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April 11, 2014

Cleaning up the E. coli-laden watershed

Tri-county creek, stream network riddled with high levels of E. coli covers 124 square miles

TERRE HAUTE — In an effort to reduce and eliminate Escherichia coli (E. coli) from the Otter Creek watershed, the Vigo County Soil & Water Conservation District is seeking a state grant that addresses “non-point” sources of the bacteria into the watershed.

A comprehensive study of the Otter Creek watershed was conducted by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management in 2009.

The primary cause of E. coli sources in the watershed include non-point sources, such as row crop agriculture and pastures, urban and rural runoff, land application of manure and point sources such as straight pipe discharges and failing home sewage treatment system disposal.

IDEM took watershed samples from April to May 2009 and 17 of 19 sites had high levels of E. Coli, the report stated. Reductions in E. Coli needed to achieve water quality standards range as high 84.5 percent, the report stated.

The Otter Creek watershed originates in northern Clay County, then flows southwest where it empties into the Wabash River west of North Terre Haute, covering about 229 stream miles.

Most of the watershed is agricultural land. The area includes parts of Clay, Parke and Vigo counties.

The Vigo district is holding a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. April 22 at the Seelyville Town Hall, 2299 N. Main St., to inform landowners and people living within the watershed of the effort to apply for a grant up to $300,000, said Jan Came, urban conservationist for the conservation district.

“This grant will not allow us to do any type of upgrading or anything like that to home septics, but it will allow us to educate people on how to keep and maintain septic systems, which can help reduce E. Coli,” Came said.

However, the April 29 meeting will establish a steering committee of landowners and stakeholders that will address indirect or non-point contamination such as from livestock on farms, manure fertilization or failing septic systems. The grant will pay for reduction of those agricultural sources, Came said.

“The steering committee will decide what are the best practices to put on the ground, whether it be cover crops, fencing for livestock, it could be field borders, which will filtrate between a field and the creeks. Those borders are grass waterways at the end of fields, that allows the water to be filtered before going into the creek,” Came said.

“E Coli is all about waste, whether it be human or animal, or it could be nutrients and settlement,” Came said. “Our main goal is to reduce the E. Coli in the watershed, to get that off the state’s [impaired waters] list,” Came said.

According to the IDEM report, about 69 percent of residents — 16,354 — live in non-urban areas within the watershed, while 31 percent of residents — 7,377 — live in urban areas within the watershed, as of 2010.

Came said the efforts to reduce E. Coli will start next year.

The conservation district has until Sept. 22 to submit its grant application to IDEM. “But we are sending IDEM a letter of intent on June 2 to let them know we are committed to doing this grant with them,” Came said.

The district has committed partners in the grant application with Seelyville Water & Sewer Works, Vigo County Drainage Board and the Vigo County Surveyor’s Office, Came said. The conservation district is also seeking support from the Sycamore Trails Resource Conservation & Development Council and Ouabache Land Conservancy, Came said.

For more info about the Otter Creek Watershed, visit www.in.gov/idem/nps/3894.htm.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@tribstar.com.

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