained, “You have a president, vice president, secretary. It becomes your governing board for the project … There are crucial decisions coming up.” At the project’s beginning, the committee meets more frequently, perhaps monthly, then probably quarterly.

At the project’s completion, Tooley will write the 40- to 120-page watershed management plan and submit it to IDEM and also the Ohio EPA.

Wirth observed, “The ultimate goal of this project is to improve the water quality” and get the Whitewater River Watershed off of the 303(d) list of contaminated rivers mandated by the Clean Water Act.

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.

 

Citizens may complete surveys • The 11 attendees at one of two Feb. 21 meetings were asked to complete stakeholder concern surveys. Interested persons may also sound off by March 15 by e-mailing this information to Wirth at the below e-mail address: name, address, occupation, date. 1. Briefly, what is your impression of the water quality of the Whitewater River Watershed? 2. What do you feel are some of the biggest problems in the watershed? 3. How do we go about addressing the above problems? • Info: Chelsea Tooley, 812-689-4107 or whitewater.outreach@gmail.com; Heather Wirth, 812-926-2406, Ext. 3, or heather.wirth@in.nacdnet.net. Persons may also like the Whitewater River Watershed Project on Facebook.