Farm Progress

The Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts recognizes the efforts of five counties in northeast Indiana to improve water quality.

Darrell Boone

March 22, 2017

3 Min Read
SAMPLE AND MONITOR: Sampling flow in the Salamonie River is part of the project to improve water quality there.Huntington County SWCD

For the second year in a row, a multi-county partnership was named as a showcase winner at the annual Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts conference. The SWCDs in Huntington, Wabash, Wells, Blackford and Grant counties were recognized for improving the Salamonie River and its reservoir. The five counties created the Lower Salamonie River Watershed Initiative.

The impetus for this group occurred a few years ago when high levels of harmful algal blooms were discovered at the Salamonie Reservoir. A study conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers determined there was an excess of nutrients flowing into the reservoir from the Salamonie River.

Water sampling
The Corps and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management asked SWCDs to help with water sampling. To maximize their impact, these five counties partnered to apply for an EPA 319 Grant, administered by IDEM. They received it in 2013.

Taylor University worked with the group to conduct a social indicator study. They interviewed landowners to get their thoughts on solutions. Other organizations participating included the Natural Resources Conservation Service, IDEM, Purdue University Extension, the Corps, The Nature Conservancy, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Indiana SWCD board, Byron Seeds, county commissioners, the Indiana State Department of Health and volunteers.

The Lower Salamonie River Watershed Initiative group conducted water sampling tests and macroinvertebrate samplings, and did a windshield survey to develop a watershed management plan for the most critical areas. Once the plan was implemented, landowners who farmed in those critical areas were able to receive cost-share funding to assist with implementation of best management practices (BMPs) to keep excess nutrients from flowing into the water.

Practices such as filter strips, cover crops, nutrient management and modifications to convert equipment for uses such as conservation tillage, strip tillage, cover crops and precision nutrient application were eligible.

Make a difference
In 2015 and 2016, more than $105,987 was disbursed to landowners for implementation of BMPs on more than 4,200 acres. Load reductions of 4,576 tons of sediment, 6,340 pounds of phosphorus and 12,661 pounds of nitrogen per year were estimated to have been achieved. Farmer interest in considering adoption of BMPs has seen an uptick.

“We’ve had more farmers looking at implementing cover crops and other practices, and have had 62 applications for these practices,” says Cheryl Jarrett, office manager for the Huntington SWCD. “There’s really been good interest from farmers.”

Jarrett says the problem didn’t pop up overnight, and it’s going to take a number of years to make needed corrections. However, she says progress has been made.

“Ronnie Hileman, DNR’s manager for the reservoir, said he could see a big difference in the water last year,” she says. She adds that getting to this point has been a lot of work, but it’s been worth it, and all partners have assisted when needed.

Given that two showcase winners in the past two years have been collaborations of multiple counties, one might ask this question: Is working together the wave of the future as SWCDs try to keep more nutrients out of Indiana’s waters?

“I think it might be,” Jarrett says. “Watersheds don’t just stop at the county line.”

Boone writes from Wabash.


About the Author(s)

Darrell Boone

Darrell Boone writes from Wabash, Ind.

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