Protecting Indiana's Waters

We envision a country where all communities have access to clean drinking water and where the quality and quantities of water in our rivers, streams, lakes and aquifers are protected and managed to sustain the ecosystems on which all life depends (Sierra Club Water Sentinels).

Winding Waters Group will host speaker as part of statewide environmental humanities initiative

6 October, 2021

Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter, Winding Waters Group, is excited to announce the upcoming event, Upstream, Downstream: Sharing the Watershed. Attendees will be connected to Indiana Humanities’ Unearthed theme, which helps Hoosiers explore how the environment shapes us and we shape it. We are delighted to welcome speaker Phillip Anderson (ReThink Consulting and IUPUI) to present at this event, which will be held on November 9, at Decatur County REMC and online. Read the full press release here.

Report: Other States Have Safely Closed Coal Ash Ponds, So Can Indiana

16 November, 2020

From WFYI: Indiana lags behind other states when it comes to closing toxic coal ash ponds safely. That’s according to a new report by the Hoosier Environmental Council. Read the article here.


Great Lakes roundtable discussion

June 2019.

Sierra Club Northeast Indiana Network chair Celia Elder (L), with Save Maumee director Abigail King (R), at the roundtable discussion. 

On June 19th, the International Joint Commission hosted a public forum to discuss key issues facing the Great Lakes. Domestic Action Plan (DAP) Advisory Committee members from all U.S. Great Lakes states sent representatives to provide updates to the public about their DAP progress. Northeast Indiana Sierra Club group chair Celia (Garza) Elder and Abigail King, director for Save Maumee Grassroots Organization, attended the discussion as representatives for Indiana, speaking on behalf of the Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter and Save Maumee Grassroots Organization. The roundtable discussions were open to the public and participants were invited to contribute their views about the government's’ progress to restore and protect the lakes. The International Joint Commission plans to release a summary of the comments to the public in mid July.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement is a commitment between the United States and Canada to restore and protect the waters of the Great Lakes. First signed by the U.S. and Canada in 1972, the Agreement provides a framework for identifying binational priorities and implementing actions that improve water quality. The terms of the agreement call for the U.S. and Canada to convene a Great Lakes public forum once every three years to discuss the state of the lakes and progress made under the Agreement, and to provide an opportunity for public input. The Environmental Protection Agency coordinates U.S. activities under the Agreement.

Celia (Garza) Elder
Vice President, Save Maumee
Chair, Northeast Indiana Sierra Club
Board Member, Upper Maumee Watershed Partnership
IDEM Domestic Action Plan Advisory Committee Member 

The Hoosier Chapter submits comments to ORSANCO.

April 16, 2019.

The Hoosier Chapter has submitted comments to the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) about its latest proposal to make its Pollution Control Standards for the river voluntary for states along the river to adopt into their water quality standards or explain a decision not to adopt them. Read our letter here

Victory for Ohio River pollution standards. 

October 4, 2018.

Public outcry can make a difference! Press release.  


George A. Elmaraghy: Don’t let agency reduce water-quality standards

“For seven decades, the Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission has overseen the health of the roughly 1,000-mile-long waterway that provides drinking water to more than 5 million people. But it may soon shed many of its pollution standards” - Full article on City Beat.

Environmentalists: ORSANCO Shouldn't Eliminate Ohio River Pollution Standards- Full article on Eagle Country Online

See also: Detailed Compilation of ORSANCO PCS vs USEPA and Mainstem States Water Quality Standards (PDF).

Comments on the Tanners Creek coal ash closure plan

July 13 2018

Read/download this letter from Hoosier Environmental Council, Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter, Citizens Action Coalition and Lower Ohio River Water Keepers on the Tanners Creek Plant Fly Ash Pond Closure & Post-Closure Plan here.

Notice of Public Hearing for Review of Ohio River Pollution Control Standards

June 26, 2018

Contact: Lisa Cochran, Communications Coordinator: ORSANCO. 513-231-7719. 

The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) sets Pollution Control Standards for industrial and municipal waste water discharges to the Ohio River. ORSANCO is currently conducting a review and update of its current Pollution Control Standards for Discharges to the Ohio River - 2015 Revision.

During its Commission meeting, on Thursday, June 7, the Commission voted to advance a proposed amendment to its Pollution Control Standards to the second step of consideration. Each review of the Pollution Control Standards includes a two-step public comment process which provides an opportunity to comment on any proposed revisions. The second step of the review of the Pollution Control Standards includes a second comment period and a public hearing. ORSANCO will also host informational webinars. ORSANCO is committed to providing a transparent review process. 

After the second public comment period and the public hearing are concluded, the Commission will determine its next step during the regular Commission meeting, Thursday, October 4, 2018.

ORSANCO, headquartered in Cincinnati, OH, is the water pollution control agency for the Ohio River representing Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The federal government is also represented.


I. Proposed amendments to Pollution Control Standards for Discharges to the Ohio River - 2015 Revision.

Pursuant to the authority contained in Article VI of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Compact, and by direction of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, a public hearing will be held by the Commission on July 26, 2018 at the Holiday Inn Cincinnati Airport, 1717 Airport Exchange Blvd., Erlanger, KY. The hearing will be conducted from 6:00 pm (EST) until completed. The record of the hearing shall remain open and written testimony accepted beginning today and extending until midnight on August 10, 2018.

The purpose of said hearing is to receive comments, including data and scientific justifications or other supporting rationales, concerning the Commission's proposed action described as follows:

II. Proposed amendments to Pollution Control Standards for Discharges to the Ohio River - 2015 Revision. Today's proposal is based upon a multi-year comprehensive assessment of ORSANCO's evolving function and role in partnership with its member states and the multitude of state and federal water quality protection activities collectively and cooperatively administered to protect the Ohio River. The proposed amendments, background review materials and initial public comment documents that were developed in the course of this review can be accessed from the Commission's Pollution Control Standards web page at

All interested parties will be given adequate opportunity to express, both orally and in writing, their views and supporting rationales upon the issue to be considered. Brief oral summaries and submission of written comments are encouraged.

Interested parties desiring information on the current Pollution Control Standards, the proposed amendments to the standards, and instructions on how to submit comments concerning the proposed amendments to the Pollution Control Standards, or concerning the conduct of said hearing may obtain such information through the Commission website at, in the section titled "Second Public Comment Period and Hearing - June 26, 2018 through August 10, 2018", or by contacting the Commission (5735 Kellogg Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45230, 513-231-7719). 

Two informational webinars on these proposals will be held on July 12, 2018 at 3:00 pm (EST) and July 19, 2018 at 6:00 pm (EST). Instructions on participating in the webinars may also be found on the website or by contacting ORSANCO. 

Comments may be submitted orally at the hearing, or in writing to or the Commission's mailing address above, no later than midnight August 10, 2018.

By: Stuart F. Bruny, P.E., Commission Chairman

Hoosier Riverwatch - Riffles and Pools feature

Sierra Club and Winding Waters members are pictured on pages 6 and 7 of Hoosier Riverwatch - Riffles & Pools, Summer 2018. You can download it free here

The mission of Hoosier Riverwatch is to involve the citizens of Indiana in becoming active stewards of Indiana's water resources through watershed education, water monitoring, and cleanup activities. Hoosier Riverwatch is a water quality monitoring initiative sponsored by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management's Office of Water Quality.

Grassroots Movement Aims to Save Water Quality Regionally 

A message from Save Maumee:

After seeking approval for the Bullerman Ditch restoration site, Save Maumee received a phone call from the newly re-elected Allen County Surveyor, Jeff Sorg, who said that he plans to remove the trees from the Moser Park location in New Haven and his lawyers will be contacting the group. "It's my job is to keep the ditches flowing." He thinks that it is only an opinion that trees will help to reduce stormwater into the system. Save Maumee’s Riparian Buffer Initiative says otherwise; relying on peer reviewed and government documents, support letters from a number of agencies, and $180,000 in federal funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the USDA Forest Service.

On July 27, 2017, Allen County Drainage Board sided with protection of vegetation on a specific ditch that Save Maumee had restored with the help of 209 volunteers who logged over 1,387 hours over the month of April 2017. Lake Erie is now afforded more protection because Allen County Drainage Board understood what elected official Jeff Sorg, Allen County Surveyor, could not. Protect riparian buffers on ditches! 

The Maumee River crosses all the political boundaries of the City of Fort Wayne, Allen County, and the State of Indiana, so the protection of the 2,500 stream miles that the Allen County Surveyor maintains is precedent-setting. READ MORE HERE.

SAVE MAUMEE’S SIMPLE GOAL: One side of all ditches and streams should be left naturalized with desirable native vegetation. The opposite and more easily accessible side can be used for large equipment to gain access and “dip the ditch” when it becomes clogged with tree debris or fills up with sediment.  Of course we all understand that sometimes large problematic trees need to be removed OR both sides of a ditch needs to be cleared; but this is the EXCEPTION, NOT the RULE. This is common sense. Supporting articles here.

Comments are currently open for Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, [Indiana] Domestic Action Plan for the Western Lake Erie Basin. Draft comments are due by September 28. READ SAVE MAUMEE'S COMMENTS HERE.

Press release

Release Date: September 20, 2017

Contact: Abigail King, Save Maumee Grassroots Organization President & Founder, Fort Wayne, Indiana

(260) 417-2500   

As you may be aware, Lake Erie is subject to two severe conditions that are getting worse: 1) there are dead zones in the central regions where the oxygen is depleted. Lake Erie is the most biologically productive of the Great Lakes and fish depend on Lake Erie. The year 2012 produced the largest dead zones on record. 2) There are large algal blooms in the Western Lake Erie Basin that not only deplete oxygen, but also can cause toxins such as those that shut down Toledo’s water supply in 2014. The Maumee Watershed drains the most land, making it the largest contributor to Lake Erie and to all of the Great Lakes. The causes of both of these conditions include excess nutrients that run-off farm fields and lawns, and the volume of that runoff is also a contributor. The subwatersheds with degraded water quality should focus on improving the health of riparian areas, such as ditches and streams, because they are key to solving the problems of nutrients, phosphorous, erosion, and sedimentation. Federal agencies are tasked with improving these conditions in the Western Lake Erie Basin and have noted that everything they can do on the federal level is still not enough. 

To improve Lake Erie it is now up to small groups, individual landowners, and local governments to do the work that will reduce runoff and absorb water on the land, before it enters the rivers. The Upper Maumee Watershed Management Plan (UM WMP) identifies solutions, and Save Maumee’s Riparian Buffer Initiative has been funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the USDA Forest Service to implement that plan. The UM WMP identifies the most degraded subwatersheds, and they lie in Allen County.

Save Maumee Grassroots Organization has been working with Allen County’s Drainage Board, the regulatory body which is responsible for 2,500 miles of regulated drains. Save Maumee’s volunteers have already completed almost one linear mile of tree plantings on one side of Allen County ditches and streams. These restoration practices stabilize streambanks to decrease sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus, by significantly increasing stormwater retention.  

The group is now asking that supporters formally endorse protections of vegetation on one side of ditches and streams as a general rule of thumb. Comments should be submitted to the elected Allen County Surveyor Office. One side of all ditches and streams should be left naturalized with desirable native vegetation. The opposite and more easily accessible side can be used for large equipment to gain access and “dip the ditch” when it becomes clogged with tree debris, or fills up with sediment. Of course we all understand that sometimes large problematic trees need to be removed or both sides of a ditch may need to be cleared; but this is the EXCEPTION, not the RULE. Selective vegetation removal is key.

Allen County Surveyor, Jeff Sorg, who reports to Allen County Drainage Board, thinks that limiting access to one side of the ditch may result in increased maintenance fees for property owners, who already pay into drain maintenance fees. Save Maumee disagrees because this is simply not true in every case.  

Celia Garza, Save Maumee Vice President, repudiates this claim. “It seems strange that fees would go up with preservation of native habitat on one side. This would equate to less work for contractors who clear or spray the ditches, and less money spent on mowing and sprayed chemicals. Decisions about vegetation removal should be made on a case-by-case basis. In general, people want trees on their property. Save Maumee also understands that the most easily accessible side should always be available to trucks for regular maintenance. Contrary to the Surveyor's claims, the drainage law does not require that all regulated drains to be devoid of vegetation on both sides.”

Save Maumee’s President and Founder, Abigail King, knows that most landowners do not wish to see trees removed from their property. “The restoration projects our organization implements could save taxpayer money for 2,500 miles of streams. Trees on one side of most Allen County ditches will improve a range of issues like flooding, erosion, and stream bank degradation. It will also improve habitat and aesthetics for recreational opportunities on our rivers. No jogger on the Rivergreenway Trail likes to run without shade, and most sporting fish cannot breed in shallow streams with full sun. Support for this initiative is important because we can improve our shared waters all the way to Lake Erie.”

Save Maumee would like to invite the public to help them plant 380 trees in Deetz Nature Preserve on Saturday, October 14 and Sunday, October 15 from 10am-4pm on both days. The newly approved project site is located on the Maumee River and Rodenbeck Drain. Projects are funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the USDA Forest Service. The USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender. Selective invasive removal for the Bullerman Ditch site will begin next week. For more information, go to SaveMaumee.Org/all-upcoming-events.

Hoosier Chapter Director Bowden Quinn in video on sampling water quality

For Water Quality Month this August, this video shows our director Bowden Quinn taking a stream sample at Lick Creek in Indianapolis.

Indiana’s Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement Domestic Action Plan for the Western Lake Erie Basin has been posted for public notice and comment 

August, 2017. From the Office of Water Quality, Indiana Department of Environmental Management:

Indiana drains approximately twelve (12) percent of the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) including the St. Joseph, Maumee, Auglaize, and St. Marys sub-basins. These sub-basins encompass approximately 821,300 acres within Steuben, Dekalb, Allen, Noble, Adams, and Wells counties. More than seventy (70) percent of this land is used for agriculture, fifteen (15) percent is developed, and the remaining fifteen (15) present is comprised of forest, wetland, and open water. 

Due to algal blooms, more specifically harmful algal blooms (HABs), occurring within Lake Erie in which dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) is considered the main problem, Indiana is an active member of the Great Lakes Nutrients Annex (Annex 4). This annex has been charged with coordinating actions to manage phosphorus (P) loadings and concentrations within the Great Lakes. Indiana’s commitments under Annex 4 includes the development of a Domestic Action Plan (DAP) to assist in meeting nearshore and open water P objectives and loading targets for Lake Erie. Progress in meeting these target values (listed below) will be measured on the Maumee River close to the Indiana/Ohio border.

A spring-time total phosphorus (TP) flow-weighted mean concentration of 0.23 mg/l.

A spring-time dissolved reactive phosphorus flow-weighted mean concentration of 0.05 mg/l.

Opportunities exist for Indiana to reduce TP and DRP, as well as other nutrient inputs from both rural and urban landscapes. Indiana’s DAP seeks to address sources of P by effecting the most changes with the least cost, prioritizing resources to areas with the most P reduction potential, seeking to engage citizens who are not participating in conservation efforts, using social indicators, and employing adaptive management. 

Currently, Indiana’s Annex 4 WLEB Advisory Committee is developing Indiana’s DAP. The DAP will be public noticed (PN) for a 60-day comment period in which comments will be sought from the public. The PN period begins August 14, 2017 and will end October 13, 2017. 

For further information regarding the WLEB, Indiana’s DAP, the Advisory Committee, as well as the public notice period and public meetings, please refer to the Indiana Department of Agriculture’s GLWQA DAP for the WLEB webpage located at

Hoosier Chapter working to improve Indiana water policy

The Hoosier Chapter was fortunate to have an intern this summer from the new Indiana Sustainability Development Program at IU Bloomington. Lauren Travis, a graduate student in IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA), who is concentrating on environmental policy analysis and sustainable development, worked with water monitoring volunteers in Bloomington, Columbus, and Indianapolis, and held community meetings in each of those cities to explain and discuss state water policy and local water issues. Sadly, her internship is now over, but the chapter hopes to build on her excellent work and hold similar meetings in other cities around the state to build broad public support for better state laws and policies to protect and improve both the quality and quantity of our precious waters. 

Lauren Travis at Bloomington meeting Water - Columbus 

Lauren Travis at the Protecting Indiana's waters meeting in Bloomington, and Columbus Mill Race Park. 

Protecting Indiana's Waters

 All photos courtesy of Lauren Travis.

Concerned Hoosiers Protect Indiana’s Waters

Lauren Travis

Forty years after the passage of the Clean Water Act, more than 60 percent of assessed Indiana lake and river waters are unfit for human health and wildlife, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s 2016 assessment. This staggering level of water quality impairment poses a continuing threat to human health and welfare. Degradation of most of Indiana streams and rivers is predominantly associated with runoff from agricultural fields, although sewage discharge and urban runoff also contribute. Despite these challenges, improvements to surface water quality are possible through sustained citizen support for assessment, restoration, and protection. 

The Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter has demonstrated its support for active stewardship by partnering with Hoosier Riverwatch, a long-standing program coordinated by IDEM’s Office of Water Quality. Recognizing that clean water is essential, the chapter is increasing its involvement in volunteer stream sampling to increase awareness of Indiana water issues among people across the state. Volunteers who become “citizen scientists” benefit from the program by increasing their understanding of the sources of water pollution, as well as developing a stronger connection to local waterbodies. Expanding participation in water quality sampling is critical for producing data that helps establish long-term water quality trends in the Riverwatch database. This data is integral to IDEM’s ability to assess the health of watersheds and work to prevent further water pollution. Increased stream quality data creates a more complete picture of what threats waterways are facing and helps the chapter focus its resources towards identifying areas in danger. Our participation supports the effort to sustain ecosystems that depend on Indiana waterways and helps us advocate for clean waters for all Hoosiers. 

Since the major sources of pollution are diffuse and do not come from a single source, the chemical monitoring kits that the chapter uses allow volunteers to perform multiple tests designed to assess how contaminated a waterbody is and what is contributing to unhealthy stream conditions. Fertilizer, manure, and wastewater contribute to reduced stream resiliency by elevating nitrate and phosphorus levels that may lead to algae blooms. This is also a public health concern because drinking water may be endangered if nutrient pollution is unchecked. While some nutrients are required for healthy streams, excessive nutrient levels in a stream are the primary cause of dense algal growth. As algae and aquatic plants decompose, they deplete the oxygen in the water that aquatic organisms need to live. The amount of oxygen in a stream directly determines whether the waterway can support aquatic life. If there is an insufficient amount of oxygen, fish and other organisms suffocate and die. 

Other tests performed by volunteers measure other stream stressors, such as elevated temperatures. If the stream temperature is elevated, the rate of chemical reactions in the stream increases as well, also jeopardizing the stream organisms. Most plants and animals in a stream can only survive within a certain range of conditions. Volunteers also test the water’s pH to measure whether the stream is too acidic or alkaline and whether the chance of survival for animals and plants is lower as a result. Chemical dumping, coal mine drainage, and emissions from automobiles and power plants all affect the ability for streams to support life. Another stream stressor assessed is the amount of sediment in the stream, which is important because it affects whether light can reach the riverbed. Sediment can also clog fish gills, smother eggs, reduce disease resistance and growth rates, and diminish the diversity and number of food sources. All these chemical tests when taken together provide a profile of how healthy a stream is and what threats it might be facing at the time of sampling.  

Chapter volunteers from the Winding Waters Group participated in a recent training in Columbus at Mill Race Park to learn how to conduct biological, habitat, and chemical surveys of local streams. The Riverwatch training provided these volunteers with the opportunity to increase their understanding of watershed issues facing the Columbus area and bolster their ability to safeguard Indiana streams. Volunteers also learned how to utilize Riverwatch’s database to compare water quality data from two different locations or the same location over time at the watershed, county, river, or individual site level. Anyone can utilize the Riverwatch data visualization tools on to investigate water quality. If you are concerned about your local water quality and are interested in receiving information regarding how to become more involved in Indiana water quality assessment, please contact Lauren Travis at 

Lauren Travis is working with the Hoosier Chapter this summer as a Water Quality Coordinator Fellow as part of Indiana University’s Sustainability Development Program. A graduate student at I.U.’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Lauren is taking the opportunity to “explore, enjoy, and protect” Indiana.

Mill Race Park water sampling

Riverwatch training at Mill Race Park, Columbus. Photo by Lauren Travis.

Our Partnership

A recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that Americans ranked water pollution as third among the most serious health problems confronting the country. This finding is consistent with data amassed by Gallup over its 27 years of monitoring environmental trends: polluted waterways consistently rank highest among American’s greatest environmental concerns. Given that water pollution is a top environmental priority for citizens and has the smallest partisan divide among environmental issues, why are many Indiana rivers and streams impaired and what can be done to address the problem? 

Sierra Club has partnered with Indiana Department of Environmental Management to monitor water quality trends through chemical water sampling and educate citizens about threats to streams and rivers. 

Riverwatch resources

Download the Riverwatch Manual


See the Riverwatch Training Schedule

2018 application for the Indiana Watershed Leadership Academy is now available

Learn to be a Leader in Watershed Management: Enroll now to improve your watershed management skills.

If you’re interested in water quality and watersheds, consider applying for the 2017 Indiana Watershed Leadership Academy.

Enrollment deadline: November 3, 2017. For the online application and information about the Academy, visit

For more information and to fill out the application, please contact Sara Peel,, or see the Academy Web Page