Call it the trickle-down effect.
Rainwater, if it’s not filtered through the ground or vegetation, carries loose dirt, fertilizer or bits of cow pies off your field into the back creek. And what starts in Indiana is felt all the way to the Caribbean.
“There is a significant amount of sediment and nutrients going into the streams that feed into the Wabash River,” Talia Tittelfitz said. She’s a watershed specialist with the Wabash River Enhancement Corp., a nonprofit organization which has been studying how to improve the health of local watersheds over the past two years.
Now that that study is completed and pending state and federal approval, the organization and its partners are preparing to offer $150,000 to farmers in the Deer Creek-Sugar Creek watershed to fund changes that ought to make the watersheds healthier.
How healthy a local creek is has ripple effects hundreds of miles away. Nitrogen and phosphorus mainly from agricultural land has spurred growth of large amounts of algae in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, causing what’s called a “hypoxic zone” threatening fish and shell organisms living in the Gulf.
The Mississippi River flowing into the Gulf carries runoff from parts or all of 31 U.S. states. More than 70 percent of the nitrogen and phosphorus that pollute the Gulf come from agricultural sources that eventually pour into the Mississippi, according to an estimate from the U.S. Geological Survey.
“On a bigger scale, the Wabash feeds into the Ohio feeds into the Mississippi feeds into the Gulf,” Tittelfitz explained. “The bigger picture here is starting to address at these smaller watershed levels, trying to get at some of those pollutants.”
Wabash River Enhancement Corp. recently released the results of its two-year study of the Deer Creek-Sugar Creek watershed. The Watershed Management Plan for the Deer Creek-Sugar Creek Watershed indicates segments of the watershed — part of which flows through southern Miami, Cass and Carroll counties — are polluted with fertilizer nutrients and E. coli.