The Upper Iroquois Watershed Initiative is a group of citizens and organizations who are cooperating to develop a watershed management plan (WMP) that will build capacity to accomplish the goal of improving water quality across the watershed.
In early 2000, Jasper County local leaders and stakeholders expressed protecting water quality as important during the updating and formation of local ordinances and county wide planning initatives. A sub-committee was formed to address this specific issue. A lot of good dialogue occurred, but no direct action occurred.
However, key outcomes of the sub-committee was the acknowledgement that little data and awareness of local water quality existed, and that to protect water quality planning should occur at the water shed level. A watershed is the land area that drains to a common point, such as a location on a river. All of the water that falls on a watershed will move across the landscape collecting in low spots and drainage ways until it moves into the water body of choice. All activities that take place in a watershed can impact the water quality of the river that drains it. What we do on the land, such as constructing new buildings, fertilizing lawns, or growing crops, affects the water and the ecosystem that lives in it. A healthy watershed is vital for a healthy river, and a healthy river can enhance the community and help maintain a healthy local economy. Watershed planning is especially important in that it will help communities and individuals determine how best to preserve water functions, prevent water quality impairment, and produce long-term economic, environmental, and social health.
The Upper Iroquois Watershed Initiative project is located in Northwestern Indiana. The entire watershed crosses two states, but this plan focuses on the Indiana side of the Iroquois watershed. The project area is five watersheds that drain 651 square miles and covers mostly Jasper, Newton, and small portions of Pulaski, White, and Benton Counties in Indiana. It forms the majority of the headwaters for the Iroquois River.
After the initial 2000 meetings raised the issue of water quality, the Jasper County Soil and Water Conservation District (JSWCD) board initiated the hiring of a watershed specialist to carry out the goals and mission of the JSWCD and to protect and improve local water quality via watershed planning. Upon hiring the watershed specialist in 2008, a Section 319 Non-point Source Program grant application was submitted to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM)watershed planning section.
Concurrent with grant submission, identification of watershed partners occurred. Significant amounts of outreach occurred to generate support of the grant and watershed planning process. This occurred via newspaper articles, radio interviews, and two public meetings to garner stakeholder involvement. Much of this outreach resulted in partners signing on to the grant and also became part of the project steering committee and work groups. The grant application was approved in fall of 2010.