Seven years ago, a grass roots movement to improve water quality in Salamonie Lake, Indiana, grew into a partnership between the Corps of Engineers, other government agencies and members of the surrounding communities united by that same goal. The group’s commitment to the objective eventually led to the purchase of equipment for planting vegetation to reduce the erosion of the surrounding environment, directly contributing to improved water quality.
The Salamonie River Watershed Group received the Outstanding Lake Association Award from the Indiana Lakes Management Society for outstanding work to improve the Salamonie River watershed and the water quality in Salamonie Lake. Project Manager John Scheiber was recognized for his contribution to the effort. The award acknowledges Scheiber’s contribution and commends the group’s progress in improving water quality, soil health, agricultural sustainability and agricultural productivity. “Watershed groups are important to improving the water quality in the lakes that the Corps manages and provides an opportunity for surrounding communities to be involved in the improvements,” said Upper Wabash Operations Manager Scot Dahms.
In 2014, Scheiber developed a handshake partnership agreement between the National Wild Turkey Federation, IDNR, Lower Salamonie River Watershed Group, and Huntington County Soil and Water Conservation District to promote prairie creation and restoration through purchase of a special seeder and prairie seed. Wild turkeys often use prairie habitat for feeding. An added bonus is that the planted prairie areas also serve as filter strips to help reduce erosion and sedimentation runoff. This directly correlated to the Salamonie River Watershed Group’s goals to improve water quality in the watershed. In 2015, the package was funded and a no-till drill was purchased to facilitate the prairie plantings. Seed was later purchased to create a prairie area in parts of the Salamonie Lake emergency spillway and surrounding areas. The drill can be used by all partners and will help foster future ties with the associated groups and agencies.
The path to cleaner water
In 2009, a concerned citizen who was protesting a proposed confined animal feeding operation being built within two miles of Salamonie Lake, began to notice a foam which was developing on Salamonie Lake and in the river. She wanted answers as to what was causing the unpleasant film on the lake. At first, she contacted Dahms and then district water quality specialist Lisa Underwood.
The Corps began conducting tests for E. coli and other bacteria. After a few sample tests were complete, the citizen contacted Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) and later the US EPA about the strange foam which continued to increase on the lake. IDEM then put Underwood in contact with a college professor from Indianapolis who had extensive knowledge about the foam—commonly called Blue Green Algae—that was present during the hot summer months.
Once the cause of the foam was determined, district water quality specialist Jade Young (who replaced Underwood) met with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and agencies from Huntington, Wabash, Grant, Wells, Jay, and Blackford counties in Indiana to discuss ways to reduce the causes of the blue green algae. Initial baseline testing was done on Salamonie Lake, river and tributaries. Areas of concern were established to decide where the focus of a watershed group was needed.
In 2010, the Lower Salamonie Watershed group was formed. Scheiber became a board member to serve as a local contact for the Corps. The group began sampling and studying the watershed to start building a proposal for a 319 Grant. A 319 Grant provides funding for water quality improvements to implement practices which decrease soil erosion and nutrient runoff. After a thorough proposal was submitted, a 319 Grant was awarded to the Lower Salamonie River Watershed group. Later the Upper Salamonie Watershed group was developed to assist communities along the Salamonie River in the upper reaches of the watershed.
In May of 2012, the Corps of Engineers Great Lakes and Ohio River Division developed a Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB) Response Plan in response to the increase in blooms throughout the division. In July 2012, Salamonie Lake made national news when two dogs died from ingesting water that contained toxic algae from a tributary to the lake. The watershed group began analyzing data collected, created more defined areas of concern throughout the watershed, and made priorities to provide funding for practices to reduce runoff containing high nutrient levels from nearby agricultural lands.