Photograph scanned from the Indiana Environment
This 2000 photograph from the IDEM newspaper "Indiana Environment" shows IDEM scientists Chris Keho, left, and Roseann Hirshinger taking water samples from the Little Lick Creek in Blackford County. This sample, taken from a bridge by a Hartford City Park, showed the waters to be almost raw sewage.
Rather than raking through the stacks at IDEM, I'm expanding my CSO or combined sewer overflow education by raking through Alternative editor Steven Higgs' file cabinet. Hopefully, my summarization of an article Steve wrote for IDEM in 2000 about the E. coli riddled Little Lick Creek in Hartford City (our next destination) will better prepare me, and others, for what to expect.
Reading the article, I learned something new right away. Not all strains of E. coli, a bacteria living in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, produce the same results. One of the more threatening strains, O157:H7, causes the bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps often associated with an E. coli infection. This strain and others are found in Little Lick Creek.
Three variables, according to the article, account for this strain in Little Lick: runoff from nearby agribusinesses, failing septic systems and, not surprisingly, untreated waste from CSOs.
E. coli levels in Little Lick Creek, as tested by IDEM scientist Roseann Hirschinger, were shockingly high -- thousands of times higher than state health standards. But with untreated waste also comes other harmful bacteria like the bacteria causing typhoid or meningitis.
I found this quote from Hirschinger about Little Lick Creek especially nauseating, "Last year, the water was black, with no dissolved oxygen," she said in 1999. Though a year later the water had improved, Hirschinger would later reveal the levels of E. coli resulting in tests performed that very July were far beyond state limits.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, the Indiana environmental limit for E. coli in state water is 235 colonies per 100 milliliters. In 2000, Little Lick Creek maxed out Hirschinger's E. coli testing system, which was only capable of detecting up to 25,000 colonies of E. coli per milliliter.
Hirschinger told Steve that had her testing abilities been higher, she suspected Little Lick would truly weigh in at almost 250,000 colonies of E. coli per 100 milliliters. And that's after "improvement."
After looking at these abhorrent figures, I want to know why Little Lick Creek and others in the surrounding area are some of the worst waters in our state. The 17 CSOs are clearly factors.
And as Little Lick Creek experienced six fish kills between 1995 and 1998, Hirschinger, as part of an investigation of probable causes for fish kills in Little Lick, concluded that a local meat packing plant contributed, too.
Packing wastes from Hartford Packing entered Little Lick Creek in June 1999, causing a fish kill. Also, in her report, Hirschinger recommended that the company's permit to apply wastes to agricultural land be suspended pending a review.
Seth Slabaugh, reporter for the Muncie Star Press, also pondered Hartford City's CSO problem in an article he wrote in 2003. It is from Slabaugh's article I learned Hartford City has 38 miles of sewers, most of which are over 50 years old.
These sewer lines are classic CSOs. They carry stormwater and human waste in the same pipes. As these pipes are not equipped to handle the amount of snow and rainfall Hartford City receives in the 21st century, the sewers are designed, instead, to overflow into rivers and streams so as to not leak into basements or city streets, according to Slabaugh.
Slabaugh also talked to Richard Goetz, retired chemical engineer and member of a citizens council advising city officials in Hartford. According to Slabaugh, Goetz projected a 20-year timeline to clean up the CSO mess in Hartford City -- 20 years and an increase in sewage rates. This 20-year cleanup not only includes Little Lick Creek, but also Mud Run, Big Lick Creek and Moore Prong Ditch.
After my crash course in CSOs from the people who have been studying them for years, I am beginning to understand what a helpless feeling it must be to write about this kind of mass contamination and watch the problem go ignored. Though Slabaugh's article says Hartford City spent $1.5 million in recent years to remove one of the city's 17 CSOs, Keith Bryant, of United Consulting Engineers and Architects, said the city would be looking at a much larger amount of money to fix the CSO problem.
Even though we are shifting our focus to CSOs, the work we've done on CAFOs continues to attract attention.
I was the featured guest on WFHB's EcoReport with Lauren Taylor. The interview aired on May 15 and, according to Lauren, will remain on the site for at least the next six months.
And on May 27, I'll also be interviewed on WFHB's Interchange with Tom Healy, along with Barbara Artinian and Alan Hamilton, who were featured in Steve's Lawrence County CAFO story in April.
To put it lightly, it is an honor to have these interviews conducted, and I thank WFHB for the attention to our work. The issue, and the plight of CAFO victims, deserve it.
Amber Kerezman can be reached at .