Federal Funds Put to Work Locally Through the Big Creek Watershed Cost-Share Program

Just to briefly introduce the idea of a watershed, it is an area of land where precipitation that falls on it drains to a common outlet. In the case of the Big Creek Watershed, this means that there are about 164,000 collective acres of Gibson, Posey, and Vanderburgh Counties (IN) that contribute surface water to the Big Creek. The common outlet for this land area is where the Big Creek meets the Wabash River, about 8 miles northwest of Mt. Vernon, Indiana. About 65% of the watershed’s land area is in Posey County, 26% in Vanderburgh County, and the remaining 9% is in Gibson County. It’s here, within the Big Creek Watershed, that federal grant funds are being put to work through the Big Creek Watershed Cost-Share Program.

The Big Creek Cost-Share Program is funded by a Section 319 grant that originates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). The Section 319 program came about by an amendment to the federal Clean Water Act in 1987 that recognized the need to reduce non-point source pollution. Some examples of non-point source pollutants include: Road debris, oil drippings from automobiles, sediment from fields, or E-coli from failing septic systems that get washed from surfaces by rain or melting snow. These pollutants can then make their way into local streams and rivers where they can negatively impact wildlife habitat and human health. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) manages section 319 funds for the State and determines which Indiana Municipalities, Counties, or Organizations receive funding through an application and review process. Areas of that state that have been found to have significant pollution reduction needs take priority in IDEM’s decision making process. Due to local water quality impairment, funding for the Big Creek Watershed was secured in 2016 by the Posey County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Some Watershed programs focus more on urban areas but the Big Creek Cost-Share Program is only to be used to help pay for agricultural practices that help improve water quality. Since March of 2016, the cost-share program has used about $73,000 to help pay for the adoption of conservation practices in the watershed. This has included practices such as fall cover crops, heavy use area pads for livestock operations, and one Two-Stage ditch project. The program is expected to keep making cost-share payments until December of 2018 or until the money runs out. The Posey County SWCD is currently working on applying for additional Section 319 funds to supplement the original $175,000 allocated to the cost-share program.

There are 54 different practices that qualify for the cost-share program. In addition, the land that the practice is to be used on must be in a critical area of the watershed to qualify. Many of the particulars of the program are discussed at the public quarterly steering committee meetings. The Next meeting is scheduled for the evening of April 24th but a meeting location and time have not yet been confirmed.
Anyone with an interest in attending a steering committee meeting or in participating in the cost-share program is encouraged to contact Dennis L. Begeman, Big Creek Watershed Coordinator, Phone: 812-838-4191, Email: dennis.begeman@in.nacdnet.net