Twenty-nine years after enactment of the Clean Water Act, our nation continues to be plagued by major water quality problems. In Indiana, there are approximately 8,075 river miles and 429,882 lake acres that are identified as too polluted to meet basic water quality standards set to protect humans and aquatic life. Within the next decade or so, over 350 cleanup plans – known as Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) – will be required in order to make these waters safe again. The task of developing and implementing these plans is enormous. The details are technical and the state has limited resources. Engaging citizens familiar with each watershed is critical for success, but challenging because of the time and expertise necessary for effective participation.
On October 19th, Save the Dunes Conservation Fund and the Clean Water Network hosted an Activists’ Workshop for Watershed Cleanup – Total Maximum Daily Load Strategies. The workshop was held at the Barker House in Michigan City and conducted by Merritt Frey of the Clean Water Network. Merritt used her knowledge and talents to transform the tedious, complex issue of TMDL development into an engaging process and opportunity for citizen impact. She started with the basics of defining exactly what a TMDL is, water quality standards, and other terms commonly used for TMDLs. Merritt identified frequent problems, such as agencies combining the Margin of Safety and critical condition factors, which must be considered separately. Next, the group learned about the process and timeline. The list of impaired waters requiring TMDLs will be updated and finalized in April of 2002, so the time between now and then is a primary window of opportunity for public input. Citizens can influence and strengthen the list to be sure that it is complete. Once TMDL development is underway, citizen review and comments will be critical. Merritt showed the group how to review plans with a critical eye. She provided real examples of existing (or proposed) TMDLs and led several exercises to illustrate how easy it can be to detect serious problems and bring attention to them. It worked! The group did well at identifying the major problems in the plans and was surprised at how quickly they accomplished it.
Last on the agenda was Tim Kroeker, the TMDL representative from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. Tim explained the history and current status of TMDL efforts in Indiana. The program is broken into three phases: Sampling/Data Collection, TMDL Development, and TMDL Implementation. Contracts are being signed for TMDL development on eight waterbodies, including the Lake Michigan Rim, Salt Creek, the Little Calumet River, Burns Ditch, the Kankakee River, and Trail Creek in northwest Indiana, and three in Marion County around Indianapolis (Fall Creek, Pleasant Run, and White River). Tim stressed the ongoing need to educate the public and legislators, professionals, and government groups.
The day ended with discussion of how the group will coordinate involvement on TMDL development. With work beginning on eight plans in the near future, coordination will be imperative to ensure that limited resources are stretched as efficiently as possible!
Sandra L. Wilmore
Save the Dunes Conservation Fund
Serving as Hub for Indiana
444 Barker Road
Michigan City, IN 46360