Source Water Protection Initiative (SWPI)


The Source Water Protection Initiative (SWPI) began in 2001 as a five-year agricultural water quality and pesticide monitoring project under the national leadership of America’s Clean Water Foundation and under the local leadership of three watershed associations in Ohio, Indiana and Missouri.

At its inception, the focus of the SWPI was to

Design and implement sound, voluntary, incentive-based, watershed-scale projects to accelerate the adoption of key pesticide best management practices (BMPs) at the watershed level on sufficient cropland acres to permit proper evaluation;

Objectively monitor and evaluate the effects on pesticide loading and water quality of the BMPs using generally recognized and accepted scientific techniques; and

Report those results to the general public.

Agencies Involved

In Indiana, the SWPI project is under the local leadership of the St. Joseph River Watershed Initiative, which is working with researchers from the USDA- Agricultural Research Service (ARS), the USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Allen and DeKalb County Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), Purdue University, and the City of Fort Wayne.

Study Area

The St. Joseph River watershed (located in the Western Lake Erie Basin) was selected for the project because it is the drinking water source for the City of Fort Wayne and its nearly 250,000 citizens. The St. Joseph River Watershed Initiative, with the guidance from the ARS, SWCD, and NRCS, selected the 11,200-acre Matson Ditch watershed and the 12,000-acre Walter Smith Ditch watersheds for the paired study area. This area lies in north central DeKalb County near the city of Waterloo.

In 2003, the 1385 hectares David Link Ditch was added to the project area because dredging activities that were taking place on the Walter Smith Ditch would impact the data collected from that site. The Smith Ditch remained in the study area, and is particularly important in evaluation of water quality in situations where stream beds have been disturbed.

In 2005, the SWPI area also became a study area for the CEAP (Conservation Effects Assessment Project). The focus of the CEAP is to assess and quantify the effects and benefits of USDA conservation programs. ARS is conducting a Watershed Assessment Study (WAS) focusing research on the SWPI area. This project is designed to monitor water quality parameters and assess conservation effects at the St. Joseph River watershed, which is one of the 12 benchmark watersheds selected as a part of the ARS Watershed Assessment Study.

By 2006, the America’s Clean Water Foundation had disbanded and was no longer associated with the SWPI project in the St. Joseph River watershed.

St. Joseph River Watershed Initiative Efforts

The St. Joseph River Watershed Initiative provides staff to maintain 15 automated ISCO water quality samplers and collect samples daily from April through November. The SJRWI has also contracted with local utilities to provide electrical service to the sampling sites, and has arranged outreach education events and meetings with local agricultural producers. The SJRWI collects field input data from the producers to help support research, and has provided cost-share assistance and other incentives to producers for the installation of BMPs where possible.

Current Research

In order to improve water quality and protect drinking water, researchers from the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory (NSERL) are working in the St. Joseph River Watershed in Indiana to identify best management practices (BMPs) that will reduce soil erosion and the amount of nutrients and chemicals in surface water runoff.

Scientists from National Soil Erosion Research Laboratory continue to work with other government agencies, conservation districts, watershed associations, and land owners and producers in the St. Joseph River Watershed to educate and provide technical assistance for the acceptance of BMPs.

The SWPI research project is located in the upper Cedar Creek watershed in DeKalb County, IN. To characterize the relationship between water quality, weather, site conditions and management practices; 12 water quality sampling stations and 5 real-time, web-accessible weather and flow and soil condition monitoring stations have been installed in the St. Joseph River Watershed.

The research area includes a variety of crop and soil types that go through different agricultural and water management practices. Distinguishing water quality in runoff from different site conditions and agricultural treatments help identify which land management practices are most effective at protecting water resources.

Findings from the ARS are distributed to educate government agencies, citizen groups and private landowners on the environmental and economic benefits of putting conservation programs into practice.

In order for SWPI/CEAP to proceed, cooperation from local entities has been very important. This cooperation has resulted in over three years of high quality research, indicating that the stakeholders are concerned about the sustainability of their production systems and the quality of the environment