Feb 20, 2020

Hoosier National Forest Burns Could Contaminate Drinking Water

Indiana's Hoosier National Forest burning project could contaminate drinking water for more than 140,000 people

water contamination

A project proposing to burn or harvest thousands of acres in the Hoosier National Forest is sparking concern about drinking water contamination. 

The plan is to log 4,375 acres of non-contiguous land in the Hoosier National Forest, according to IndyStar.

“The U.S. Forest Service will soon conduct prescribed burns to maintain, restore or improve early successional habitat, maintain wetlands, restore unique barrens ecosystems, and regenerate oak and hickory,” according to the Hoosier National Forest. “Prescribed burns also reduce fuel loads, thereby lowering the risk of catastrophic wildfire.” 

The Indiana Forest Alliance alleges the logging will do just the opposite. Executive Director Jeffrey Stant says species of birds and bats could be harmed during the process and that Lake Monroe’s water supply could be jeopardized.

“These acres they want to cut on all drain into the South Fork of Salt Creek, which has a high sediment load and is polluting Lake Monroe,” Stant said.

The logging will take place far enough away from the Lake Monroe watershed to cause any harm, according to Hoosier National Forest Supervisor Mike Chaveas.

“When we do the actual implementation of the project, we have very strict standards of best management practices that have a good track record, where there is solid research that shows they are effective at keeping sediment from reaching water bodies,” Chaveas said.

Opposition from local government officials and environmentalists allege the burning or harvesting could contaminate the only source of drinking water for more than 140,000 people, reported IndyStar.

Up until Lake Monroe was created in the 1960s, Bloomington did not have a stable source of drinking water.

The project was formally approved by the U.S. Forest Service and could take up to 20 years to complete. 

The Bloomington mayor and other critics say it could exacerbate existing water-quality issues in the Lake Monroe reservoir serving Monroe County, according to IndyStar.

"Lake Monroe is the surface drinking water source for not only Monroe County but also surrounding areas," said Monroe County Commissioner Julie Thomas. "We’re really concerned."

The Forest Service's environmental assessment of the project is estimated to generate $2.6 million from timber sales for the federal government, a portion of which would go to Hoosier National Forest projects. 

The lake is listed as an impaired water body by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, so it does not meet the federal Clean Water Act water quality standards.

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