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Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015

Big Walnut/Deer Creek Watershed Plan comes to fruition

Monday, January 26, 2009

It all began one day at work about two years ago.

The then Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) coordinator, Bill Beard, came to me with an idea to help stop sedimentation in the Putnam County waterways. He had been talking with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) District Conservationist, Matt Jarvis, on how the organizations could work together to help with this dilemma.

Through meetings with Bill, Matt and the Putnam County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) it was decided that we should apply for funding through Indiana Department of Environmental Management's (IDEM) section 319 grant to do a watershed study of the Big Walnut/Deer Creek.

As they say, the rest is history.

The grant was submitted and funded. A watershed alliance group was formed from local citizens, businesses, and government entities from Boone, Hendricks and Putnam Counties. We were charged with coming up with a watershed management plan for Big Walnut/Deer Creek watersheds. A watershed coordinator was hired to help us reach our goals set in the grant.

All of this is important information to everyone in Putnam County, but if you don't know what a watershed is than it really is useless information.

Therefore, let me digress just a moment to discuss a "watershed".

Many students can tell you what a watershed is because they learn that in school. However, when I was a student we didn't learn things like that.

A watershed is not a shed you store water in although I have had someone tell me that. Watersheds are in all parts of the county, state, country and world. When rain falls it naturally "runs" to a certain stream that runs to a bigger stream to a river to the ocean.

Many of the streams in this area eventually run to the Wabash or White Rivers to the Ohio River to the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.

So what we do in Putnam County does matter to the folks in Louisiana. With that in mind consider what you do on your little piece of land.

Do you use conservation practices to help maintain the area for future use, or consider it "mine and no body is going to tell me what to do", or just don't think about it at all? These are all common responses.

These responses are neither good nor bad responses, they are telltale signs of the amount of awareness our impact is on the land.

Armed with this small tidbit of information let's get back to the watershed study.

The results from this watershed journey have been very interesting and intriguing.

We now have a complete watershed management plan for Big Walnut Creek from its headwaters in Boone County, where it crosses Hendricks County through Putnam County to where it converges with Deer Creek to become the Eel River near Clay County.

Deer Creek had also been included in the watershed plan. Through windshield surveys, water samples, macroinvertebrate (critters that live in the streams) samples, floating Big Walnut we have gleaned information to determine areas that are healthy and some that need attention. We have found that the protected areas around Big Walnut have served as buffers for upstream pollutants.

The water quality improves as it comes through areas maintained by Department of Natural Resources and The Nature Conservancy. We have found surprises along the way as well. Some watersheds look as if the water quality should be good only to have the science prove that the water quality is not what we expected to find. There are places where we might have expected less than pristine water quality that was maintaining its macroinvertebrate (critters that live in the streams) diversity.

All this has shown that water quality is determined by more that just looking at the water and its surroundings. It is a science that can help us maintain our waterways and make them better for the future.

Probably the only good thing to come from the storm event of June 2008 was the beneficial samples were taken right after the event. It showed what heavy rains and flooding can do to water quality. We have learned along the way many things over the past two years of this study.

The final draft of the watershed plan has been submitted to IDEM for final approval. The total document exceeds 200 pages with maps, water analysis information and other pertinent information from historical data to current information.

It will be available after April in its entirety on CD by contacting the SWCD office. Highlights of the plan will be on the website at http://iaswcd.org/putnamswcd/ in February. It will be a valuable handbook for anyone interested in watershed management.

The resulting watershed management plan has allowed us to again apply to IDEM for funding to implement best management practices along Big Walnut and Deer Creeks in an effort to help maintain and improve our water quality. This is important not only to the recreation areas of Big Walnut/Deer Creeks but also because most of the drinking water for Putnam County comes from the aquifers of these creeks. With more people moving into the county the demand for good drinking water only escalates.

All of this is inevitable with the growth of the county.

The Big Walnut/Deer Creek watershed plan arms us with the best knowledge we can acquire to help plan for future growth of the county, the citizens of Putnam County can enjoy the valuable assets that Big Walnut and Deer Creek provides while maintaining watershed management that allows for the recreational and functionality for future generations.