Bird's Eye View of Michigan City, 1869 A. Ruger.jpgScott Kuchta of the Trail Creek Watershed Committee and the Tryon Farm Institute spoke to the La Porte County League of Women Voters about local water quality during the December Lunch with the League event at Lindos Tuesday afternoon.

Kuchta explained that La Porte County is in a unique geographical area where the watersheds flow north into Lake Michigan, as opposed to south into the Gulf of Mexico.

It was sometime in the 1980s when the Indiana Department of Environmental Management published a report on the poor water quality of Trail Creek, he said, and 1993 when a fledgling plan to address the issue was created.

Then in 2003, the Michigan City Sanitary District and La Porte County Soil & Water Conservation District partnered to create a more comprehensive plan to clean up the creek, using a grant provided by the Unity Foundation of La Porte County, Kuchta said.

And in 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded an $85,000 grant, to La Porte County to be used as a match-grant by property owners who contribute to improvement projects along the Trail Creek Watershed.

Under the grant, which has become the Clean Creek Fund, improvements made in the form of cash, equipment, materials or labor will be matched $1 for $1, but can be increased to a $3 to $1 bonus if specific criteria are met.

Creating riparian buffers, repairing or restoring stream banks, fencing livestock, planting trees and deep-rooted grasses, installing bridges, creating stormwater diversion systems, placing green roofs or gutters on buildings or planting cover crops are just some of the projects that are eligible to receive matching funds from the grant.

One of Kuchta’s listeners asked if the funds could be applied to the efforts at the Karwick Nature Park site, where contents from an old dump site began seeping from beneath the park into Trail Creek in April. He said that while similar restoration efforts likely would receive money from the Clean Creek Fund, the entire $85,000 grant would be “just a drop in the bucket” for the work that needs to be done at that site, which he called a “delicate” situation.

Another listener asked about the most prevalent pollutants in Trail Creek, to which Kuchta replied that sediment, or dirt from erosion is the most major culprit. Someone asked if the state can create a law forcing farmers to create buffers to prevent erosion, but he said he is unsure such a law is necessary. The issue may be that farmers just need additional education, he said.

For that reason, Kuchta said, the Trail Creek Watershed Committee is partnering with Purdue Extension to host an agricultural field day workshop for local “producers,” or farmers, sometime this spring.

“It will take decades to implement all these plans, but you’ve got to start somewhere,” he said.

Kuchta said La Porte County also is exploring the possibility of using a geographical information system, or GIS mapping, to determine where point sources, or pipes, exist that potentially could contaminate Trail Creek. However, he said the process likely will be tricky as some areas of the creek, such as that near the Blue Chip Casino, are non-navigable.

“The dirty secret of every waterway in America is that there is an unknown number of pipes,” he said.

As for La Porte County’s portion of Trail Creek, Kuchta said the area along Johnson Road, where much tree cover exists, is the cleanest. He said La Porte County’s natural state consisted of mostly forests, so anywhere that is not wooded probably is not the land’s natural state.

“Global warming and climate change seem to get all the headlines, but I think watershed management is really gaining traction,” he said.

The local League of Women Voters hosts their Lunch with the League meetings at noon on the second Tuesday of each month at Lindos Restaurant, 3940 Franklin St. La Porte County Clerk Lynne Spevak will be the featured speaker for the January lunch meeting. For more information, visit www.lwvlaporte.org.

Story courtesy of Herald Argus.
By Kelley Smith, Staff writer
Published: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 5:05 PM CST