An exciting time for the otter creek watershed

By Adam Grossman

The Ouabache Land Conservancy (OLC) has dedicated much time and effort toward the improvement of water quality in the area it serves.  Within the heart of this area is the Otter Creek Watershed.  This watershed drains approximately 124 square miles, and covers parts of Clay, Vigo, and Parke counties.  Almost the entire watershed stream segments are impaired and on the state's 303d list.

Testing has already begun in this watershed.  In 2009, IDEM performed sampling at many sites through the area to gain a baseline, and Indiana State partnered with us to extend that data gathering another year.  This extension was made possible through The Nature Conservancy and the Alcoa Foundation.  Other studies that have been performed in the past by ISU and the like.

Summer Tanagers and many other songbird species breed in forested woods near Otter Creek.  This brilliant male tanager was photographed near the Otter Creek Mill Dam.

Summer Tanagers and many other songbird species breed in forested woods near Otter Creek.  This brilliant male tanager was photographed near the Otter Creek Mill Dam.

In 2015 the OLC started writing for what is called a 319-Watershed Improvement Grant totaling almost $200,000.  This grant is strictly a VOLUNTARY program, with no new regulations put upon anyone.  It is a chance given to communities to improve water quality at the local level, with programs that make sense for our landowners that they want and will participate in.  The 319 grant is a two phase grant to address water quality concerns in the Otter Creek Watershed.  Step one is to write a Water Quality Management Plan.  This will require the continued dedication from OLC, plus a contracted position that will be the Watershed Coordinator for the grant.  This person, under direction of the OLC Board, will be responsible for writing the plan directed by a steering committee.  This steering committee is made up of local landowners, stakeholders, and anyone with the knowledge to help direct our efforts.  At times through this cycle, the committee will meet monthly in order to steer the grant in the right direction.  After our plan is written approximately 2 years after hire and tailored to fit our community and our needs, we will apply for implementation funds to apply these best management practices.  This means that local land owners will receive cost share funds to put into practice what is identified in the written plan.  There are many possibilities, some being buffer strips, cover crops, alternative watering sources, and many more.

The new Coordinator will hit the ground running, and will be setting an informational meeting with the public, as well as sending out media releases letting everyone know the grant is officially starting in the early part of 2017.  It is at that point we need the community to come to these meetings, offer opinions and ideas, and guide this plan.

Alan Mouser, age 80, paddling his canoe upstream on Otter Creek.   Alan has been enjoying the wildlife and fishing in Otter Creek for over 50 years.   

Alan Mouser, age 80, paddling his canoe upstream on Otter Creek.   Alan has been enjoying the wildlife and fishing in Otter Creek for over 50 years.   

We will be asking very soon for applications to fill our Watershed Coordinator position, and we will also be asking for your help.  This grant will only be successful if we all work together to come up with a great plan that works.  We as a community need to show our excitement, and our desire for this grant to succeed.  We need people to sign up to be on our steering committee so that we are a diverse committee and all needs are met.  We expect to call on you early next year to help us with this grant, and help us improve our waters, not only for us, but our downstream neighbors.

Click here to learn more.

View of Otter Creek from about one-half mile upstream from the Mill Dam.

View of Otter Creek from about one-half mile upstream from the Mill Dam.

One of the many signs the OLC has placed at roadway creek crossings.  This sign is on Roberts Road in NE Vigo County.  The main branch of Otter Creek meets the North Branch of Otter Creek just east of Roberts Road.

One of the many signs the OLC has placed at roadway creek crossings.  This sign is on Roberts Road in NE Vigo County.  The main branch of Otter Creek meets the North Branch of Otter Creek just east of Roberts Road.