Monday, November 11, 2013

Working in Watersheds

Hi I’m Sue a Resource Specialist with the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, Division of Soil Conservation. I have worked for the Division of Soil Conservation for 14 years serving the NW Central part of Indiana. I graduated from Purdue University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Resources & Environmental Science, specializing in Aquatic Sciences.

With Soil & Water Conservation being the objective, my position is charged with providing technical and educational services to the local Soil & Water Conservation Districts, other units of government, and landusers.  One day I might find myself surveying for a best management practice on a farm and the next, teaching a group of students how to assess the health of their local waterbody. Conservation work all starts with knowing your watershed and the health of your local streams.
What is a watershed?

A watershed is the total area of land that drains into a particular waterbody (wetland, stream, river, lake, or sea).

Land uses and runoff in a watershed determine the quality of surface water in smaller streams and waterways. They can then influence the water quality of larger streams. For example, point source discharges, urban runoff, runoff from landfills and runoff from agricultural areas may contain sediments, organic material, nutrients, toxic substances, bacteria or other contaminants. When these contaminants or pollutants are present in significant concentrations, they may interfere with some stream uses. So it’s important that watersheds be evaluated and assessed.

A tool used to evaluate watersheds:
ArcMap is the software I use to delineate or define watershed boundaries and evaluate other parameters for my projects.  This software allows multiple layers of information, such as, topographic data, soils types, landuse data, and hydrology data to be merged together so the watershed could be assessed.

This software also helps me to analyze various attributes of a watershed so that I can provide more specific recommendations to my clients for implementation of various conservation practices. Practices such as conservation tillage, grassed waterways, rain gardens, rain barrels, 2-stage ditches, water & sediment control basins, vegetative filter strips all help to keep our waterbodies clean.

Biological assessment of your local waterbody or stream?
Simple observations of benthic macroinvertebrate presences can also be used to analyze the ecological health of bodies of water. Benthic macroinvertebrates are animals that are big enough (macro) to be seen with the naked eye. They lack backbones (invertebrate) and live at least part of their lives in or on the bottom (benthos) of a body of water.
Benthic macroinvertebrates include aquatic insects (such as mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies, midges, beetles), snails, worms, freshwater clams, mussels, and crayfish. Some species are more tolerant of pollution, while others cannot live where there is pollution.
It is easy for citizens to become involved in ecological monitoring or participate in a stream clean-up of local water bodies.

If you’re interested in such activities contact your local Soil & Water Conservation District or Hoosier Riverwatch at

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