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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories



No-Till Farming Saves Soil -
A Reprieve for Starve Hollow Lake

The Jackson County (Indiana) Soil and Water Conservation District used 319 funding to help landowners in the Starve Hollow Lake watershed install best management practices on sandy soils. The goal of the project was to reduce the flow of sediment to Starve Hollow Lake. This 145-acre lake, constructed in a 1938 flood control project, drains 4,400 acres of agricultural, recreational, and woodland areas.

The Starve Hollow watershed has serious sedimentation problems. By 1980, it had already lost about 20 acres to sedimentation. A combination of sandy soils and intensive land uses including specialty crop production (melons and vegetables), other agricultural practices, logging, and livestock production are eroding the watershed. To begin the project, the Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) convened landowners, SWCD supervisors, and representatives of other local agencies. These people realized the importance of forming a cooperative unit to gain credibility and support. They became the project's steering committee, committed to solving the problem. Dredging was considered, but quickly dismissed as an option, since it would cost nearly $400,000, and not stop the flow of sediment to the lake. Everyone agreed that the steering committee's choice had to be more effective than dredging. This agreement, more than anything else, indicated how serious the problem had become, and how concerned the residents were. Instead of dredging, local landowners agreed to take responsibility for their activities on the land.

They began using cover crops and borrowed the SWCD's two no-till drills to plant no-till crops. Others began rotational grazing practices, moved feedlots from highly erodible land, converted croplands to additional pasture, and used fencing to protect riparian buffers. Eventually, the treated acreage was coextensive with the watershed.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Soil and Conservation, provided technical assistance, and the Cooperative Extension Service provided information and conducted outreach for the project. Several field days and tours to highlight the practices were held for interested individuals and groups.

The SWCD also worked with the County Highway Department to install several new culverts on roads adjacent to the project area. The project reduces erosion by an estimated 2,751 tons of soil annually on 379 acres of land. The county road that had previously been buried in six inches of mud and soil after each rain is now clean. As one landowner says: "The project has cut down on erosion. Now we have less sediment in the lake, no mud on the county road, and everyone was cooperative."

CONTACT: Jill Ebner
Indiana Department of Environmental Management
(317) 308-3216

Constructed Wetlands -
Treatment for Dairy Farm Wastewater

"The project has cut down on erosion. Now we have less sediment in the lake, no mud on the ocunty road, and everyone was cooperative."

Indiana has used section 319 funds for a pilot project to monitor the water quality effects of a constructed wetland system on runoff from a dairy farm in Koskiusko County in the Upper Tippecanoe watershed. The Upper Tippecanoe is a priority hydrologic unit area included in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Water Quality Initiative. The constructed wetland system was designed to treat 70 adult cows (1,400 pounds) and 70 heifers/dry cows (800 pounds).

Typical wetlands (and constructed wetlands) remove dissolved organic and inorganic contaminants in runoff, using aquatic vegetation for plant uptake and absorption. The one-acre constructed wetland in this pilot project has two small wetland cells, operating in series, to allow for periodic drawdown and regular maintenance of one cell while the other continues to function. The first cell is rectangular; the second, horseshoe shaped. Solids are removed from wastewater on a concrete drying pad above a septic manure pit. Barn washwater is directed into the pit, but solid animal waste is stacked on the pad. Liquids remaining in the solid waste stack drain into the septic pit through slots. The combined liquids then drain by gravity from the pit to the first cell through a distribution pipe. Flow from Cell 1 into Cell 2 is also through a distribution pipe. Yard runoff is diverted around the drying pad to the first cell. After passing through the two cells, wastewater enters a holding pond, then a grassed infiltration area. The yard from which runoff is diverted is 25,300 square feet, and was designed with a theoretical holding time of 60 days based on average rainfall.

The Koskiusko County operation began in the spring of 1994 and was monitored through 1995. The treatment's effects on water quality were determined through chemical monitoring of the surface water (to determine its nutrient load), and the observation of plant and animal dynamics. Monitoring occurred at several sites along the feedlot- wetland-outflow continuum, including the cell inlets and the entrance point for yard runoff to Cell 1, the outlet of Cell 2, the holding pond, and the infiltration area. A ditch channel downhill from the infiltration area was also monitored. The ditch received water from a subsurface tile beneath the infiltration area (see Fig. 1).

Early in the project, samples taken at the monitoring sites showed a complete absence of coliform bacteria between the Cell 1 inflow and the Cell 2 outflow, and declining phosphorus and nitrogen levels as well. In 1994, the following improvements in water quality were observed.

  • Between the barnyard runoff inflow point to Cell 1 and the outlet of Cell 2: fecal coliform bacteria (75 percent); phosphate (35 percent), and total phosphorus (45 percent).
  • Between Cell 1 inflow and Cell 2 outflow: ammonia (68 percent); total suspended solids (60 percent); total nitrogen (54 percent); and conductivity (24.1 percent).

In 1995, reductions between Cell 1 inflow and Cell 2 outflow included fecal coliform bacteria (95 percent), ammonia, total suspended solids, total nitrogen, phosphate (79 percent), total phosphorus (83 percent), and conductivity (56 percent). Routine maintenance and year-round management were required for successful treatment. These improvements resulted from the high motivation of the landowners to maintain the system.

The system was also designed to work with minimal input from the farmer; that is, it was properly integrated with the layout of the farm, and it was designed to treat only runoff, not manure. The manure was scraped and stacked for future use. The system's appeal to wildlife was an added benefit throughout the project. Mallards with fledglings, blackbirds, frogs, a crane, and a red-tailed hawk frequent the site.

CONTACT: Jill Ebner
Indiana Department of Environmental Management
(317) 308-3216

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