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Nancy Brown, Elkhart County Conservation District
Beverly Stevenson, District Conservationist, NRCS, USDA
Date January 14, 2004
The jurisdiction of the interview was Elkhart County, Indiana. Subwatersheds in the county include the Elkhart River, Baugo Creek, Christiana Creek, Little Elkhart River, Pine Creek, Sheep Creek, Washington Township Ditch, Trout Creek-Indian Lake, Putterbaugh Creek-Heaton Lake, and Cobus Creek Watersheds. The St. Joseph River flows through the northern portions of the county. Much of the county lies in the Middle River Valley Segment. The Baugo Creek Subwatershed, along the western side of the county, lies in the Lower River Valley Segment. Row crops, including corn and soybeans, and dairy are the major agricultural products in the county. Dairy cattle are raised both in confined operations and on pasture. The large confined operations utilize nutrient management plans to handle the manure.
Projects/beneficial watershed features
The Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts sponsor a “River Friendly Farmer” program that awards agricultural producers annually that implement conservation and watershed stewardship practices, such as implementing nutrient management plans and controlling erosion. More buffer strips are being installed now that they are a part of the Conservation Reserve Program. Approximately 10-20% of agricultural landowners participate in the programs available. Typically, those participating are those that are in most need of the practices.
Dennis Wolheter was hired through a Section 319 grant to work with livestock producers in LaGrange, Steuben, Kosciusko, Noble, Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties. He spends approximately 10% of his time in Elkhart County. The majority of his projects are in LaGrange County. He is focusing his efforts on small dairies and Amish farmers, of which LaGrange has a large population.
Agricultural preservation is addressed in Elkhart County through a variety of tools. The county has a series of agricultural zoning types. Woodland Lakes RC&D, of which the six counties in Northeast Indiana are members, has one of the most successful agricultural preservation programs in the nation. The organization has accepted easements in most of the six counties. Agricultural preservation is also instituted at the state level. Habitat preservation in the area is sought by the Trillium Land Trust, Glacier’s Edge and ACRES. There are plenty of organizations working for watershed protection and preservation in the county. However, there is typically a lack of funds to conduct all necessary projects.
The District was awarded a LARE grant, along with Noble County for work on the Solomon Creek, Whetten Ditch and Dry Run subwatersheds. A Diagnostic Study has been completed, and the project is now at the implementation phase. The grant is used to install filter strips and any practice aimed at reducing erosion from the subwatersheds. Other grants ongoing in the county include a watershed management planning project in the Baugo Creek Watershed, a Watershed Management Plan on Lower Yellow Creek stemming from identification of septic system issues, and the development of an E. coli model in the Cities of South Bend, Mishawaka and Elkhart. A 319 grant administered by the Noble County Soil and Water Conservation District was overseen by John Rousch of the Hoosier River Watch to conduct monitoring of chemical and biological parameters in the Indiana portion of the St. Joseph River Basin.
Challenges in the watershed
Nutrients associated with sediments and E. coli were identified as the major concerns in the county. Habitat loss is also a concern. Cattle access in streams is an ongoing issue.
Full body contact is a concern, due to E. coli. It was noted that combined sewer overflows have the potential to impact all of the designated uses of the watershed, including agricultural water supply. More erosion control practices, such as permanent pasture seedings and grassed waterways are needed. It was noted that the majority of the concerns in the watershed have been identified. However, a lack of funding prevents all needed projects from being implemented. Additionally, it is more difficult to implement Best Management Practices on private property due to landowner capital outlay than on public lands, such as schools and parks. Without cost-share funds, many landowners cannot bear the cost of installing needed conservation measures on their own.