White River Watershed Preliminary Habitat Assessment
In this project, a preliminary assessment of habitats in the White River watershed was conducted. Land cover and land use were evaluated using available remote sensing data to provide an assessment of current conditions and an analysis of significant change over a 20-year period (1978 to 1992/1997/1998). Investigations of water and habitat quality were also conducted in White Lake, the drowned rivermouth wetland, and selected streams and wetlands in the tributaries and branches of the White River. Significant findings of these assessments include:
- Land cover/use on a watershed basis appeared to be stable with forested and wetland areas showing slight increases in total acreage. With respect to agriculture, row crop usage declined with a corresponding increase in orchards and open fields.
- Areas of significant change were noted on a subwatershed basis. The areas of greatest urban growth were concentrated in the US-31 corridor, the villages, and around larger lakes.
- Mid and lower stream sections and wetlands were located in forested areas with riparian vegetative cover and buffers. Wetlands and streams in several of the headwater areas have poor riparian zones.
- The watershed contains a number of rare and endangered habitats including coastal marshes, bogs, dry sand prairies, barrens, wet meadows, and mesic prairies. The acreage of Pine/Oak Barrens have decreased by almost 50% over the last 20 years.
- White Lake has remained eutrophic and will require a detailed investigation of nutrient loading and hydrologic modeling to develop a plan to improve water quality.
- The drowned rivermouth was found to be impacted by a combination of agricultural and urban sources.
- Cushman Creek and Heald Creek were found to be impacted by anthropogenic pollution.
- Several wetlands in the upper watershed were impacted by adjacent land use practices (agriculture and road/stream crossings).
- Based on the above findings, the following recommendations were made:
- Establish a watershed assembly to promote, prioritize, and coordinate water quality and habitat management/restoration activities throughout the basin.
- Initiate programs involving public education, best management practices, and land acquisition to promote stewardship, improve environmental quality, and preserve rare habitats, respectively.
- Conduct the necessary hydrologic modeling to evaluate nutrient loading to White Lake and identify critical areas to target source control programs in the upper watershed.
- Develop and implement a plan to restore the drowned rivermouth wetland
This project was an important beginning for future planning and educational activities in the watershed. Preliminary data on the geological, hydrological, and ecological systems were assembled and several areas of concern were identified. In consideration of the size and complexity of the watershed, it is clear that more information will be required to develop effective management plans. Without this information, it is impossible to prioritize issues, formulate mitigation strategies, and initiate changes that are truly beneficial to the system. We must also communicate this information through a public educational process that fosters resource preservation and stewardship. Education will help foster lasting change. The data from this project also illustrate the importance of a holistic approach to watershed management. It will be impossible to maintain water and habitat quality on a watershed basis if problems in headwater streams and development pressure are not addressed. The future of the White River watershed depends on a detailed assessment of the resource, the development of a holistic preservation plan, and a strong public education component to promote active stewardship. The watershed is a unique and diverse resource with important ecologic and economic value that will require a coordinated and holistic approach for preservation and restoration.