Drinking Weed Killers

The impetus for creating the Initiative began with the publication of Weed Killers by the Glass, published by the Environmental Working Group in 1995, which brought to light the problem of herbicides found in Fort Wayne, Indiana's tap water. In the report, a single sample of tap water taken on June 1, 1995 contained nine different herbicides. Fort Wayne had the second highest level of atrazine in its tap water of all the cities identified in the report.


Citizens concerned about this report organized a partnership with various agencies within the St. Joseph River's three-state watershed. In March 1996, the newly formed group brought together local and state natural resource professionals and political leaders to share information and to discuss issues and solutions to water quality issues. At the “Conference on the St. Joseph,” participants provided the guidance and motivation to drive the development of a strategic plan.


After the “Conference on the St. Joseph,” the group formed a steering committee to develop the organizational structure of the St. Joseph River Watershed Initiative.

The Initiative undertook a three-year baseline water quality study in 1996 to:

  • Determine the current water quality conditions,
  • Identify priority areas with distressed water quality on which to focus conservation efforts, and
  • Establish baseline points on which to measure future improvements in water quality. Water samples were collected at the mouths of each of the major tributaries where they joined the St. Joseph River.

The steering committee also developed a strategic plan, which outlined the mission and vision of the Initiative. The target issues in the watershed were defined and strategic planning points were identified to address the target issues.

Fund Raising

The steering committee raised funds through donations from three agri-chemical companies and a Section 319 grant (EPA funds administered by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management) to hire a public outreach coordinator. A public outreach coordinator was hired in February, 1998 to begin the educational and outreach efforts and to oversee the day-to-day operation of the St. Joseph River Watershed Initiative.


The first Board of Directors was formed in April, 1998 and was incorporated in October, 1998. On January 21, 1999 the Internal Revenue Service designated the Initiative as a 501(c)(3), not-for-profit organization.

Sub-Watershed work begins

In the winter of 1999, the three-year water quality data were reviewed and analyzed with the help of the US Geological Survey and Purdue University. The study results were used then to select two sub-watersheds of the St. Joseph Watershed in which to begin work.