This post was written by ScIU Undergraduate Intern, Cori Cox.
Lake Monroe is one of the best spots in Bloomington: trails, water skiing, boating, what more could you ask for? But little did you know, Lake Monroe is a lot more than just a leisure activity. It is the main water source for Bloomington and the surrounding areas. Each day the Monroe Water Treatment Plant pumps an average of 15 million gallons of water for people to use. We bath in this water and even drink it. But where is all of this water coming from? It turns out the answer is all around us.
Monroe County is one of five counties that sits atop a massive watershed. A watershed is any plot of land that feeds into a water source such as a stream or lake. But there’s a problem: contamination. Runoff from rain, snow, or other sources can carry with it sediment, waste, or microorganisms that pollute our water. This can include toxic chemicals that humans put into the environment such as soap, oil, or fertilizer. Fertilizers such as atrazine are used in 80% of Indiana’s cornfields, and ingestion of atrazine contaminated water has been connected with serious changes in the human endocrine system.
Indiana’s main concern comes from contaminants such as polychlorinated biphenyl and mercury. These contaminants can cause unusual algae growth that harms the ecosystem. Having a clean watershed is critical to the health of our city for multiple reasons. Unfortunately, parts of our watershed have already begun to deteriorate. The Monroe watershed consists of three primary branches that are commonly known as North Fork Salt Creek, Middle Fork Salt Creek, and South Fork Salt Creek. However, the fourth branch, Crooked Creek, has been classified as impaired by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management or IDEM. Impaired means that the water in this location is not suitable to swim in, drink from, or consume the fish that live there.
Thankfully, something is being done about it! Friends of Lake Monroe, IU, and a steering committee have a plan to help protect the Monroe watershed. With the help of the IDEM 319 grant, they have the resources to conduct field research including water quality monitoring and data analysis, public outreach and education. IU is home to the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs Limnology Lab at which much of this testing is conducted. The team of students and staff at the Limnology Lab collect monthly samples from streams that feed into Lake Monroe in order to monitor the water quality. Water samples can be tested for E. coli, sediments, nutrients, macroinvertebrates, and discharge measurements.
Lynnette Murphy, O’Neill graduate student and Limnology Lab intern, urges members of the community to help protect the watershed through simple measures. Lynnette organizes volunteer events that involve both the IU Limnology Lab and Friends of Lake Monroe. First, she says, learning about watersheds is step number one. Congratulations, you’ve already done that one! She goes on to say, “Since our lake and streams have been listed with impairments of E. coli and algal blooms, some other educational opportunities exist to find out where these sources might be coming from, so learning about the area around you and the land-use within the watershed that might benefit from utilizing alternative practices.” Alternative practices in this case can range from planting native plant species that don’t require fertilizers or pesticides in your yard, picking up after your dog, or learning how to identify issues with the septic system that might be on your property.
If you would like to be more involved with the protection of the Monroe Watershed, the Friends of Lake Monroe hosts monthly steering committee meetings that are open to the public. You could also join the Friend of Lake Monroe nonprofit group here. Twice a year the IU O’Neill Limnology Lab hosts a Watershed Sampling Blitz where small teams of volunteers are given supplies and GPS locations to collect water samples themselves. This can be a great opportunity to explore nature with your friends and give back to the environment at the same time. The next Sampling Blitz volunteer event will be held in Spring 2021. Those who are interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org, and they will be given more information.
A big thank you to Lynnette Murphey, Lindsey Rasnake, and everyone working at the Limnology Lab for their help with providing me with the information I needed for this post.
Edited by Ben Greulich and Evan Leake