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This watershed management plan (WMP) addresses nonpoint source pollution and other water quality concerns facing the Five Lakes watershed. The Five Lakes watershed encompasses three 14-digit watersheds including the Little Elkhart Creek-Messick-Oliver Lakes (HUC 04050001170030) watershed, the Little Elkhart Creek-Dallas Lake (HUC 04050001170020) watershed, and the Little Elkhart Creek-Tamarack-Cree Lakes (HUC 0405001170010) watershed. In total, the Five Lakes watershed drains approximately 37,250 acres in southern Lagrange and northern Noble Counties. There are approximately 24 navigable lakes and over 14 miles of streams, ditches and other waterways located within this watershed which forms the headwaters of the Little Elkhart Creek. Little Elkhart Creek combines with water from the West Lakes and Sylvan Lake to form the North Branch Elkhart River. The North Branch Elkhart River eventually combines with the South Branch Elkhart River to form the Elkhart River, which flows into the St. Joseph River within the city of Elkhart. The Five Lakes watershed lies entirely within the larger St. Joseph River Basin (HUC 0405011). This WMP documents the concerns watershed stakeholders have for the Five Lakes waterbodies and describes stakeholders’ vision for these waterbodies. The plan outlines the goals, strategies, and action items watershed stakeholders have selected to achieve their vision. Finally, the plan includes methods for measuring stakeholders’ progress towards achieving their vision and timeframes for periodic refinement of the plan.
Development of this watershed management plan grew out of efforts of the Five Lakes Conservation Association (FLCA). In 2002, the FLCA began working with a private consulting firm to determine what steps they could take to address non-point sources of pollution within the Five Lakes watershed which would eventually translate to improved water clarity and quality within the lakes. At the same time, the FLCA contacted regional watershed conservationists from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to determine methods to catalog water quality and watershed problems and identify potential projects which could be implemented to address these problems. Both the private consultant and the regional watershed conservationists encouraged the FLCA to develop a WMP with input from all 24 lakes within the watershed and the entire community since the process of the developing a plan is designed to help watershed stakeholders understand each stakeholder’s concerns and find common ground in resolving these concerns. With this in mind, the FLCA applied for and successfully secured a Section 319 grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through IDEM’s Section 319 grant program to develop a WMP.
Although efforts prior to the development of this WMP focused primarily on the immediate watershed draining to the Five Lakes, the WMP’s geographical scope includes all three 14-digit watersheds which drain into the Five Lakes (04050001170030, 04050001170020, and 04050001170010). This watershed includes more than 24 lakes and 14 miles of streams. A number of these waterbodies are listed on Indiana’s list of impaired waterbodies. In 2004, Messick, Dallas, Hackenburg, and Witmer lakes were included on the final 303(d) list for impaired biotic communities. These waterbodies remain on Indiana’s list of impaired waterbodies for impaired biotic communities for the 2006 303(d) list. Two other lakes, Olin and Oliver lakes, were included on the 2004 303(d) list for mercury contamination; however, additional data collected by the IDEM indicates that these lakes should be removed from the 303(d) list in 2006 (IDEM, 2006). Finally, the North Branch Elkhart River and its tributaries are listed for elevated E. coli concentrations, while the Elkhart River itself is listed for excess E. coli, mercury, and PCBs (IDEM, 2006). It was assumed during the grant application process that many of the same nonpoint source concerns facing stakeholders immediately adjacent to the Five Lakes were shared by stakeholders across the entire Five Lakes watershed. Comments at the first several public meetings during the plan’s development confirmed this assumption as many attendees expressed a concern for the water quality in the Elkhart River, which receives water from the Five Lakes watershed.