More waterways identified as impaired, planner says
By Karen Caffarini Post-Tribune correspondent July 15, 2014 11:32PM
The Deep River-Portage Burns Waterway Watershed is on the southern tip of Lake Michigan in north central Lake and Porter counties. The watershed drains approximately 180 square miles of primarily urban and agricultural land to Lake Michigan through the Burns Waterway in Portage. In 2012, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management released its draft 303d List of Impaired Waterbodies which identified 125 miles of stream in the watershed that were not meeting state water quality standards or their ability to support swimming and fishing was threatened.
In January 2014, the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission was awarded a grant from IDEM to facilitate the development and implementation of a watershed management plan. This collaborative effort, known as the “Deep River-Portage Burns Waterway Initiative,” brings together local communities, organizations and the public to begin laying the foundation for future restoration and conservation projects that ultimately lead to healthier streams and lakes for current and future generations.
Updated: August 18, 2014 9:14AM
HOBART — The miles of streams in Northwest Indiana that don’t meet state water quality standards have greatly increased since 2012, primarily due to increased monitoring, not necessarily more pollutants, a water resource planner said Tuesday.
There are 225 miles of streams with E. coli, 159 more miles than four years ago; 61 miles of streams with a nutrients impairment compared with no miles in 2012; and 97 miles of streams with an oxygen problem compared with only 15 miles in 2012, according to Joe Exl, senior water resource planner for Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission.
Exl provided the information during a public meeting on the Deep River-Portage Burns Waterway Initiative at the Hobart Community Center.
The initiative was implemented in 2014 to lay the foundation for restoration and conservation efforts that would ultimately lead to healthier streams and lakes in the waterway’s watershed, which encompasses a large portion of north central Lake and Porter counties.
The watershed had 125 miles of streams that didn’t meet state water quality standards in 2012, according to Indiana Department of Environmental Management. IDEM also said the waters’ ability to support swimming and fishing were threatened.
“Most sites within the watershed don’t have healthy fish as a result of a combination of habitat degradation and poor water quality,” Exl said.
“We know our fish communities are not all they could be. We can get there, though,” he said.
Exl said he was particularly concerned with the 97 miles of streams with an oxygen impairment.
“Oxygen is the most significant driver of aquatic health. Fish need oxygen to survive,” he said.
He said some sites in the watershed had one to two fish; some had none.
Among the factors leading to the poor water quality are sediment, poorly run septic fields and development,
Exl said areas like Lake George and Deep River in Hobart and the Main Beaver Dam Ditch by Crown Point need to reduce sediments by 89 percent while Turkey Creek in Merrillville and the Headwaters Main Beaver Dam Ditch need to reduce E. coli by 82 percent.
Sandy O’Brien, an environmentalist from Hobart, asked if there was a way to single out which areas are worse now. Exl said more data is needed.
“This is the first time a study this intense was done on the watershed,” Exl said.
Zeta Allen, also of Hobart, asked if an increase in natural predators could be causing the increase in E. coli.
Exl said it could be a contributor, but while the geese and duck population can be controlled, there isn’t much you can do about other wildlife.