|Making a difference, together
$1 million College-led initiative unites area agencies, groups
in Eel River (Kenapocomoco) clean-up
Students of Manchester College environmentalist Jerry Sweeten ’75 are familiar with the puzzle: “How does this relate to the larger picture?”
“He wants you to internalize what you have learned, not just be able to blurt out facts and figures,” says Terri Michaelis ’09. “He wants you to think about how it all relates to the larger picture.”
Sweeten’s classroom just got a whole lot larger.
A coalition of Manchester College, Wabash and Miami county conservation agencies, and at least 17 other groups is embarking on a $1 million Initiative to improve the water quality of a 30-mile stretch of the Eel River.
This Middle Eel River Watershed Initiative has received nearly $600,000 in Clean Water Act funds from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. An additional $400,000 in contributions will come from agencies, schools, organizations, businesses and individuals who are stakeholders in the quality of the Eel River.
“Our goal is to make the Eel River a better place for aquatic life and people,” says Dr. Sweeten, who wrote the grant request and who, with his students, has done considerable research on water pollution and flow of the Eel River, particularly as it affects smallmouth bass.
The Eel River is a tremendous natural resource that’s been neglected for many years, Sweeten says, noting that it once was one of the outstanding fishing streams in the Midwest.
Today, the river is on the Environmental Protection Agency’s “impaired” list forr its excessive levels of e-coli, PCBs, mercury and other pollution. Poor water quality and numerous dams harm the fish and aquatic life, as well as those recreational opportunities. Runoff of farm field fertilizer is a noticeable and main source of the pollution.
Called the Kenapocomoco as it flows beside campus, generations of students have learned to canoe on the river, and have floated and fished its waters. Now, appliances and trash lay among fallen trees and swimmers and tube floaters risk disease from visibly nasty water.
The stakes are large for some communities “The Eel River is a source of Logansport’s drinking water, and it’s a great resource for people throughout the region. We should all be concerned about its future,” editorialized the Pharos Tribune of Logansport.
“We’ll work on this together, to find solutions together, with money to do it,” says Sweeten of the Initiative, which brings together many agencies and organizations that traditionally function independently. The grant will fund a watershed management plan; identification and remediation of high priority water pollution sites; scientific monitoring of flow, pollutants, and aquatic organisms; and public outreach.
Manchester College scientists and student researchers will do the monitoring, with county agricultural agencies fostering rapport with farmers, agri-businesses and others in the watershed. Area environmental groups, schools, clubs and organizations will provide scores of volunteers.
Sweeten sought the IDEM funding with substantial early partnership commitments of Soil and Water Conservation Districts in Wabash and Miami counties, Waterborne Environmental Inc., Friends of Miami County’s Bridges, Stockdale Mill Foundation and the North Manchester Historical Society.
“We all live in a watershed,” says Jan Stout, program director for the Miami County Soil and Water Conservation District. “What we do in the watershed affects not only ourselves, but others who live downstream. The (District) is pleased and eager to begin to assist in this effort.”
With at least a dozen other organizations and agencies contributing almost $400,000 in matching funds, volunteer labor, technology and equipment, the Initiative plans to ignite commitment from scores of area residents — boaters, youth groups, anglers, farmers, businesses, environmental and conservation groups, and others.
Much of the College’s catalytic leadership in the Initiative — especially of Sweeten’s expertise and of its laboratories and science equipment — is enabled by generous donations to the College, particularly to the construction of the $17 million Science Center. Sweeten is seeking additional grants and partnerships to extend the life and scope of the four-year Initiative, which begins this fall.
The Initiative is forming a steering committee of scientists, area agency officials, farmers and key environmentalists — stakeholders in the quality of the Eel River. The committee will hire a watershed coordinator (a scientist) this fall. Stream monitoring will begin in January, as will “town hall” meetings.
The 110-mile Eel River traverses northern Indiana cornfields, woods and small communities in six counties, from western Allen County, through Whitley, Kosciusko, Wabash, Miami and Cass counties, feeding into the Wabash River at Logansport. Old grist mill dams along the watershed are in various stages of disrepair, inhibiting fish migration, fishing and boating, and collecting sediment.
The project focuses on the middle third of the Eel River, about 30 miles between North Manchester, home of the College, southwest to Mexico, Ind. That watershed encompasses about 300 square miles, Sweeten says. A major education component will be a touring display by the North Manchester Historical Society.
Hopefully, many others will join Sweeten and his students in seeing The Big Picture. The Eel travels 14 miles of Cass County, which would reap benefits from the Initiative, observes Judy Buttice of that county’s Soil & Water Conservation District. “If we keep polluting our rivers, one day we’re going to be at a point where we’re not able to clean them,” she told the Pharos Tribune.
By Jeri Kornegay
River research nets career opportunities
Ryan Peterson ’11 and Caleb Asbury ’11 trudge upstream in the Eel River. With a 35-pound electric pack strapped to his back, Peterson slowly sweeps an electrified net right and left while Asbury holds another net to help catch the stunned fish.
They’ll take the fish back to a biology lab in the Science Center to be identified and added to their taxonomy of Eel River fish.
Earlier last summer, the biology and environmental science majors waded along the banks of the Eel with their teacher, Dr. Jerry Sweeten ’75, searching for nests of smallmouth bass in the shallow, slow-moving water. The team measured the nest diameters and distance from the shore, and water depth and temperature.
“We’re looking at several different factors affecting how and when smallmouth bass spawn and how many actually survive,” Asbury explains. “Every day, we take a water sample and test different things, such as the amount of phosphorous and nitrate in the water that comes from farmers’ fields. We look at suspended sediment, dissolved oxygen and conductivity. All of these things are affected by the amount of rain.”
At the end of May, they had identified 15 nests, 10 with eggs. Then it rained. And rained again. When the water had cleared, the young scientists could not find any eggs. “So, we’re skeptical anything survived,” Peterson says.
The students are grateful for the experience working with Sweeten, a specialist in stream ecology, particularly in the effects of pollutants on stream fishes. “Dr. Sweeten has shown us many job opportunities that Ryan and I might not have known about before, such as working with the DNR,” Asbury adds.
While the students will share their research in a journal article and other scholarly presentations, they know it also will be important to the Eel River Initiative and future research.
By Deanna Quinn ’05