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Public input wanted in Wabash River project

by ANDREW MACIEJEWSKI, - amaciejewski@wabashplaindealer.com

The Wabash River Defenders is holding a public meeting on Feb. 13 at the Honeywell Center, in the Crystal Room, to gather public input for their plan to improve water quality of the Wabash River.

The group received a grant from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), through the EPA’s Clean Water Act. The government awards the grant to improve impaired water bodies affected by polluted, storm-water runoff.

Runoff is water that does not absorb into the ground but runs across the land’s surface. As the land drains from heavy rain and melting snow, the water collects pollutants like motor oils, excess fertilizers and sediments.

The Treaty Creek-Wabash River Project will assess and protect the smaller creeks, streams and wetlands that feed the Wabash.

“By the time the Wabash River reaches the City of Wabash, it’s already drained about 1,500 square miles, so the impacts we can have on the Wabash are by working in those smaller tributaries that drain into it within the county,” said Sara Peel, Treaty Creek-Wabash River Project coordinator. “We really don’t know where exactly we will be focusing, but we will be using this meeting to gather public opinion.”

The Wabash River is primarily impaired by E. coli and sediments, according to the IDEM website. E. coli are a type bacteria that are found in animal intestines and cause severe stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Peel said there are habitat and corridor issues as well.

The project plans to begin monitoring efforts, collecting bi-weekly samples for a year because there has been a lot of work done on the Salamonie and Eel Rivers but not on the Wabash River.

“There really hasn’t been any concentrated effort to really understand what’s going on within all those tributaries, with standardized sampling and sampling parameters collected every two weeks, to try to get a really good handle on what the conditions are,” Peel said.

Huntington County and Jay County have implemented projects to collect and improve the Salamonie River. Manchester University has conducted studies on the Eel River for the past eight years, Peel said.

Some sampling of the Wabash does occur, but there are different entities that monitor different things. Indiana American Water samples the river by its intake pipe, IDEM monitors in Andrews, Ind. and the Fish and Wildlife Service teams up with Manchester University to study the fish population.

“There are a lot of groups that work, locally, on the Wabash River, and they kind of focus on their own individual piece,” Peel said. She explained that there has been collaboration but “there really hasn’t been a focused effort to bring everyone to the table and get all of those opinions and ideas out there.”

She wants people at the meeting to determine what they want the river to look like in the next 10 years.

“Long-term, after this meeting where we’ve gathered this information, hopefully we’ll get people to volunteer to help with some of this water quality monitoring, inventory efforts,” Peel said. “We’ll then start to collect data that will help us determine are their concerns valid, does the data support what people are seeing within the system.”

They will begin monitoring using a probe that detects the turbidity, or the clarity of the water. High turbidity can provide food and shelter for pathogens, according to the United States Geological Survey.

The probe also indicates the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water, which is how much oxygen is available for fish. Bottom feeders like carp don’t need much dissolved oxygen, but trout and game-fish often require higher levels of dissolved oxygen.

There are 20 local organizations supporting this effort, and Peel wants the public to join in the discussion.

“The opinions really form the foundation of our plans,” she said, “and then the data really help us determine where should we be spending our time and energy in the future.