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Hearings conclude on watershed plan

In the third and final public meeting involving the Indian Creek Watershed Management Plan, Karen Schaffer, watershed coordinator, spent time with a group of citizens concerned about the future of the Indian Creek Watershed.
Schaffer first discussed results from water quality testing performed by the team from Stantec Consulting Services (formerly FMSM Engineers) last September. Ten sites were tested, and there was some overlap in areas monitored already by the Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management. Some areas, though, were completely new. Of those 10 monitored, some level of bacteria was found in four of the areas tested.
Schaffer said she and her team used a tool created by the Environmental Protection Agency called a Bacteria Indicator Tool, a spreadsheet tool used to estimate contribution of bacteria sources.
‘We really honed in on bacteria problems,’ she said.
The results showed higher levels in western Harrison County and around lower Indian Creek. Septic system waste and potential water quality hazards due to failing systems were seen to have a greater potential for issues in Floyd County than in Harrison County. For cattle and other agricultural loadings, it was just the opposite, with the results being higher in Harrison County than in Floyd.
Dissolved oxygen content was also tested, and Schaffer said this was a good indicator of water quality as a whole.
‘Actually, these looked pretty good,’ she said.
Only one site was designated as a problem with DO, Indian Creek above Lickford Bridge Road. IDEM had already tagged this particular site as a problem area due to the backwater from the Ohio River. Schaffer called this a ‘natural occurrence.’
She admitted part of the testing was affected by the severe drought Harrison and Floyd counties experienced during the summer. When testing biotic integrity, or the number and kinds of insect life present in the water, two sites were unable to be tested at all.
‘(There were) pretty stressed conditions out there,’ Schaffer said, due to the drought.
Schaffer also presented results of sinkhole testing to the audience, showing more than 14,000 possible sinkhole locations found in Harrison County and more than 150 combined found in Clark and Floyd counties.
Now, as the end of the grant for the Indian Creek Watershed Management Project is coming to a close, Schaffer also wanted to focus on goals, decisions and ways of measuring progress in the months and years to come. They want to finalize this iteration of the plan while knowing that in five or 10 years, it will be revamped, Schaffer said.
The management measures she and her team have identified are septic systems, agriculture, urban areas, karst geography, monitoring and assessment.
For septic systems, since so many local residents use them and there isn’t a good database of where they are, Schaffer said she wants to find a ‘good pallatable, political way’ to stop what could be a large problem later. That could include education workshops on how to keep the systems running cleanly and smoothly, and instating operation and maintenance requirements.
Agriculturally, since livestock waste could further impair the quality of the water, Schaffer and the audience members discussed plans like a watershed stewardship program and giving financial assistance to farmers to help create a buffer.
As for further monitoring and assessment, Schaffer said the final plan will be presented Feb. 29 to IDEM, and part of what they could begin to do is to apply for additional implementation funds for the improvements or enhancements recommended in the plan.
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