Category Archives: Agriculture

Clean Water Rule Clarifies Clean Water Act

The Clean Water Act (CWA) is intended to support the availability of safe water for all by making it illegal to dispose of pollution into streams. For historical reasons, the CWA is structured around “navigable waters” like rivers, but clearly anything that gets into a tributary or even the soils around streams can influence water quality. Where else would this pollution go?

Consequently, a source of concern and source of confusion has been what happens in non-naviigable headwaters, the small tributaries feeding into streams and rivers, and even ditches, themselves often recommissioned streams. The Clean Water Rule offers some specific guidance to what is included within the CWA. It stipulates that for a stream to be included, it needs to have moving water more than just during a rainfall event, and must show some sort of physical features indicating flowing water. This might be a streambed or bank or some other indication of high water. And then there is the issue of nearby waters, such as wetlands which are not obviously connected to a stream. The limit for those protections is 1500 feet. Ditches not replacing streams are not covered.

These types of clarification are beneficial because they will dramatically reduce the uncertainties of application that crop up when deciding whether the CWA applies. Environmentalists concerned about losses and water quality have gained clarity regarding protection of waterways that feed into navigable waters, and the agricultural industry knows more clearly what its limits are as well. It is important to note that there are a variety of exemptions for agricultural practices already within the Clean Water Act, and these are not altered.

Here are a couple of posts elsewhere on the topic:

1) from the EPA

2) from Healthy Lakes Healthy Lives

Water Quality Information Service Goes Live

WQISThe Water Quality Information Service is a resource for researchers, agency officials, and the general public for organizing and presenting historic water quality data from the St. Joseph River and its tributaries. The WQIS is maintained by the St. Joseph River Watershed Initiative in collaboration with the ERC hosting it at IPFW.

The URL is

Pick your location, pollutant and time frame and see what you get as a graph or as a table. The service is limited by the data available for it. We hope in the future to add: sites, data sets and new features!!

The WQIS is free, but registration is required so that we can learn who is using it.

Have fun.

River Summit II – April 8, 9 and 11

RiverSummit_2015River Summit II will be “part conference, part celebration” of the rivers and surrounding watershed of the Maumee River and its principle tributaries, the St. Mary’s and St. Joseph Rivers.  The conference will bring professionals, politicians and the public together to explore water quality issues,  riverfront revitalization efforts, and recreational opportunities on our rivers.

April 8th

Kick-Off Social | Grand Wayne Center
 The evening of April 8th will be an opportunity for leaders in the region to hear about successes and new issues for water resources in our communities.

April 9th
River Summit Conference | Grand Wayne Center

A full day of information and education for residents and professionals alike. The focus for this day will be to better understand the current state of our river systems and the opportunities rivers offer for economic growth and community building.

April 11th
Family Day | Various Locations in Downtown Fort Wayne
The last day of the 2015 River Summit will be a family-focused day on and along the rivers. Families can gain first-hand experiences associated with numerous features our rivers have to offer.

The principal organizer of the event is Tri-State Watershed Alliance. Get more details and get registered!

U.S. Senators Speak on St. Joseph River Conservation Project

Bringing you updates on a story we published last month, U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters of Michigan, along with Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana, held a press conference last week to discuss details of the 13.6 million dollar investment to improve water quality in the St. Joseph River. The project, which combines a historic 6.8 million dollar public investment that will be matched by a private investment contribution, is one the largest commitments to water quality and conservation ever made in the Great Lakes. You can read the press release and watch a news report here:      


Des Moines Water Works Sues Three Counties for Nitrate Pollution

Many municipalities throughout the US draw their raw drinking water from rivers.  It is, therefore, the responsibility of city utilities to ensure that the finished drinking water meets the safety standards for several potentially toxic contaminants.  However, in most cases the pollutants that find their way into the source water intakes of municipal drinking water treatment plants come from upstream.  This begs the question of who is ultimately responsible for contaminated water that utilities must deal with.

This question was answered recently in the form of a law suit filed by the City of Des Moines, IowaGillespie-Robert-Biology-f2010-ed (3) copy intended to make upstream polluters culpable for the pollution they send downstream.  Due to recent high concentrations of nitrate in the Racoon River, the Water Works Plant of Des Moines filed a law suit in early January against three upstream counties.  The Water Works spent nearly one million dollars in 2013 treating source water to reduce concentrations in finished water below the maximum contaminant level of 10 mg/L. Nitrates increase dramatically in water when manure and other fertilizers from farm fields drain into waterways during periods of high precipitation.  In spite of voluntary efforts to reduce runoff from agricultural lands, concentrations in late 2014 forced the utility to spend about $4,000 per day for nitrate reduction procedures.  The lawsuit targets several drainage districts feeding into the North Raccoon River that are managed by the three counties.

Speaking to a reporter for the Des Moines Register, Graham Gillette, chairman of the waterworks board, said that “We’re really out there to seek this permitting and regulatory process. This isn’t about us recouping losses or protecting our individual asset. It’s about protecting Iowa waterways.”  In a statement to the Register, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey called the waterworks’ threat of litigation “the wrong approach to address the important issue of improving water quality.”  “Working with farmers and investing in additional conservation practices are what is needed.”  However, city stakeholders disagreed. Several speakers from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement applauded the move.  Barbara Lang, CCI member, proposed that “Farmers who pollute need to pay for the cleanup. Not the 500,000 people in this community or other communities.”  Neil Hamilton, director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University, told the Register that the issue has merit.  The case in Iowa demonstrates the complexity of rights and responsibilities for stakeholders who depend on the common resource provided by the watershed.