Indiana’s Annual Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund Conference Makes Headway on Drainage Issues

Indiana’s Annual Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund Conference Makes Headway on Drainage Issues

By: Sandra L.Wilmore

“The most pernicious, invasive, and confiscatorial statute ever inflicted on the people of this state,” were a few of the words that Tom Dustin used to describe Indiana’s Drainage Code. Tom Dustin is a member of the Izaak Walton League and one of many who want to make sure their voice is heard. The maintenance actions that the drainage code authorizes are condemned by many for devastating environmental impacts, yet they are encouraged by many others for improving farmland production. On Saturday, November 16th, 2002 Save the Dunes Conservation Fund held its annual Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Network and Fund (GLAHNF) Conference to address the complex and controversial issues that surround Indiana drainage ditch maintenance and regulation.

The conference was held at Amish Acres in Nappanee, IN, with an agenda jam-packed with diverse speakers, including farmers, governmental regulators, a lawyer, county surveyor, environmentalists, and home owners. At issue is how to improve the way ditch maintenance activities are planned, implemented, and regulated to accommodate both minimal impacts to the environment and the needs of the farmers. The gathering, though potentially contentious, was an extremely positive development. The speakers voiced their thoughts and suggestions and took questions from opposing sides in a constructive manner.

While there was agreement to disagree on some points, there was clear consensus on one: the need for increased and improved communication and education among all parties. Wabash County Surveyor and speaker John H. Stephens suggested that there should be educational requirements, currently nonexistent, for surveyors and drainage board members. Several others echoed the sentiment. Another common suggestion was that more people need to take initiative and be involved in holding elected officials accountable. Regulators in particular emphasized the need for people to be politically involved in order to affect and improve the processes that guide environmental decision-making.

Many of the participants were amazed at the destructive practices being used in other counties with a decided lack of public notice, as demonstrated by speakers Aldona Martin and Judy Bernacchi. Martin and Bernacchi are both immersed in campaigns to stop or reduce drainage ditch activities affecting their properties. The disparity between counties likely reflects how critical the need is to have set qualifications for county surveyors and drainage board members.

We are grateful to the commendable speakers and all participants who helped make the conference a success. Anyone interested in the full conference summary should call (219) 879-3564 or E-mail


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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.