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01-05-04: Local alliance hears it might be time to widen, add ditches

EPA requiring plan to restore area watershed


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 plan.
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 also:
• 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 Knapke.
• 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 Schmitmeyer farm.
• 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.


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