West Fork of the White River - A River Under Seige
West Fork of the White River - A River Under Seige
Jeff Conrad - Anderson, IN

The West Fork of the White River emanates from a farm field in Randolph County in east-central Indiana. It flows generally east through the cities of Muncie, Yorktown, Chesterfield and Anderson before turning south for the first time to head through Noblesville, Fishers/Carmel and into Indianapolis.

The river has many challenges as it makes its way through the cities and agricultural land along the banks. Farmers plow too close to the river banks, run their drain tiles directly into the river, and often use excessive insecticide, herbicide and fertilizer, which add to the sediment load and pollution of the water.

The City of Anderson has age-old sewer systems that combine sewage and stormwater in the same pipes, which can lead to “combined sewer overflows,” or CSOs, each time it rains even 1/4 inch. That means raw sewage in various stages of treatment can flow directly into the river from several outflows. Nearly a billion gallons per year of this combined waste is poured into the river, contributing to uninhabitable water, algae blooms and a shameful amount of ongoing damage to the river.

The City of Elwood’s ancient sewage treatment system also dumps millions of gallons of raw sewage into Big Duck Creek, which flows 10-12 miles and dumps into the White River just north of Noblesville. Although the Clean Water Act, enacted in 1972, requires all U.S. cities to update their sewage treatment plants to provide separate systems for stormwater run-off and sanitary sewers, nearly 700 cities still have not complied with this requirement. Now here's the really scary part – more than 100 of those cities are in Indiana.

Indiana has one of the worst environmental records in the entire U.S., and it's not because we have more polluting types of industries than other states (although we have our share). It is primarily because we have attitudes of complacency and resistance to change. Maybe those 100 cities thought they were saving money, maybe a new basketball or football arena seemed more important, or perhaps complacency and resistance to change festered until they became an infection – putting off logical, necessary changes to the way we live in order to be healthier and better neighbors to those downstream.

Whatever the excuse, those chickens will come home to roost soon enough. The EPA filed suit against the City of Indianapolis to correct their sewage run-off problem of 6-7 billion gallons per year into the White River. Indianapolis is now in the position of spending billions of dollars to correct a problem left too long. (By the way: When the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, there was federal funding to assist with the modernization of sewage systems. Cities that did not take advantage of that have lost out on the federal money and will have to foot the bill for the entire remediation project.)

Another powerful contributor to pollution of the White River is the presence of CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) within the watershed. These operations host hundreds of animals on a relatively small patch of land – much less than is necessary to absorb and filter as much waste as the animals create. This causes groundwater pollution and toxic run-off into are streams and rivers. That’s another bad choice – Indiana attracts these industries and then leaves them unregulated (or unenforced).

I am so happy to have found this website where environmental activists can bring environmental disasters to light and start to hold our representatives (and our society in general) responsible for the care of the world in which we live.



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