Water Quality

Clean water is essential to life. Water quality is important, whether the water is found in rivers, drainage ditches or faucets. Our actions impact the quality of our water for ourselves and our neighbors.

Wildcat Creek

What is a Watershed?

A watershed is an area of land that collects and drains water to one location, such as a river.  When rain falls in a watershed, water travels toward the lowest point.  Water can flow across the surface of the land (surface water) or below ground (groundwater). Watersheds can be different sizes. Small watersheds can combine to form larger watersheds. For example, the Wabash River watershed is part of the larger Ohio River watershed, which is part of the even bigger Mississippi River watershed. Individual watersheds are assigned a number called a Hydraulic Unit Code. The number of digits in the HUC correlates to the size of the watershed. The more digits in the HUC, the smaller the watershed.


For more information on Watersheds:


The Wabash River Watershed

The Wabash River, which runs through Tippecanoe County, is the second largest tributary to the Ohio River and is the longest segment of free flowing river east of the Mississippi River.  The watershed has a total drainage of approximately 33,000 square miles and in 2010 had a population of around 4,366,000 people.  Historically, the Wabash River served as a significant transportation corridor and helped facilitate the European settlement of the Midwest.  Today, the Wabash River and its tributaries are no longer utilized for commercial navigation, but remains a vital water source in the region.  The Wabash River serves as an important migration corridor for waterfowl and shorebirds, and is home to nearly 400 rare species including approximately 151 fish species and 75 mussel species.  In fact, the Wabash River contains 5 of the 40 richest river segments in the United States in terms of biodiversity.

The Wabash River also faces an array of challenges – flooding, drought, water quality, and ecosystem integrity.  These challenges must be addressed in a systems context that reflects the interdependency of water uses and competing interests of a diverse group of stakeholders.  Moreover, there is broad interest in flood risk management, as well as the continued rehabilitation and reservation of the Wabash River.  Numerous positive actions have been implemented by stakeholders in the watershed, and many others are planned.  Water quantity is an important issue too; having either too much or too little water can threaten farming, residential infrastructure, and stream health.  Since everyone uses water, all are affected by its supply, accessibility, and cost.

Additional Resources:


Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI)

Little Wea Creek watershed

Through the Mississippi River Basin Initiative (MRBI), the District works with our partners at the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to work with producers and landowners to implement voluntary conservation practices that improve water quality, restore wetlands, enhance wildlife habitat and sustain agricultural profitability in the Mississippi River Basin.

The Problem

Nutrients, like nitrogen and phosphorus, can have negative impacts on waterways. NRCS works with farmers and conservation partners to implement conservation practices that help trap and reduce runoff of nutrients. This work also helps farmers, as NRCS provides assistance for improvements made to farms.

The Solution

Science shows that targeted conservation works. Through MRBI, we prioritize where we can have the biggest impacts, focusing efforts on small priority watersheds and where there is a large opportunity to work with producers to get conservation practices on the ground.

Core conservation practices include cover crops, conservation cover, denitrifying bioreactors, filter strips, grassed waterways, nutrient management, and residue management.

The Funding

NRCS provides dollars to eligible farmers and other landowners to help pay for conservation practices. Producers apply for funds at the local NRCS office. Applications are ranked and those that address priority resource concerns are funded. Funding is made available through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP).

MRBI Little Wea Factsheet

Little Wea watershed map


Nutrients and Sediments as Pollutants

Nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are beneficial when used in plant growth, but can become pollutants when they leave the field. Nitrogen readily dissolves in water and can then enter water through drainage tile or surface runoff, and then end up in streams. Phosphorus often attaches itself to soil particles and enters the water through soil erosion.

Valuable soils are lost to erosion, where they become a water pollutant. Sediments impact aquatic habitats where is coats the bottom of streams and makes the water murky. Sediments can accumulate in stream channels, which increases the chance of flooding. Nutrients are often carried to waterbodies along with sediments.

The USGS Water Science School

IDEM Water Quality in Indiana

US Environmental Protection Agency

Gulf Hypoxia


Too Much Water

Floods are one of the most common hazards in the United States; however, not all floods are alike.  They can vary greatly in size and duration.  Some floods develop slowly, while others can develop rapidly without visible signs of rain.  Additionally, floods can be local, impacting a neighborhood or community, or they can be very large, affecting entire river basins and multiple states.

Flash floods can occur within a few minutes or hours of excessive rainfall, from dam or levee failure, or a sudden release of water held by an ice jam.  Flash floods often have a dangerous wall of roaring water carrying rocks, mud and other debris.  Overland flooding is the most common type of flooding event.  It typically occurs when a waterway such as a river overflows the surrounding areas.  It can also occur when rainfall or snowmelt exceeds the capacity of underground pipes, or the capacity of streets and drains designed to carry flood water away from urban areas.


Too Little Water

The United States Geological Survey website describes drought as “a condition of moisture deficit sufficient to have an adverse effect on vegetation, animals, and man over a sizeable area” — (Warwick, R.A., 1975, Drought hazard in the United States: A research assessment: Boulder, Colorado, University of Colorado, Institute of Behavioral Science, Monograph no. NSF/RA/E-75/004, 199 p.)

Drought has social, environmental, and economic impacts.  Its affects spread far beyond the physical effects of drought itself.  Water is integral to produce goods and provide certain services.  Direct impacts of drought include reduced crop, rangeland, and forest productivity; reduced water levels; increased fire hazard; increased livestock and wildlife death rates; and damage to wildlife and fish habitat.  A reduction in crop productivity could result in less income for farmers, increased food prices, unemployment, or migration.

For more information about water, floodplains, and to view floodplain maps, see the resources below:

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