Eel River, Indiana

Purpose of the project: The mission of the Eel River Initiative is to design and implement a holistic strategy to restore the ecological integrity of the Eel River basin within the context of human endeavors and to provide ecological research opportunities for Manchester
University Environmental Studies students.

Human Interest/Community:
Benefit: The Eel River is a major tributary of the Wabash River in Northern Indiana. The Eel is a 5th order stream which has a watershed with land use nearly 80% row crop agriculture. In spite of this agriculturally dominated landscape, the Eel supports indicators of biological hope. There are bald eagles that nest along the river, nearly 60 species of fishes, over 20 species of freshwater mussels (including one federally endangered species and a recent reintroduction of an additional federally endangered mussel species), and river otters widely distributed throughout the basin. Highly regarded by anglers, the Eel also supports a strong sport fishery consisting of smallmouth bass and various panfish. In fact, the Eel River was featured on one of the early televised fishing shows in the 1960s called the “Flying Fisherman” by Gadabout Gaddis. The episode featured the Eel River as an outstanding smallmouth bass fishery. Since this time the smallmouth fishery has shown inconsistent year-classes and has been the focus of much of our research.

As a result of a basin-wide initiative led by the Environmental Studies Program at Manchester University, a broad support base of conservation partners and local residents have become sincerely involved and aware of the Eel River as a natural resource treasure. We have removed two low-head dams with assistances from NFHP funding and a third dam is scheduled for removal in fall 2016 with NFHP funding as well. These are the first three dams in Indiana to be removed using NFHP funds. On the political front, these removals resulted in a larger state-wide interest and effort to remove dams from Indiana streams. In the fall of 2015, the first dam removal symposium was held in Indiana, where the Eel River dam removals and NFHP were highlighted. Ecologically, the Eel River is now safer for humans and our research has shown a significantly positive response in stream habitat and fish community structure after the dams were removed. Our research illustrated an amazing immediate positive response in stream habitat scores and fish indices once the dams were removed. This response was a fantastic opportunity for students to witness and to scientifically document. For the first time since the early 1800s the Eel flows freely and anglers enjoy new and better places to go fishing, and paddlers are experiencing a smoother float due to reduced portages.

An additional NFHP project, located in the Eel at river mile 30, is old Stockdale grist mill and dam, which have been restored to operational condition. There is no option for removal of the dam, but a partnership was established with the Stockdale Mill Foundation to explore a fish passageway alternative. Through our relationship with the NFHP a plan was funded in cooperation with the Stockdale Mill Foundation to build a prototype modular fish passageway around the mill dam. The project includes research to describe the efficiency of this new design and the project has generated a great deal of public interest. Plans also include an informational kiosk, a viewing window in the fish ladder, and an improved parking lot to encourage use and promote awareness of both the river and history at this site. This project has wide application across the Midwest United States.

Awareness of the Eel River ecosystem as a significant natural resource in our communities (particularly with farmers) has grown significantly. The NFHP has led to countless positive relationships with agricultural producers through water quality funding and on-the-ground conservation. This work has spurred additional partnerships with state and federal agencies and private nonprofit organizations like the Indiana Corn Marketing Council and Indiana Soybean Alliance (see list below).

The NFHP work in the Eel Basin has complimented other conservation work with the following partners:

Conservation Partners:
Manchester University(Environmental Studies Programs),
Agricultural producers,
Natural Resources Conservation Service,
Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts,
Wabash, Miami, Kosciusko, Whitley, Fulton, and Cass County Soil and Water Conservation Districts,
Indiana Department of Natural Resources,
Indiana Department of Environmental Management,
Indiana Soybean Alliance,
Indiana Corn Marketing Council,
United States Fish and Wildlife Service,
Waterborne Inc.,
Environmental Defense Fund,
and the Cargill Foundation.

These partners have added significantly to the broad-base of conservation support in the basin. As an example, the Manchester University Environmental Studies Program has partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI). This partnership promotes cost-share of soil and water conservation practices that reduce export of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment from agricultural fields and improves soil health. This mission is directed to help improve local stream ecological integrity, contribute toward a 45% reduction in nutrients
to the Gulf of Mexico, build positive conservation partnerships with local producers, provide soil and water conservation opportunities that improve soil health and maintains economically viable production of food and fiber, and finally provide research and experiential learning opportunities for Manchester
University Environmental Studies students.

This effort in the Eel River basin of north-central Indiana has resulted in expenditures of nearly $5 million in the middle Eel River region since the first round of MRBI in 2010. In 2015-16 over $300,000 of cost-share has been obligated in Miami, Wabash, and Kosciusko Counties. Practices included:

1. No-till, Nutrient Management, pest management, cover crops.

2. Animal waste pit closure with cover crops.

3. Cover crops.

4. No-till, Nutrient Management, pest management, cover crops, hay seedings, water lines, water tanks, well.

Contracts included:

1. Four contracts APPROVED for $212,055

2. Three applications PRE-APPROVED (waiting on more funding) for $49,588

3. Eight applications PENDING or ELIGIBLE requesting in excess of $40,000

*The below data was analyzed in the NFHP economic calculation separately.

Based on the Gentner Consulting Group, Inc. Economic model for the *National Fish Habitat Partnership Program, the economic impact of these dollars in the region includes:

Expenditure: $301,643.00

Jobs Created: 6

Total Sales: $569,745

Value added: $297,092

Income: $241,034.00

Conservation partnerships have connected agricultural producers, natural resource agencies like USFWS/NFHP, and Manchester University students who have worked together to examine and describe water quality in area streams and ecological research. Over 40 students have participated in water quality monitoring programs and research since 2010. Students have had the opportunity to learn about the business of agriculture, natural resource programs like NFHP, stream ecology, and fisheries science. As a result of this cooperative and positive approach local producers have allowed water quality stations on their farms and have asked for data from these stations. The agricultural producers are concerned about water quality and want to know what levels of nutrients and sediment end up in the streams. This dialogue is critically important as the conservation movement continues forward and more producers adopt better farming practices. Through funding from NFHP, this dialogue has expanded to include the USFWS.

The challenge for conservation programs is to provide supporting data that illustrates positive changes such as a decrease in nutrient and sediment export due to upland conservation practices. For watershed scale research in agricultural watersheds it will require continuous ecological monitoring to illuminate
patterns and trends over an extended time period. The monitoring program used by Manchester University scientists and students is comprehensive and examines time integrated water quality data along with biological data to provide historic ecological benchmarks. The loss of nutrients from the agricultural landscape is significant, measuring in tons per year in the Eel River, but soil loss continues to be orders of magnitude a much larger nonpoint source pollutant. There is tremendous natural variability in watershed science that becomes the rationale for long-term data sets. Goals will be reached through strategic conservation initiatives and strengthened relationships with agricultural producers. The documentation of future changes is critical through good science. Success of the Manchester University Environmental Studies initiatives is not always found in data that illustrates a downward trend in nutrient or sediment export or fish community improvement, but rather in the positive conservation partnerships and newly established lines of communication with agricultural producers. The success is found in the lives of the over 40 students who have participated in water quality monitoring and stream ecological research, or in the hundreds of local community people who have learned about the Eel River ecosystem. Values and attitudes of farmers toward soil health, nutrient management, and water quality is changing as a result of our work - and this is critical. Farmers visit the Manchester University water quality laboratory, they ask to see data, and they ask for streams to be tested. Agricultural landscape level changes will require programs with vision and continuity and a firm understanding of temporal and spatial natural science processes. Our success is a testament to a community of people who recognize that it is clearly possible to have an economically viable landscape and a clean and healthy river ecosystem.

NFHP Project Timeline:

2012: Removal of two low-head dams from the Eel River of north-central Indiana (These are the first two dams to be removed in Indiana and removal reconnected 200 stream miles)

2014: Efficacy of agricultural best management practices on stream water quality

2015: Reintroduction of federally endangered freshwater mussel (Clubshell) to the Eel River.

2016: Removal of low-head dam in the Eel River near the town of Mexico, Indiana (reconnects 300 stream miles)

2016: Construction of a two-stage ditch in Beargrass Creek.

2016: A new approach to fish passage over low-head dams: Design and installation at the Stockdale dam, Eel River of North-Central Indiana

NFHP Economic Calculator Results:

Services Expenditures: $2,176,000.00

Construction Materials
Expenditures: $ 0

Construction Labor
Expenditures: $ 93,000


Jobs: 44.8

Total Sales: $4,283,188

Value Added: $ 2,245,373

Income: $1,829,726

2016 Waters to Watch