BROOKVILLE — Two years of work to assess the quality of water in the Salt-Pipe Creek Watershed — located in portions of Franklin, Ripley, Decatur, Rush, Dearborn and Fayette counties — was detailed by watershed coordinator Heather Wirth Oct. 10 at the public library.

She reported that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management conducted water monitoring at 26 sites in the Whitewater River Watershed’s southern portion from November 2013-October 2014 for a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Report of the Salt Creek and Pipe Creek watersheds.

The Salt Creek Watershed covers about 117 square miles (75,099 acres). It originates in Rush and Decatur counties and flows east into Franklin County, then north into the Whitewater River. Main tributaries are Little Salt Creek, Bull Fork, Righthand Fork Salt Creek, Fremont Brand and Harvey Branch.

Pipe Creek Watershed encompasses about 118 square miles (76,088 acres) and is located in parts of Fayette, Franklin, Dearborn and Ripley counties. Tributaries flowing into the Whitewater River from the north include Duck Creek, Little Duck Creek and Yellow Bank River. Tributaries flowing into the river from the south are Pipe Creek, Clear Fork, Walnut Fork, Snail Creek and McCarty’s Run.

The report has characteristics that were useful in developing a watershed management plan, according to Wirth. Many impaired streams are listed on a 303(d) list.

Soil and water conservation districts in Franklin and Decatur counties applied for grants, but did not receive funding. In 2016 after looking at the TMDL report, both districts decided to try for a 319 grant through IDEM to develop a management plan. The coordinator noted, “They realized both watersheds were very similar, so they decided to work together to apply for one grant to cover both of those watersheds. Decatur County took the lead on that.”

In 2017 the districts were awarded a 205J grant totalling $84,778 to be used to create a watershed management plan.

Wirth told nine attendees that of the Salt-Pipe Creek Watershed’s 151,187 acres, forested land adds up to 55% with agricultural lands at 24.4%, pasture/hay at 14.3% and developed land at 4.7%.

Elevations range from 610 to 1,090 feet. The steep slopes produce rapid flows of water, which often cause heavy erosion along the banks.

She pointed out, “Since the watershed is mostly rural, there is a lot of livestock in the area.” The 17 confined feeding operations (pigs, cattle or a combination) in the watershed, plus fewer sheep, goats and horses add up to 34,033 animals.

Over 99% of the watershed is considered very limited in terms of soil suitability for septic systems. Wirth called that a major concern because most people are on septic systems. The presentation noted, “These limitations generally cannot be overcome without major soil reclamation or expensive installation designs.”

About 53% of the watershed has land classified as highly erodible. She admitted, “Erosion is one of the major concerns we have.”

Groundwater is another worry. The coordinator explained, “Most of the people get their drinking water from groundwater and a major source is an aquifer that could become contaminated.”

“The steering committee (please see box) was very active with developing this plan,” according to her. “Many helped do a windshield survey.” They drove around the entire watershed to identify areas of concern and areas that were good.

Six hundred thirteen concerns were identified. The top five by number of occurrences should be addressed:

  • overgrazed pasture
  • heavy use areas (no grass left for grazing, just soil for livestock)
  • stream bank erosion
  • animal access to streams
  • no buffer along stream in cropland

After that, the steering committee developed seven goals:

  • Nitrogen needs to be reduced in the water. About 49% of samples exceeded the target. The aim is to decrease the nitrogen load each year: 2% in three years, 4% in six years, 6% in nine years, 8% in 12 years and 10% in 15 years.
  • Phosphorous needs to be decreased. About a third of samples exceeded the target. The aim is to lower the phosphorous load each year: 20% in three years, 40% in six years, 60% in nine years, 80% in 12 years and 100% in 15 years.
  • Reduce soil erosion and amount of sedimentation entering the streams, using the same percentages over years as phosphorous.
  • Reduce E. coli concentrations throughout the watershed not only to meet the water quality target, but to have the impaired stream segments delisted. To do that, a number of livestock must be excluded from stream access: 150 in three years; 300 in six; 450 in nine; 600 in 12; 750 in 15 years. Six workshops or publications every three years for 15 years will provide education.
  • Improve the water quality and habitat of the stream to increase biodiversity of both macroinvertebrates and fish in 15 years: strive to achieve nutrient, sediment and E. coli goals; delist the streams from IDEM’s 303(d) list; install practices to protect and restore stream habitats; increase macroinvertebrate and fish populations and diversity so index of biotic integrity scores are passing; improve stream habitat so qualitative habitat evaluation index scores are passing.
  • Increase public awareness and provide education on how individual choices and activities impact the watershed. Encourage partnerships and project involvement through Friends of Salt-Pipe Creek Watershed. Use signage to create public awareness. Educate and promote best management practices to landowners, operators and the public. Obtain funds and resources to conduct water monitoring testing to determine the species source of E. coli to learn whether to work with septic systems, livestock owners or wildlife.
  • Partner with government agencies and landowners on decreasing streambank erosion. Wirth said, “It’s a hard problem to deal with, very very expensive to try to stabilize it with no guarantee what you do is going to work.” A major rain event could wash equipment downstream. Seek out programs and funds to assist with efforts.

“We identified critical areas” with the worst water quality.

High priority areas are the headwaters of Salt Creek, Righthand Fork, Bull Fork, Little Salt Creek, Fremont Branch, headwaters of Pipe Creek and Duck Creek. Medium priority areas are Walnut Fork and southern sections of Clear Fork and Yellow Bank Creek. Clear Fork and Yellow Bank Creek northern sections are labeled no priority and not eligible for future cost share programs.

The great news: Wirth applied for a $200,000 implementation grant last fall and was successful with funds available for use starting in November. The steering committee will develop a cost share program (landowner would get a grant, but have to pay for part of improvements) with guidelines and a ranking sheet to prioritize applicants.

Field days, workshops and newsletters will continue. Persons can get newsletters by giving their email addresses to Wirth, who can be reached at heather.wirth@in.nacdnet.net or 812-212-1066.

Debbie Blank can be contacted at debbie.blank@batesvilleheraldtribune.com or 812-717-3113.

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