sealPurdue News

Enhanced water quality initiative
to impact Hoosier watersheds

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. –The water in Indiana watersheds flows across farmland and communities. To help protect Hoosier water resources, Purdue University researchers are trying to uncover how watersheds function.

In recent years, White County has been a major focus of water quality issues. A Purdue effort to understand contaminants found in lakes Shafer and Freeman has been ongoing.

"This issue has an effect on people," says Ron Turco, director of Purdue's Environmental Sciences and Engineering Institute. "They like to see us out in the field studying their problem. Purdue is interested in helping the people of Indiana solve real environmental problems."

A watershed collects water that drains off surrounding land. In White County, Honey Creek and Hoagland Ditch are two Lake Shafer tributaries, or sub-watersheds, that filter into the Tippecanoe River watershed. The Honey Creek sub-watershed measures around 27,000 acres while the Hoagland Ditch is approximately 50,000 acres. A total of 20 locations are designated for sampling so the environmental impact of different land practices can be determined at a more detailed level, says Turco.

"We would like to put in place a number of watershed sampling sites so we can study the long-term effects of management and then provide documentation of our findings," he says. "The size of the watersheds will be much like what we are doing in White County. We will most likely have one of the locations in the northern part of the state and one in the southern portion of Indiana."

Turco points out contamination from E. coli in Indiana watersheds exceeds water quality standards in most places where monitoring has been done. The sources of contamination are unknown. However, livestock and wildlife waste, recreational use, household septic tanks and city sewer overflows and releases could be contributing factors.

One of the key principles to be tested is concepts underpinning Total Maximum Daily Load, or the amounts of pollution a watershed can withstand without suffering a negative impact or violating water quality standards. Turco says computerized systems also will monitor flow rate and water input from rainfall to better understand how land quality affects water quality in Indiana.

"This is important to do because there is a need to understand what is going on. It is important for Indiana because we have not put a lot of money into watershed sciences, and watershed scale is the key water management structure for the future," he says.

The impact from studying the watersheds would be felt across the state as researchers begin to understand the best methods to manage watershed resources while meeting environmental regulations, says Turco.

To begin work on this project, Purdue is requesting $250,000 from the Indiana General Assembly for enhanced water quality research. Turco says he believes this will help continue the research.

In the future, Turco says he would like to have four to six outdoor watershed locations across the state to capture different weather patterns and their affects on water quality. Turco says these locations could host other projects as well. Additional studies could look at such things as water quality's impact on rural economy and health issues.

"In order to develop better, integrated management systems, livestock producers and rural citizens need good, quantitative information to understand how to protect Indiana's waters," he says.

Source: Ron Turco, (765) 494-3212,

Writer: Jennifer Doup, (765) 494-6682;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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