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TOOLS FOR THE ST. JOSEPH RIVER, INDIANA WATERSHED INITIATIVE FOR A SAFER ENVIRONMENT (WISE)

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The St. Joseph River drains 4,725 square miles in Michigan and Indiana and receives bacterial pollution from agriculture, urban storm water, combined sewers overflows (CSOs), and rural sources. Three Indiana cities ‐‐ Elkhart (population 51,874), Mishawaka (population 46,557), and South Bend (population 107,789) ‐‐ have proactively initiated a study with federal and local funding that builds on their previous efforts to answer long outstanding questions about the sources of Escherichia coli (E. coli) and impacts on the river during wet and dry weather conditions. These cities have a total of 90 CSOs and many more storm water outfalls. The study area includes the portion of the watershed in Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties, Indiana. Although these two counties encompass only nine percent of the river's watershed, they are among the top 10 counties in Indiana based on the number of livestock. The counties are also significant population and industrial centers in Indiana. St. Joseph County is ranked number four in the state according to population. Elkhart County experienced a 149 percent increase in population since 1970 and now ranks sixth in the state for population.

There are several reasons to evaluate the sources and impacts of E. coli on the river. The primary reason is to improve and protect recreational use of the river, which includes fishing, boating, and swimming. The East Race Waterway (Figure 1) opened in South Bend in 1984 and routinely hosts national and word-class whitewater slalom races. The other reasons are associated with regulatory programs. The three cities, which initiated CSO planning in 1990, are refining their CSO long-term control plans (LTCPs) and are also developing urban storm water management plans to meet national and state policies. The Indiana Department of Environment (IDEM) has identified a portion of the river and many of the tributaries within the study area as impaired waters for E. coli under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act. IDEM recently developed a draft E. coli Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for the river (IDEM, 2003). Also, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality developed a draft E. coli TMDL for the lower portion of the river, downstream of the study area (MDEQ, 2003). Therefore the three cities, and other stakeholders in the two-county area, must identify cost-effective source controls that will meet water quality criteria within the Indiana portion of the river and at the Indiana/Michigan state line. Alternatively, if the costs of meeting these criteria are unaffordable, revisions to the water quality standards may need to be pursued.

The three cities established the Watershed Initiative for a Safer Environment (WISE) in coordination with the local Health Departments, the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the St. Joseph River Basin Commission, and IDEM. WISE secured a 205(j) grant in 2002 to establish a protocol for collecting information on the sources of E. coli and to develop a computer model of the river. In 2004, WISE has been awarded a 104(b)(3) grant to continue development of the model. This paper will describe the goals and objectives for the project, and the work completed to date.

The objective of this project was to develop a simple, yet comprehensive tool for city planning and engineering staff. The staff needed a tool to evaluate the potential for source controls to meet water quality standards and display the results in easy to understand graphs and tables. For these purposes, the tool needs to calculate hourly concentrations of E. coli along the river through user-friendly interfaces. The USGS’ Branched Lagrangian Transport Model (BLTM) was selected as the modeling framework (Jobson, 2001), and interfaces were developed using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) and Excel. This allowed the project team to model the Elkhart River, St. Joseph River, and tributaries in one model framework, and to track the effects of each source with independent model variables.

To support model development, the three cities conducted coordinated river and tributary sampling on a weekly basis from July 2002 to May 2003. GIS and other data management tools were used to characterize the land use of each of the tributaries' watersheds and to evaluate the potential application of best management practices (BMPs) and other source controls. Results from collection system models (that had previously been developed for the CSO plans) were used to provide estimates of the CSO and urban storm water loads. Simple land use/runoff models were developed for the tributaries and direct drainage areas. A menu of potential source controls, along with associated unit costs, is being developed to allow model users to select a suite of source controls and conduct “what-if” scenarios to evaluate changes in water quality. This paper will demonstrate the success of the cooperative effort of the three cities to develop planning tools to better manage portions of large watersheds. The process used to develop the model, the challenges and solutions, and the significant findings will be presented.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2004

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