Water quality sampling efforts underway


By MAGGIE SULLIVAN, guest columnist

Brown County may not be known as the “Land of Lakes” like northeastern Indiana, but it is home to plenty of water — a dozen lakes, over a thousand ponds, and several hundred miles of streams.

The majority of these lakes, ponds, and streams flow eventually into Lake Monroe. The main tributaries to Lake Monroe are the North Fork Salt Creek, Middle Fork South Creek and South Fork Salt Creek, which all receive water from smaller streams like Greasy Creek, Hamilton Creek, Pleasant Valley Creek, Gnaw Bone Creek and many others. Gatesville, Nashville and Story all drain into Lake Monroe, as do Sweetwater Lake and Yellowwood Lake.

How clean is the water in those lakes, ponds, and streams? There are several water sampling projects happening right now to try and answer that question.

If you have a well, pond or lake that you use for drinking water, contact the Brown County Soil & Water Conservation District this month to receive FREE and confidential water quality testing. Coordinate with the office to pick up empty sample bottles and instructions. Then, return your water samples to the office by Monday, Aug. 31 for analysis of total coliform/E. coli, nitrate levels, lead, arsenic and copper.

This program is available throughout the county and not just within the Lake Monroe watershed. Visit browncountyswcd.com or call 812-988-2211 for more information.

Curious about water quality in local streams? On Friday, Sept. 18, Friends of Lake Monroe will be partnering with the IU Limnology Lab to investigate over 100 stream sites in the Lake Monroe watershed. We need volunteers to collect water samples and assess stream habitat (in other words, to determine how well the stream can support aquatic wildlife). This is a great opportunity to be a citizen scientist and enjoy a day out exploring the beauty of Brown County. For more information, visit friendsoflakemonroe.org.

What happens with this water quality data? The information from the private well/pond sampling will be kept confidential and be used only by the homeowners to ensure they have safe drinking water. However, the data from the Sept. 18 sampling event will be combined with additional data being collected in Lake Monroe and its major tributaries to determine the concentrations of potential pollutants like sediment, E. coli and phosphorus entering the lake.

It’s all part of a larger effort to develop a watershed management plan for Lake Monroe. Friends of Lake Monroe received a grant from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and has partnered with 20 organizations in Brown, Monroe and Jackson counties (including the Brown County Soil & Water Conservation District) to develop a plan over the next two years. One component is looking at water quality data. Another is listening to community concerns (you may recall the public forum co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters back in January). A third is public education and outreach.

Ultimately, the goal is to produce a data-driven, community-supported action plan of proposed projects that will improve the water quality in Lake Monroe — which will also improve the water quality of the Brown County streams that flow into the lake.

It is too early to say what projects would be most beneficial in this watershed. Some examples from other Indiana watershed management plans include educational campaigns encouraging citizens to pump their septic tanks regularly, demonstration projects showcasing best practices for reducing fertilizer runoff from fields, cost-share programs to fund heavy use pads on farms, stabilization of stream banks in areas with extreme erosion, and restoration of wetland areas. All practices would be voluntary and therefore require the support of interested landowners.

The final watershed management plan should be ready in January 2022. Friends of Lake Monroe hopes to then receive additional grant funding to put the plan into action.

In the meantime, keep an eye on the Brown County Democrat for quarterly project updates, and please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Friends of Lake Monroe for more information.

Maggie Sullivan is the watershed coordinator for Friends of Lake Monroe. She can be reached at 812-558-0217 or watershed@friendsoflakemonroe.org.

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