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The Central Muscatatuck Watershed Project is a regional initiative in Southeastern Indiana working to improve water quality by completing a watershed inventory and management plan within the five county area of Jackson, Jefferson, Jennings, Ripley, and Scott Counties that fall within the Central Muscatatuck Watershed.
The growing community concern for the water quality within the Central Muscatatuck Watershed prompted the Historic Hoosier Hills RC&D, Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and the Friends of Muscatatuck River Society (FMRS) to propose this project to gather data and develop a watershed management plan. While there was data pertaining to this watershed from previous water quality sampling to confirm the presence of water bodies on the 303(d) impaired waters list for E. coli, little was known as to the extent, sources, and causes of the water quality pressures within the watershed at the time of the project’s inception.
Agriculture accounts for approximately sixty percent (60%) of the land use in the watershed. Other types of land uses include forest, ponds, pasture, recreation, residential, and some (a minor portion) urban development. Agriculture in the watershed is typified by row cropping, tobacco production, and pasture (cattle, hog, goat, and horse). The potential exists for nutrient and sediment impact loads to surface waters, stream bank erosion, and degradation of aquatic habitat by way of livestock access to streams, lack of fencing, traditional tillage practices, and contamination from poorly functioning septic systems. Many of the small towns within in the watershed are not connected to a sewer and may have failing or a lack of septic systems.
In 2005 the Central Muscatatuck 319 grant committee, which consisted of the FMRS Board, Historic Hoosier Hills RC&D and The Jefferson County SWCD, conducted several meetings to discuss the project and come to agreement on the grant. The Jefferson County SWCD initially indicated that E. coli source tracking (genetically tracking the source of E. coli) was a major priority for the success of the project. Through the process of the grant proposal it was decided that E. coli tracking was too cost prohibitive for the management planning phase and that focusing on gaining a clearer overall picture of water quality would be more beneficial.