EPA requiring plan to restore
By NANCY ALLEN
The coordinator for the Wabash Watershed Alliance (WWA) Saturday
encouraged Wabash River Conservancy District officials to widen
agricultural drainage ditches to the river, construct two-stage
ditches in portions of the river and its tributaries and develop
flood plains around the river as part of an EPA-required restoration
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency required conservancy
officials to create the restoration plan after the conservancy
illegally ran a bulldozer down the river’s 27-mile stretch
in 1997 to remove sandbars. The Ohio EPA determined the bulldozing
was illegal because the conservancy’s five-year 401 EPA
permit to do work on the river had expired in 1993 and because
the work had damaged the ecology of the river and its wildlife.
EPA officials in January 2000 dropped a proposed $59,238 fine
leveled against the conservancy for the bulldozing. In return
the conservancy was told to restore the river by planting native
trees and ground cover on both sides of the river bank.
EPA officials also told the conservancy that it must have the
restoration plan approved by the EPA before the EPA would approve
another 401 water quality certification permit for the conservancy
to do work on the river. The conservancy now also needs a new
10-year U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 404 maintenance permit
to do mechanized work on the river. The conservancy has sent
in at least three versions of the restoration plan, which has
yet to be approved by EPA officials.
Schwarzkopf, whose job is to educate the public about water
quality issues and implement conservation practices in the watershed
designed to improve water quality, is helping conservancy officials
draw up the restoration plan.
The conservancy is a group created in 1958 that assesses property
owners along the river a fee to pay for work designed to control
agricultural and residential flooding in the Cranberry Prairie
and Fort Recovery areas. The WWA is a separate group that formed
in May 2001 to help improve water quality in the Wabash River
Watershed in Mercer and Darke counties and in the river into
which the watershed area drains.
Schwarzkopf said his suggestions for the restoration plan would
address both flooding issues and water-quality issues.
A two-stage ditch is a man-made ditch designed to mimic how
nature would naturally form a stream. The design could be an
alternative to traditional ditch maintenance methods that include
deepening, widening and straightening. The Wabash River has
been highly modified by man over the years.
An engineer with the Ohio State University and one with the
Ohio Department of Natural Resources explained the design to
landowners along the Wabash during a meeting in St. Henry last
October. Both engineers helped conservancy officials last fall
construct an experimental two-stage ditch on a 1,600-foot-long
portion of the river west of Ohio 49 to test it. This portion
of the river held up to torrential flooding last July and did
not wash out.
Schwarzkopf said his recommendations for the restoration plan
are based on the engineers’ data.
Natural streams have a meandering channel and benches on either
side, which are formed when sediment carried in the water deposits
on either side of the channel, the engineers explained. When
grass grows on the benches, it helps stabilize the channel.
One of the engineers, Andy Ward of Ohio State University, said
his research suggests the key to stream maintenance may have
more to do with working with nature than fighting it. The research
indicates conventional methods of clearing out streams, such
as removing vegetation from both sides of the stream bank and
scraping out the sides to create a deep V-shape may not significantly
improve drainage or flow.
Schwarzkopf said widening and constructing the two-stage ditch
design in agricultural drainage ditches leading to the Wabash
would improve flow and help lessen flood events. Incorporating
as much flood plain as possible into the restoration plan also
would lessen flood events because floodwaters would have more
land to spread out over. An increased flood plain also would
help improve water quality in the river by allowing sediment
and excess nutrients to drop out over the flood plain instead
of going into the river. Excess sediment and nutrients contribute
to poor water quality.
“The plan would include surveying the river to get an
idea of how much flood plain is available and connected to particular
sections of the river, flow rates and water capacity,”
Schwarzkopf said. “All things that can be determined by
surveying cross sections of the river and its tributaries.”
Schwarzkopf said the end result would be to determine the best
places to construct two-stage ditches, how to construct them
and in which areas to increase the flood plain.
Conservancy members made no decision on Schwarzkopf’s
suggestions and planned to discuss it further at later meetings.
Conservancy members during their quarterly meeting on Saturday
• Passed a resolution appropriating $54,000 in funds for
2004. The figure reflects a $27,000 carryover from 2003, funds
that could not be spent because the conservancy still needs
to get new Army Corps and Ohio EPA permits to do and pay for
maintenance work on the river, said conservancy secretary Lil
• Changed the date for its regular quarterly meetings
from the first Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at the Gibson Township
building in Fort Recovery, to the second Saturday at 9:30 a.m.
at the Gibson Township building.
• Heard Conservancy member Wally Broering report that
the conservancy removed several logs, partially-downed trees
and trash from one of the three dams on the river and replaced
a blown-out earthen levy on a portion of the river at the Ernest
• Saw former conservancy chairman Don Rose step down and
appointed Broering the new chairman of the conservancy. Rose
is now the new vice chairman and John Fortkamp remains the treasurer.