IDEM has worked side by side with numerous locally led watershed groups to help improve water quality. IDEM Clean Water Act grants and funds from a variety of innovative partnerships have helped clean up our rivers and streams by increasing education, developing effective water quality improvement plans, and helping individual landowners manage their land in ways that benefit our waterways. Over time, these projects have led to measurable improvements in water quality in our rivers, streams, and lakes. Read these case studies to learn more about what has been accomplished by working together and how these small actions have led to big changes. Check back often as we report on more successes of the people and the projects that are making a difference in the quality of water across Indiana.
Big Walnut Creek
Big Walnut Creek is in a predominately agricultural area in west-central Indiana's Hendricks and Boone counties. The East and West Forks of Big Walnut Creek flow south to form Big Walnut Creek, which eventually flows into the Eel River. Bacteria from livestock, leaking septic systems and wildlife polluted Big Walnut Creek. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) added three waterbody segments to Indiana's 1998 Clean Water Act (CWA) section 303(d) list of impaired waters for Escherichia coli bacteria. After additional monitoring, IDEM added three more segments to the impaired waters list in 2004. Using CWA section 319 funds, project partners installed best management practices and educated stakeholders about sound agricultural management throughout the watershed. Recent monitoring data show that the Big Walnut Creek segments meet water quality standards for bacteria, prompting IDEM to propose removing all six segments from the state's 2010 CWA section 303(d) list of impaired waters.
Boyles Ditch is a small stream in the northern portion of the Kilmore Creek subwatershed, which is in the SFWC watershed in Clinton County. Boyles Ditch is surrounded almost entirely by cultivated crops. While the main stem of Kilmore Creek contains a substantial amount of forested stream buffer, the Boyles Ditch segment remains largely unbuffered. Roughly 14 of the 21.5 miles of waterways in the Kilmore Creek subwatershed are listed as impaired, including all of Boyles Ditch and downstream portions of Kilmore Creek. In 2004 IDEM conducted a biological study on the SFWC watershed. The three sampling sites on Boyles Ditch had failing index of biotic integrity (IBI) scores (i.e., scores less than 36 in Indiana), which indicates that the stream is not supporting a well-balanced aquatic community. The fish community data collected at these three sites showed IBI scores on Boyles Ditch ranging from 12 to 34. This caused IDEM to list the stream on its 2006 CWA section 303(d) list of impaired waters for IBC. For over two decades stakeholders have been working to improve the SFWC watershed. With funding provided by the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (IASWCD), the Wildcat Creek Watershed Network (now known as the Wildcat Creek Watershed Alliance) hired an executive director to develop a long-term strategic plan for the Wildcat Creek watershed to serve as the foundation for future planning and implementation efforts. IDEM conducted follow-up monitoring on Boyles Ditch in 2017, which showed that the fish IBI score improved to 54, a significant increase from the score of 34 seen in 2004 and well above the minimum IBI score of 36 needed to indicate support. Additionally, the Qualitative Habitat Evaluation Index (QHEI) score was 69 in 2017, up from 47 in 2004 (QHEI scores below 51 indicates poor habitat). Based on, IDEM is proposing to remove the IBC impairment from this segment on its impaired waters list in 2020.
Buck Creek-Busseron Creek
The Buck Creek-Busseron Creek watershed is in Sullivan County in southwest Indiana. The watershed contains 2 miles of Busseron Creek, along with 37 stream miles of two major tributaries of Busseron Creek: Robbins Branch (10.3 stream miles) and Buck Creek (27 stream miles). The watershed is mixed land use, with 54 percent in cultivated crops, 21 percent in forest, and 7 percent in pasture/hay with some minimal mining activity. Though the watershed is mostly rural, it also contains most of the city of Sullivan, whose wastewater treatment plant has several combined sewer overflow outlets that empty into Buck Creek. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) added Busseron Creek-Robbins Creek to the Indiana’s 2002 CWA section 303(d) list of impaired waters for nutrients, and on Indiana’s 2010 CWA section 303(d) list for impaired biotic communities. Since being listed as impaired in 2002, Busseron Creek-Robbins Creek has been re-segmented multiple times for assessment purposes. IDEM used CWA section 319 grant funding to support the creation of a watershed management plan (WMP) in 2010. A variety of state and federal programs were used to install Best Management Practices (BMPs) to improve water quality. IDEM reassessed the water quality in the Buck Creek-Busseron Creek watershed in 2016. Results of that sampling indicate that nutrients are no longer a water quality threat and that the biologic community has recovered. Due to these results all three segments are being removed from the impaired waters list for nutrients, and the two Buck Creek segments are also being removed for impaired biotic communities.
The Bull Run watershed headwaters lay within an agricultural area and its confluence with St. John Ditch lies within an urban area in northwest Lake County. Bull Run is the headwaters of West Creek which is also listed on the 2008 303(d) list for impaired biotic communities. In 2000, IDEM sampled for water quality in this section of the state to determine if waterbodies were impaired for IBC. Data for Bull Run in 2000 revealed an index of biotic integrity (IBI) score of 6. The result of this scoring was the listing of this segment on the 2002 CWA Section 303(d) List for Impaired Biotic Communities. Since 1990, IDEM funded, using CWA Section 319 and 205j funds, nine projects in the greater Lake County area. These projects included a locally led development of a comprehensive watershed management plan, identification of critical areas and needed actions, and targeting of resources to the installation of urban and agricultural BMPs designed to improve water quality. The projects also funded technical expertise for the development and placement of agricultural BMPs. These projects resulted in improvements throughout the watersheds in the county, especially in the Bull Run/West Creek watershed - an improvement that allows IDEM to remove the listed streams in this watershed from the 2012 303(d) List.
Lower Clifty Creek flows through south-central Indiana in Bartholomew County, just southeast of Columbus. Agriculture is the watershed's primary land use. Two small streams (Sloan Branch and an unnamed tributary) contribute flow to Clifty Creek, which in turn empties into the East Fork White River. In 2002 IDEM assessed waterbodies in south-central Indiana to identify which were impaired for bacteria and would require a total maximum daily load (TMDL) report. Samples collected on lower Clifty Creek had levels of E. coli that exceeded both the single sample and geometric mean water quality standards for bacteria, prompting IDEM to add an 8.12-mile-long segment to the 2002 CWA section 303(d) list of impaired waters. Using Clean Water Act section 319 funds, project partners educated stakeholders about sound agricultural management and installed best management practices (BMPs) throughout the watershed. Data show that the lower Clifty Creek segment now meets water quality standards for bacteria, prompting Indiana to propose removing the segment from the state's 2010 CWA section 303(d) list of impaired waters.
The Devils Backbone section of Indian Creek is a 17.02-mile reach in Harrison County, Indiana (adjusted to 21 miles in 2012, see results section), just upstream of Indian Creek’s confluence with the Ohio River (Figure 1). The stream is in the Indian Creek 12-digit watershed (HUC 051401040502). Water quality data collected by IDEM in 2000 indicated that E. coli and DO standards were not being met. Due to these E. coli and DO levels, IDEM added the 17-mile Devils Backbone section of Indian Creek (INN04A3_00) to the CWA section 303(d) list of impaired waters in 2002 for failing to attain aquatic life use (because of low DO) and recreational use (because of excess pathogens). From 1996 to 2006 The Nature Conservancy (TNC) reforested 4.4 miles of the Indian Creek riparian corridor under their statewide conservation strategy. TNC also conserved 61 acres of land as an addition to Harrison–Crawford State Forest, which protected 0.6 miles of riparian corridor. TNC also worked with the Harrison County Regional Sewer District (HCRSD), local water utilities and Harrison County Health Department to mail a septic system maintenance reminder to Harrison County residents, including those in the Indian Creek watershed. IDEM provided $99,930 in CWA section 205(j) grant funding to the HCRSD to create the WMP. The Harrison County Commissioners tasked the HCRSD with developing a watershed management plan (WMP) for Indian Creek. This WMP, developed from 2006 to 2008, helped to inform the location and type of subsequently implemented BMPs. The restoration of Devils Backbone was supported by numerous state and federal partners. IDEM provided $99,930 in CWA section 205(j) grant funding to the HCRSD to create the WMP. The NRCS provided $687,567 in financial and technical assistance for conservation practice implementation with EQIP funding. The FSA provided $55,094 in CRP funding. TNC provided $210,000 in funding for stream restoration and outreach. Lastly, the Harrison County Soil and Water Conservation District provided $950,000 through the county-funded cost-share program for agricultural BMPs. IDEM monitored E. coli weekly from May 17, 2010, through June 14, 2010. Results indicated that water quality standards had been met. IDEM measured DO in the watershed five times from May–July 2010. At no time did the DO fall below the minimum criterion of 5 mg/L. Based on these data, IDEM removed four segments totaling over 21 miles (INN0452_04, INN0452_05, INN0452_06 and INN0452_07) of the Devils Backbone section of Indian Creek from the 2014 CWA section 303(d) impaired water list for DO and pathogen impairment.
Emma Creek is a tributary to the Little Elkhart River, which flows through southeastern Lagrange County in northeastern Indiana. A tributary of Emma Creek was monitored by IDEM’s Probabilistic Monitoring program in 2000. Analysis of fish community data showed an Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) score of 14, which was well below the IBI score of ≥36 that is necessary to be considered supportive of biological integrity. In addition, habitat and chemistry data collected by IDEM in 2000 revealed that siltation, excess nutrients, and low dissolved oxygen (particularly during the summer months) contributed to impaired biotic communities in the Emma Creek tributary. In addition, water sample analysis showed an ammonia level of 4.60 milligrams per liter (mg/L), much higher than the 2.1445 mg/L allowed by the water quality standard for the associated temperature and pH results measured concurrently at the site. These results prompted IDEM to add a 2.32-mile segment (Assessment Unit [AU] INJ01E1_ T1301) to the 2002 CWA section 303(d) list for impaired biotic communities (IBC) and ammonia. The Lagrange County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) developed a watershed management plan (WMP) for the Little Elkhart River in 2007 using $1,748,604 of CWS section 319 funding. Key to this restoration effort was the participation of members of the Amish community, who comprise about 75 percent of the agrarian population of the Emma Creek watershed. In 2011 IDEM returned to the 2.32-mile-long impaired stream reach (Emma Creek Tributary) to monitor for change in the fish community. The IBI score remained at 14, indicating that no significant change in biological condition has yet occurred. Although the SWCD data appear to show that ammonia levels are meeting water quality standards, an ammonia delisting can’t occur until a third-party data program to measure the quality of the data is in place. Therefore, the impaired segment will remain listed as impaired for both IBC and ammonia. In 2014, Indiana revised its segmentation methodology. The existing, 2.3-mile-long impaired segment has been incorporated into an 8.69-mile-long segment (AUID INJ01C1_T1005: Emma Lake Inlet) that begins at the inlet of Emma Lake (not including the lake itself) and includes the upstream portion of Emma Creek and the unnamed tributary.
Flowers Creek is a 12.72-mile-long tributary of the Eel River in eastern Miami County in north-central Indiana. The Flowers Creek watershed is rural and highly agricultural (92 percent row crops and grazing lands). Monitoring conducted by IDEM in 2003 on Flowers Creek showed elevated levels of total phosphorus and ammonia in conjunction with low dissolved oxygen and impaired biotic communities. Based on these data, Flowers Creek was listed as impaired for nutrients, dissolved oxygen, and biological impairments in 2006. Using Clean Water Section 319 funds, Manchester University finalized a watershed management plan for the larger Middle Eel River watershed in early 2011. Additional federal, state, and local funding was used to install a variety of best management practices (BMPs) throughout the watershed. Post-project sampling showed that the biological communities had recovered and the streams were no longer impaired for nutrients or low dissolved oxygen. Based on these new data, Indiana is proposing to remove Flowers Creek from the state’s 2018 303(d) List.
Hogan Creek flows from its headwaters in northeast Ripley County until it reaches its confluence with the Ohio River, just north of the town of Aurora in southeastern Indiana. Within the greater Hogan Creek watershed (HUC 0509020304) are Little Hogan Creek and South Hogan Creek, in adjacent subwatersheds, comprising approximately 14.5 miles of stream combined. The Hogan Creek watershed is approximately half agricultural and half forested land. Monitoring conducted by IDEM in 2000 on South Hogan Creek showed a failing Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) score of 20 for its fish community. This caused IDEM to list the segment on its 2002 CWA Section 303(d) List of Impaired Waters for impaired biotic communities. IDEM returned to the same site in 2014 to reevaluate the fish community through its Performance Monitoring Program and again discovered a failing IBI score of 30.
In 2010, IDEM’s Probabilistic Monitoring Program sampled Little Hogan Creek and found the segment to have a failing IBI score of 34 (30 at the site revisit) for its macroinvertebrate community. This led IDEM to list this segment on its 2014 CWA Section 303(d) List of Impaired Waters for impaired biotic communities. The Dearborn County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) initiated the HCWP in 2005 and created the Hogan Creek Steering Committee to oversee it. The goals of the project were to educate community members about water quality, develop a WMP, perform water quality testing and conduct an extensive outreach program. The committee completed the Hogan Creek WMP in 2007. The HWCP received four 319 implementation grants from 2008 to 2018 (totaling $757,851 to date). These funds supported implementing over 2,200 acres of cover crops; 56,398 feet of fencing; and over 98,439 square feet of heavy use area protection (HUAP) in the two subwatersheds containing Little Hogan Creek and South Hogan Creek. IDEM conducted Performance Monitoring in 2015 on Little Hogan Creek, which showed great improvement. The macroinvertebrate IBI score was 44 and no longer failing. The fish IBI (which had not been failing) had also slightly improved.
IDEM also conducted Performance Monitoring on South Hogan Creek in 2019, which showed a greatly improved fish IBI score of 50. The macroinvertebrate IBI (which had not been failing) had remained the same. In addition, the stream habitat was flourishing and showed small improvement from the previous visit, with a Qualitative Habitat Evaluation Index score of 77.
Jenkins Ditch is a headwater stream of the South Fork Wildcat watershed in Clinton County, central Indiana. Activities such as hydrological modification and crop cultivation dominate the watershed. In 2004, IDEM collected chemical, physical, and biological data from Jenkins Ditch which indicated that the stream did not support aquatic life designated use. IDEM added the stream to its 303(d) List of Impaired Waters for Impaired Biotic Communities in 2006. From 1999-2012, IDEM’s Nonpoint Source Program funded various activities in the watershed to promote restoration of Jenkins Ditch and other streams within the Wildcat Creek watershed. Watershed partners conducted education and outreach through stakeholder meetings, public workshops, field days, newsletters, and community cleanups. Landowners utilized various funding sources to implement best management practices such as conservation crop rotation, residue and tillage management, pest and nutrient management plans, waste management practices, filter and buffer strips, and habitat management practices on more than 20% of the land area of Jenkins Ditch-South Fork Wildcat Creek watershed. IDEM revisited the stream in 2011 to collect follow-up information on the biological community. Data indicated that the stream now fully supports the biological community. As a result, IDEM removed Jenkins Ditch from its 303(d) List of Impaired Waters in 2012.
Little Deer Creek
Little Deer Creek joins with Deer Creek in Carroll County, just southeast of Camden, in north central Indiana. Its water flows through the larger Deer Creek-Sugar Creek watershed and eventually drains into the Wabash River. The Little Deer Creek subwatershed covers approximately 20 square miles, with agricultural land uses accounting for the majority of the subwatershed. In 2015, IDEM’s Probabilistic Monitoring Program sampled Little Deer Creek and discovered a failing Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) score of 32 for its macroinvertebrate community. An IBI score of less than 36 in Indiana indicates that a stream is not supporting a well-balanced aquatic community. This led IDEM to list the segment on its 2018 CWA Section 303(d) List of Impaired Waters for impaired Biotic Communities. The Little Deer Creek subwatershed has benefited greatly from various partnerships aimed at restoring the greater Deer Creek-Sugar Creek watershed. The Carroll County SWCS was awarded $859,626 in CWA 319 grant funding for planning and implementation projects in 2011 and 2017, which resulted in the development of a WMP, extensive agricultural BMP implementation within the Little Deer Creek subwatershed, as well as technical assistance and education efforts. The Wabash River Enhancement Corporation was responsible for writing the Deer Creek-Sugar Creek WMP, in addition to guiding plan development, coordinating and facilitating committee meetings, and planning and implementing water quality and watershed information gathering. Also, Purdue University was responsible for collecting and analyzing water quality data and conducting stakeholder surveys. In 2019, IDEM returned to Little Deer Creek to conduct follow up performance monitoring on the stream. The monitoring showed an improved macroinvertebrate IBI score of 40. The fish IBI (which was not previously failing) had also remained the same, with a score of 46. As a result, IDEM is proposing to remove the biotic community impairment for Little Deer Creek from its 2022 impaired waters list.
Metcalf Ditch is part of Buck Creek watershed, a predominately agricultural watershed located in DeKalb County in north-east Indiana. IDEM collected chemical, physical, and biological parameters in Metcalf Ditch in 2000 order to identify impairments and prepare a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) if needed. Data indicated that Metcalf Ditch was impaired for aquatic life use by having an Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) score of <36 resulting in the addition of Metcalf Ditch to Indiana’s 2002 303(d) List of Impaired Waters for Impaired Biotic Communities. Between 1990 and 2011, IDEM funded fifteen nonpoint source projects in the greater St. Joseph watershed. These project funds were used to develop a comprehensive watershed management plan, identify critical areas and priority actions to improve water quality, and implement BMPs to address failing septic systems, install tree plantings and encourage agricultural BMPs. When IDEM monitored the fish community in 2011, Metcalf Ditch received an IBI score of 36, indicating that it is fully supporting for aquatic life use. As a result, IDEM removed the segment from the state’s CWA section 303(d) list in 2012.
Pendleton Branch of Indian Creek
Indian Creek is a 22-mile-long Ohio River tributary in western Switzerland County, Indiana. The Indian Creek watershed is made up of two 12-digit hydrologic unit code (HUC) watersheds; Pendleton Branch is located midway between upper Indian Creek and the mouth of the creek in HUC 050902030902. The river and its tributaries flow southward through hilly terrain before coalescing with the Ohio River just west of Vevay, Indiana. The watershed is highly forested, with 61.5 percent in forested land use, 22 percent in pasture/hay land use and 7.6 percent in cultivated crops. Livestock in the watershed include goats, chicken, cattle, horses, and donkeys. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) listed the Pendleton Branch of Indian Creek on its 2008 Clean Water Act (CWA) section 303(d) list of impaired waters due to high levels of Escherichia coli. The Indian Creek WMP was completed in May 2008. The Switzerland County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), HHH RC&D, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) helped implement numerous BMPs and other management activities between 2005 and 2015. In addition to the BMPs installed, HHH RC&D helped landowners install a pumping plant for water control, a water well, and a water tank; the USDA NRCS helped implement five access control practices, two stream crossings, a developed spring, forage/biomass planting (434 acres [ac]), upland wildlife habitat management (51 ac), early successional habitat development/management (37 ac), wetland enhancement (0.5 ac), and forest stand improvement (32 ac); and the USDA FSA supported planting of permanent native grasses (19.8 ac), grassed waterways (1.5 ac), and hardwood trees (24.3 ac). IDEM resampled the reach for E. coli in 2011 and found geometric means of 15 MPN/100 mL and 47 MPN/100 mL, well below the water quality standard of geometric mean ≤ 125 MPN/100 mL to be considered supporting. As a result, IDEM removed Pendleton Branch of Indian Creek from the impaired waters list in 2014 for E. coli.
The Pigeon Creek watershed lies within Posey, Warrick, Gibson, and Vanderburgh counties in southwestern Indiana. The creek flows south to the Ohio River, where its waters enter upstream of the city of Evansville's drinking water intake. Agriculture is the watershed's main land use. Pigeon Creek was impaired for chlordane and other priority pollutants from use of these chemicals on agricultural lands with poor stream buffers and high historic soil loss. Indiana placed 32 miles of this waterbody on its 303(d) list in 1996 and again in 1998 based on fish tissue data collected. Installing best management practices (BMPs) such as vegetated buffers and conservation tillage, combined with landowner education, produced a measurable improvement in water quality. As a result, Indiana removed Pigeon Creek from the 303(d) list in 2002.
South Fork Wildcat Creek
Agricultural activities related to crop cultivation and livestock rearing contributed nonpoint source pollution to an unnamed tributary to the South Fork Wildcat Creek (SFWC), which caused the waterbody to fail to support its aquatic life use. As a result, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) added this waterbody to its 2002 Clean Water Act (CWA) section 303(d) impaired waters list for biotic communities. Project partners developed a watershed management plan and implemented best management practices (BMPs) to improve water quality in the stream. The waterbody now supports its aquatic life use. IDEM will propose to remove this waterbody from its list of impaired waters in 2020.
Stump Ditch-Kilmore Creek
Kilmore Creek and Stump Ditch are within the South Fork Wildcat Creek (SFWC) watershed in Clinton and Tipton counties in central Indiana. Land use throughout the watershed is primarily cultivated crops (>80%) and includes minor land uses of grasslands and wooded areas that are heavily fragmented. In 2004, IDEM conducted a biological study on the SFWC watershed. Monitoring sites on Kilmore Creek and Stump Ditch had failing index of biotic integrity (IBI) scores (i.e., scores less than 36 in Indiana), which indicates that the streams were not supporting a well-balanced aquatic community. The fish community scores on Kilmore Creek and Stump Ditch were 34 and 32, respectively. This caused IDEM to list both streams on its 2006 CWA section 303(d) list of impaired waters for impaired biotic communities. To address impairments, IDEM developed a total maximum daily load (TMDL) for Escherichia coli, total suspended solids, total phosphorus, and nitrate-nitrite in 2008 for the SFWC watershed. For over two decades, stakeholders have been working to improve the health of the SFWC watershed. The Clinton County Soil and Water Conservation District received a CWA section 205(j) grant in 2009 to draft an extended nine-element SFWC WMP, which it began implementing in 2012. In 2019, IDEM conducted follow-up monitoring, which showed an improved fish IBI score of 42 on Kilmore Creek and scores ranging from 36–38 on Stump Ditch. Habitat scores on both Kilmore Creek and Stump Ditch showed improvements in categories such as less bank erosion, silt cover, and embeddedness in the streams, which indicates less sediment entering from surrounding landscapes. Due to fish IBI scores indicating a well-balanced aquatic community, IDEM is proposing to remove the IBC impairments from these segments on its 2022 impaired waters list.