Press Releases:

Urban Wildlife Program offered by Indiana Department of Natural Resources

Angola, IN, May 1, 2019 - Residents of several metropolitan areas of Northern Indiana have the opportunity to participate in the Urban Wildlife Program offered by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The program was outlined at the April 25th meeting of the Friends of the St. Joe River, held in Angola, Indiana. Jessica Merkling, Urban Wildlife Biologist for the North Region of Indiana, described the program to board members 

and guests.

The program is designed to support sustainable, wildlife-friendly practices in highly populated areas. It provides cost-share opportunities to establish habitat, technical assistance for wildlife-friendly planning, workshops, and guidance to reduce conflicts with wildlife. The program currently focuses on keeping animals wild, conservation practices to support monarch butterflies and other pollinators, and promoting the replacement of turf grass lawns with native landscaping.

The current target areas of Indiana include South Bend, Mishawaka, Elkhart, Fort Wayne and the greater Indianapolis area. Merkling can be reached by calling 260-244-6805. Habitat questions for residents of other areas in Indiana can be sent to

In regular business activities during the same meeting, the Board of Directors of The Friends of the St. Joe River re-elected the same slate of officers for the coming year; President-Jeff Reece, Vice President-Daragh Deegan, Secretary-Dona Hunter, and Treasurer-Kim Sinclair. The 2019/20 budget was approved and approval was given to send a wind turbine policy letter to the Branch County, Michigan planning commission.

The next meeting will be held on Thursday, May 23, 2019, at 1:00 p.m. At the Three Rivers, Michigan Public Library. Meetings are open to the public.

Contact: Carol Higgins at 269-496-7711 for more information about this event

McCoy Creek Mainstay Honored for Conservation Efforts

Buchanan, MI, May 1, 2014 – There is one name associated with conservation efforts surrounding McCoy Creek, a coldwater tributary to the St. Joseph River. That name is Scott King.  King, a long-time resident of Buchanan, MI, was presented with the 2014 “Al Smith Watershed Stewardship Award” at the 7th Annual Watershed Council meeting hosted by the Friends of the St. Joe River (FotSJR).   This prestigious award honors volunteers and conservation professionals who work in all or part of the 15 counties in Indiana or Michigan that drain to the St. Joseph River.  The award, named in honor of FotSJR founder Al Smith, represents individuals that go above and beyond the call of duty in maintaining a healthy St. Joseph River Watershed.   The unique handmade award which is in the shape of the St. Joseph River Watershed will be on display after May 14 at the Buchanan Public Library, 128 E Front St, Buchanan, MI.

This year, the call for nominations for the award resulted in a surprise and an easy decision for the FotSJR Board of Directors.  All nominations received named Scott King for his tireless efforts to protect and improve McCoy Creek.

King, an avid fisherman, has been the principal and sometimes sole organizer of annual clean-up events for not only McCoy Creek, but also the St. Joseph River from the Niles dam to the Berrien Springs dam.  He has recruited Boy Scouts, fishermen, high school students and local residents to participate.   King explained, “"What we're trying to do is restore the stream so it's great for the trout and salmon to live and the ducks and the wildlife around it to not have to eat and survive in a lot of garbage."

King has recently gone beyond river clean-ups by leading the development of a collaborative, watershed approach to a problem in the City of Buchanan.  The problem began when the water supply to the historic Pears Mill in downtown Buchanan began to decrease to the point where it could no longer operate the waterwheel.  King worked with the City and the Historical Preservation Society to devise a solution that would not only supply water to the historic mill, but also protect the cold water of McCoy Creek.  His determination, positive attitude, ability to work with partners and his strong but non-confrontational manor led to substantial improvements to the creek.  Improvements included the removal of a small dam that blocked fish passage from the St. Joseph River, the removal of a shallow pond that threatened the coldwater status of the creek, the restoration of streambanks to improve habitat and water quality, and the addition of in-stream structure to improve fish habitat.  The creek is now more aesthetically pleasing, supporting fish and wildlife, while also providing a supply of water to operate the waterwheel of the 1857 Pears Mill in downtown Buchanan so it can once again grind corn for the benefit of the public, local history and student educational programs.

King’s continued dedication to the stewardship of McCoy Creek is admirable and his energy will not stop with the recent stream restoration.  King is already working with the City of Buchanan to add woody structure at the confluence of McCoy Creek and the St. Joseph River to provide habitat for fish and aquatic life, proving his efforts in conservation are never at rest.

For more information about the Friends of the St. Joe River, the Al Smith Watershed Stewardship Award and past award winners please visit


Partners Unite to Celebrate Wetlands

Local Businesses and Organizations Unveil Educational Signs for American Wetlands Month

VanBuren County, MI, May 14 , 2013 – The Van Buren Conservation District put the finishing touches on the Paw Paw and Black Rivers Wetland Project just in time to celebrate American Wetlands Month.  Five educational signs were recently installed throughout the Harbor Shores golf course and public trail system in Benton Harbor.  The signs were the result of a partnership between the Conservation District, Harbor Shores, Revolution Design and WYNN Waterjet & CNC Machining, all of which donated generous amounts of time and money to complete the project.

This May is the 23rd anniversary of American Wetlands Month, which provides an opportunity to celebrate the vital importance of wetlands to the Nation's health.  Wetlands occur where land and water meet.  They clean our water, prevent floods and provide wildlife habitat.  Acre for acre, wetlands offer more water quality benefits and produce more wildlife and plants than any other Michigan habitat type.

“Unfortunately, about 50% of the wetlands in southwest Michigan have been filled for development or drained for agriculture in the last 200 years.  We have been working with landowners, municipalities and other partners over the last 3 years to protect what is left and bring back some of what has been lost,” said Matt Meersman of the Van Buren Conservation District.  The wetland project has resulted in the permanent protection of over 400 acres of high priority wetland and the restoration of almost 70 acres of wetland.

The installation of the wetland signs is one of the most visible and long lasting of the many educational efforts that took place during the project.  Robert Piner created the sign panels, which are displayed on metal cattail sculptures designed by Jim Steinke and built by Dan Mitowski.  Each one presents a different message about wetlands and clean water that is connected to the landscape surrounding the sign.  According to Bob McFeeter of Harbor Shores, “the signs have an important message and their location offers the viewer an example of what the sign is about.”

The Van Buren Conservation District promotes the conservation of natural resources through partnerships by providing public education, demonstrations and technical assistance, while working together for future generations. For more information on this topic, or to schedule an interview with one of the partners, please call Matt Meersman at (269) 657-4030 xt.115 or email Matt at or visit:

Photo Included: Project partners in front of wetland sign.
From left to right - Robert Piner, Bob McFeeter, Matt Meersman, Jim Steinke

FotSJR Wetland Partnership Project Goes "Wet N' Wild at the Wellfield"

Elkhart, IN, August 16, 2012 – The wetland partners held their second outreach event, “Wet N’ Wild at the Wellfield”, today at the Wellfield Botanic Gardens in Elkhart, Indiana. The event was a great success! There were around 50 people in attendance and the partnership made some great connections with landowners and interested residents living in the Christiana Creek sub-watershed. The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, FotSJR and Christiana Creek Coalition sponsored the event with support and attendance from Southwest Michigan Planning Commission, Natural Resource Conservation Service in Indiana and Michigan, St. Joseph County Indiana Parks, St. Joseph River Basin Commission, the Elkhart Soil and Water District, City of Elkhart and several others. The project partners are now discussing how they can build off the event and ensure that the model data gets into the hands of conservation organizations, city planners, public officials, drain commissioners, etc., to help implement wetland conservation activities throughout the Christiana Creek sub-watershed and surrounding areas. There will be four (4) more outreach events planned over the next year.

Click here to read the Wetland Partnership blog.

Keeping River Clean Brings Sense of Ownership

Bristol, IN, July 17, 2012 – Wearing rubber waders and padded gloves, Donald Wodtkey plunges his hands into the St. Joseph River.

“This is a heavy one,” he says, lifting a large, muddy tire from the water and rolling it onto shore. He’s not exactly looking for sunken treasure undefined just scrap metal. Recently let go from his part-time job, Wodtkey decided to go fishing Tuesday near the Division Street bridge in Bristol. But instead of seeing bass and catfish in the water, he found car parts, bicycles, old dock posts and metal pipes.

“The water is usually at least waist-deep or more, but now it’s just to my knees in some spots,” Wodtkey said. “It’s crazy how much you can see in the water now. All of this stuff can’t be good for the river.” Wodtkey filled the bed of his truck with 1,400 pounds of metal and drove to a scrapyard. When all was said and done, he made $130 for five and half hours of removing trash from the river.

“Everybody’s out there thieving metal from factories when they can just go down the river and collect metal and make money,” Wodtkey said. “It also cleans up the river, so we can fish and take our boats out without hitting our motors on stuff in the water.”

Wodtkey said he never noticed how much garbage has been dumped into the river until recently because the water level is lower than usual. In June, the St. Joseph River was more than two feet lower than normal, and the Elkhart River’s water level was down roughly one foot, according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s gauge stations.

“There’s definitely stuff in the river that you can see now that you can’t see any other time of the year, and it’s because of the drought and the lack of water,” said Matt Meersman, president of the Friends of the St. Joe River Association. Meersman said cleanup volunteers have found car parts, televisions, motorcycles and shopping carts among other trash dumped into the St. Joseph River.

“When people are doing that kind of stuff, they’re not thinking about the river,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine that anyone thinks that’s OK.”

The Friends of the St. Joe River Association helps organize cleanup events that Meersman said are about more than the river’s health.

“It’s important because it builds a sense of ownership,” he explained. “When people come out to volunteer their time trying to make the river more beautiful, it’s a human thing to make it more pleasing to our eyes. The kind of cleanups that we’re doing aren’t necessarily environmental cleanups as much as they are aesthetic cleanups, but I think it makes people realize that it’s important and the river is worth protecting on other levels.”

Click here to read the complete article from the Elkhart Truth.

Workshop Looks At Barriers to Fish Migration

Elkhart, IN, October 14, 2011 – The Friends of the St. Joe River assisted the Potawatomi RC&D in gathering local information about fish migration barriers, and hosted a workshop today at the Christiana Creek Country Club in Elkhart on the results of the prioritization process. An inventory of large barriers (i.e. dams) has been completed for the entire watershed. The final report is meant to provide guidance and justification for the funding of barrier removal projects and passage studies by local partners.

Dams and road/stream crossings can have negative effects on local stream ecology and hydraulics, and road/stream crossings often fail due to design and installation problems. Attendees of the workshop learned ways to properly assess, design and install culverts at road/ stream crossings. The workshop also explored case studies illustrating both problems and solutions. Additionally, the workshop attendees enjoyed an afternoon field trip where they visited and discussed impacts of a dam and design considerations of good and bad road/stream crossings.

The final report and workshop presentations are available here.



Local Students Excel at Community Service, River Clean Up

LaGrange, IN, August 26, 2011 – Local Prairie Heights Middle School students were presented with a challenge and were eager to face it head on. Students were inspired by a community service project assigned by their 7th grade social studies teacher, Lori Bailer. Bailer said, "I was thrilled with the creativity the 7th grad class came up with. Their ideas included making recycling bins for the elementary school classrooms, a campus clean-up, a recycling Halloween Party, and a Pigeon River clean-up." All events took place during the 2010-11 school year with the exception of the Pigeon River clean-up. Spring flooding caused the clean-up to be rescheduled.

The Pigeon River clean-up finally took place August 2, and many students and parents not only made this a community event, but also a family affair. The students seemed to enjoy the canoe trip that involved pulling trash out of a 20-mile stretch of Pigeon River. Twenty students and parents participated, and there were also many businesses that agreed to sponsor the students in their clean up efforts. For more information, contact Lori Bailer at 260-318-0382 or

Smith's Dedication Ceremony Full of Warmth, Feeling Despite Weather

Three Rivers, MI, May 26, 2011 – Despite the wet, windy and unseasonably cold late May day, several family and friends were happily on hand for the dedication ceremony to honor the Friends of the St. Joe River (FotSJR) founding members, Al and Margaret Smith. The public dedication ceremony took place in Three Rivers, Michigan on the east bank of the St. Joseph River in Conservation Park. Through the generosity of several private donors, the Barton Farm Company and the City of Three Rivers, a large granite rock and bronze plaque was unveiled by FotSJR Board President, Matt Meersman, as a permanent fixture and “token of appreciation” for the Smiths. The plaque reads:

"In honor of Al & Margaret Smith, founders of the Friends of the St. Joe River Association. Their dedication to improving the river inspires us to care for all the waters of the St. Joseph River."

Many of the FotSJR Board and Watershed Council members spoke warmly about not only the FotSJR organization, but also what Al and Margaret meant to them personally and how their life was shaped by the Smith's love and passion for conservation. FotSJR Board Member, Jim Coury, wrote an especially moving tribute to the Smith's, including this excerpt:

"When we set a commemorative stone in place, it is a mark of permanence, respect, love and appreciation for a life well lived and service to others. It is also a bridge so that future generations know that fine people were here before them, leaving gifts that have improved their lives and insured a better future. A large stone put in a beautiful place serves as a place for people to rest and reflect and perhaps come up with solutions to problems, or to find peace in their lives. It is a place for children to cling, laugh and squeal with delight. This is a wonderful tribute to the lives of Al and Margaret Smith, and all that they have given."

Al passed away on April 5 at the age of 86. His wife Margaret survives and was able to attend the dedication ceremony. 

For more information on this event, please contact Leah Cooper, FotSJR Outreach Coordinator, at or (574) 299-3421.


FotSJR To Honor Al & Margaret Smith with Dedication Ceremony

Three Rivers, MI, May 19, 2011 – The Friends of the St. Joe River (FotSJR) will hold a dedication ceremony on Thursday, May 26, to honor the organization’s founding members, Al and Margaret Smith. The Smith’s, who established the FotSJR as a non-profit in 1994, had an extraordinary vision of restoring their beloved St. Joseph River back to its healthiest state. They implemented their vision through public awareness, organized river clean ups and the development of the St. Joseph River Watershed Management Plan. Undoubtedly, the FotSJR would not have established their presence within the watershed community without the tireless efforts of both Al, who passed away on April 5 at the age of 86, and his wife Margaret, who survives.

The public dedication ceremony will take place at 3:00 p.m. in Three Rivers, Michigan on the east bank of the St. Joseph River in Conservation Park. Through the generosity of several private donors, the Barton Farm Company and the City of Three Rivers, a large granite rock and bronze plaque will be revealed as a permanent fixture and “token of appreciation” for the Smiths.

For more information on this event, please contact Leah Cooper, FotSJR Outreach Coordinator, at or (574) 299-3421. 

Fish Ladder Closing Fought

Buchanan officials say move would hurt migration on St. Joseph River.

By Stan Maddux, South Bend Tribune Correspondent

Buchanan, MI, May 11, 2011 – The Buchanan City Commissioners have taken a stand against efforts to close a fish ladder in Berrien Springs, a move that would prevent trout and salmon from migrating downstream to other communiities along the St. Joseph River.

"This would be detrimental to the plans of this community," said Donna Southwell, special projects manager for the city. Last month, the Berrien Springs Village Council passed a resolution in support of closing the ladder to stop the invasion of big head and silver carp that have migrated up the Mississippi River and its tributaries over the past 40 to 50 years.

Larry Elliott, an environmental attorney from Buchanan alleged the push in Berrien Springs is an excuse to confine salmon and steelhead to the river in Berrien Springs to bolster tourism there. He said Berrien Springs officials claim closing the ladder would prevent the invasion of the Asian carp, but there is no scientific evidence that species of fish is present in this area. Evidence shows the closest the Asian carp have come to invading Lake Michigan is seven miles west of the Chicago shoreline, he said.

"There’s no justification scientifically for doing this. The village wants to corner the economic benefits," Elliott said.

The Buchanan Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution that supports keeping out Asian carp but opposes closing the ladder at the present time. The resolution also states any decisions to close the ladder should be left up to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which governs waterways in the state.

"I think its way too premature," said Commissioner Joe Scanlon.

The ladder allows migrating trout and salmon to jump up the ladder and move over the dam in the St. Joseph River in Berrien Springs to continue migrating even into Indiana, which operates a fisheries in Mishawaka, Elliott said.

He said trout and salmon stocked in Indiana move to and from Lake Michigan through both states and would be trapped in Berrien Springs if the ladder there was allowed to be closed.

Elliott said the MDNR operates fisheries in Berrien Springs, which produce about half of the salmon and steelhead in the river "so the benefits are shared throughout the St. Joseph River basin."

"The state needs to be involved in this," Elliott said.

Southwell said there are ongoing efforts to refurbish the population of trout and salmon in Buchanan’s McCoy Creek to boost tourism and McCoy Creek is the only designated cold water trout stream in Michigan.

"This can really cause a problem," Southwell said.

(Photo: Lori G Photography, New Carlisle, IN)

Al Smith, Founder of the Friends of the St. Joe River, Passes Away

Battle Creek, MI, April 7, 2011 – Alfred G. "Al" Smith, (86) of Athens died peacefully surrounded by his family on April 5, 2011.  Al was born March 28, 1925 in Marcy, New York to Dr. T.C. and Dulcie (Grantham) Smith. He was a WWII veteran of the Marine Corp serving in the South Pacific as a Staff Sergeant for the VMF 222, a Corsair squadron. On June 15, 1947, he married Margaret (Doubleday), and together they devoted their time to family, friends and the community. When he retired from Clark Equipment Company in 1982, Al had visions of relaxing, playing golf and doing a little fishing along the St. Joseph River. His retirement plans changed when he saw the condition of his favorite river. It appeared sick and weary. Garbage filled the riverbanks, and people dumped everything from overstuffed furniture to old appliances into it. Having spent much of his youth in and around the river, Smith thought someone should do something about it. "We only get out of this world what we put into it," said Smith. "We had better take care of what we have." 

Prior to the founding of the FotSJR, many communities had formed their own local groups to clean their stretch of the river. Smith recognized the need to bring all of these small groups together under one organization to work towards the same goal undefined a healthy river system. In 1994, Al, along with his wife Margaret, formed the Friends of the St. Joe River Association, Inc. (FotSJR) as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The organization gained presence within the watershed community by recognizing the need to address broad-scale issues in a collaborative, strategic manner.

When asked if his original vision for the FotSJR organization had been realized, Al Smith said he could not even begin to tell how very proud he is of the organization as a whole. "Every organization should be as fortunate to have passionate volunteers who work hard to implement our mission and the Watershed Management Plan," said Smith. "Everyone is concerned about our river water, and it shows in our continuing and growing membership."

To honor both Al and Margaret's tireless work for the restoration and protection of their beloved St. Joseph River Watershed, the FotSJR Board is planning to place permanent memorial fixture in Three Rivers, Michigan.

Oil Spill Cleanup Continues Through Winter
Talmadge Creek site will be monitored for years, officials said.

By Carol Thompson, Capital News Service

Lansing, MI, February 14, 2011 – Cleanup efforts are still under way more than six months after 819,000 gallons of heavy crude oil spilled into Talmadge Creek near Marshall and into the Kalamazoo River, covering wildlife and the nearby environment with sludge.

Remediation efforts have slowed for the winter, but the cleanup crew will continue to sample sediment and water for benzene and other harmful toxins, Mark Durno, the Environmental Protection Agency deputy incident commander for the spill, said.

Containment boom lines were removed because of freezing weather conditions, but below-freezing temperatures actually help with some cleanup such as oil removal because oiled soils are solidified and easier to remove, according to the EPA.

Low-lying sites also are more accessible in the cold.

The ruptured pipeline, operated by Houston-based Enbridge Energy Partners, carried crude oil 286 miles from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario.

The Ceresco spill was the largest ever recorded in Michigan, according to the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment.

As of mid December, cleanup workers from Enbridge and the U.S. EPA had collected 13,750,922 gallons of oily water, the EPA said. The company estimates that 699,000 gallons of oil will be salvaged and put back into commercial use.

“All the oil that could be put back in commercial use went back to the Enbridge facility,” Durno said.

Immediate cleanup after the spill involved collecting and refining oil, decontaminating riverbanks, building a wildlife rehabilitation center that cleaned more than 2,000 animals, monitoring the environment for toxins and hiring more than 2,000 contract workers, Enbridge public information officer Kevin O’Connor said.

In spring when the ice begins to thaw, Enbridge will replace containment boom lines, continue monitoring for toxins and erosion, and check the river bottom for submerged oil, Durno said.

Enbridge and the EPA also will develop work plans to determine when to remove any residual oil that’s found and when to leave it to avoid further environmental disturbances that may harm wildlife.

So far, spill cleanup has gone well, Enbridge’s O’Connor said.

“The process that’s been involved to get this back to where it is has been is pretty astounding,” O’Connor said. “We certainly had issues here and there, but by and large it’s gone really well.”

Those cleanup efforts certainly don’t come cheap.

Durno said, “The EPA alone has spent over $20 million, which we billed to Enbridge. I can only imagine what Enbridge’s costs are.”

The company’s first estimate came to about $400 million before government fines and lawsuits. New estimates reached $550 million, Enbridge project director John Sobojinski said.

The cause of the spill remains unknown. The National Transportation Safety Board is scheduled to finish studying the pipe’s rupture and interviewing Enbridge employees to get a clear picture of the events leading up to the spill this year. And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is completing a long-term damage assessment to evaluate the ecological damage to the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River systems.

Federal and state agencies will continue to oversee Enbridge’s assessment, monitoring and remediation until the environment has been restored to what it was before the spill, according to Durno of the EPA.

Durno anticipates that cleanup work will continue throughout the spring and summer, and possibly even longer.

“Our hope is that the ecosystem recovers within a couple years,” Durno said. Overall, he said he’s optimistic about the response to the spill, which he called nationally significant.

Monitoring the environment for damage will continue for at least the next several years, said DNRE public information officer Mary Detloff.

The area’s groundwater flows into the river, making monitoring easier, and tests have shown no groundwater contamination yet, Detloff said, but added, “There are groundwater issues we’ll be monitoring for years.

“We would hope that within the next five years there’s a complete recovery of the ecosystem there.”

Authorities OK Plan to Reduce Sewage Overflows in Rivers

WSBT-TV Report

Elkhart, IN, November 23, 2010 – A $155.6 million plan to reduce sewage overflows and
protect the Elkhart and St. Joseph rivers and Christiana Creek is getting nods from state and federal authorities.

Mayor Dick Moore announced Tuesday the city reached the agreements, the culmination of several years of negotiations with the Indiana Department of Environmental
Management, U.S. EPA and U.S. Department of Justice.
The plan includes 38 projects to be finished by 2029. A three-year extension is possible if Elkhart needs financial “breathing room.” Moore said the city will seek as much federal money as possible to pay for the projects.

Like many other older cities, Elkhart’s combined sewer system was designed to carry stormwater and sewage from
homes and businesses. When it rains, sewer system relief pipes allows overflows of untreated sewage into the rivers and creek.

The 38 projects include building larger sewers, improve the wastewater treatment plant and install regional storage tanks to capture sewage overflows. Elkhart began in 1985 to reduce raw sewage overflows, Moore said in his news release.

New USGS Study Finds Mercury Widespread in Indiana Waterways

AP/Associated Press

Muncie, IN, November 22, 2010 – According to a study led by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), one in eight fish taken from Indiana waterways and analyzed over a five-year period was tainted with the toxic metal mercury, according to federal scientists who last year reported that precipitation that falls near southeastern Indiana's coal-fired power plants harbors some of the nation's highest concentrations of atmospheric mercury.

The study, led by USGS hydrologist Martin Risch, also showed that mercury contamination in both surface waters and fish across Indiana routinely exceeds levels recommended to protect humans and animals. Risch said the front cover of the mercury report includes photographs of an eagle and a boy holding a big fish.

"The young person needs to be told how many big fish he can eat to protect his health," Risch told The Star Press of Muncie.

Mercury released by coal-fired plants, metals industries and other sources enters the food chain and can accumulate in fish species that humans eat. Women who eat tainted fish during pregnancy or while breast-feeding can unknowingly lower their child's intelligence because mercury is a potent neurotoxin that harms the developing brain and can cause other problems. The study covered samples taken between 2001 and 2006 and was done in partnership with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. It also found 96 percent of discharged wastewater sampled in the state contained mercury, most of which exceeded federal standards.

A map of Indiana in the report shows hundreds of red dots at river and stream sites across the state where sampling found mercury-contaminated fish. In 2005, coal-fired power plants were responsible for 58 percent of all mercury emissions into Indiana's air. The other largest contributors were steel mills and cement plants.

Risch said the most significant source of mercury in Indiana's watersheds is fallout from the air. He said the amount of mercury in rain and snow was the main factor affecting the heavy metal's presence in watersheds.

"It is largely believed that if you reduce mercury in the air you will eventually reduce the amount of mercury in the fish, and the only way we can know this is to measure it," Risch said. "We should be able to look later and see if the regulation of mercury emissions has an effect."

Municipal wastewater treatment plants also release mercury in the effluent discharged into waterways, but power plants are the main contributor. Several common household and toiletry products contain levels of mercury that could account for part of that contamination, but most of the mercury is attributed to human waste, according to the report. And some mercury in wastewater could be attributed to dentists' offices.

The St. Joseph River has been identified by U.S. EPA as the biggest contributor of atrazine to Lake Michigan and a significant contributor of sediments and toxic substances such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs). The St. Joseph River Watershed Management Plan, completed in 2005, continues to facilitate and guide the implementation of measures to improve and protect water quality within the river system, including the reduction of mercury and other contaminants.

Oil Spill on the Kalamazoo River Grieves Friends

On Monday, July 26, the Embridge, Inc., Lakehead System pipeline was shut down following the discovery of an estimated one million gallon oil leak near Marshall, Michigan. The leak quickly made its way to the Kalamazoo River, one of Michigan's major tributaries that flow to Lake Michigan.

The Friends of the St. Joe River extend their sincerest regrets to our neighbors in the Kalamazoo River Watershed. The tragedy on the Kalamazoo reminds us how fragile our river systems are. We need to be vigilant to ensure that this disaster, or something similar, is not repeated on the St. Joseph River (Click here to read "Higgins Calls for Pipeline Replacement" press release).

Both Michigan and Indiana offer "Adopt-a-River" programs that unite people and communities to protect and restore rivers and other waterways. For more information on how you can get involved as an environmental steward to protect, clean and preserve our local waterways, visit

For more information on the Kalamazoo River oil spill and to find out how you can help restore and protect the Kalamazoo River Watershed, contact the Kalamazoo River Watershed Council at 269-978-4606 or visit

FotSJR Receives "Fresh" Funding

South Bend, IN, July 20, 2010 – The environment in the St. Joseph River Watershed recently received a boost when the Friends of the St. Joe River (FotSJR) was awarded a grant from Freshwater Future. The $4,200 grant is to develop a bi-state Wetland Coalition and media campaign to increase wetland restoration and protection efforts in the watershed. The FotSJR will engage local, state and federal stakeholders to help implement a wetland program and media campaign to increase awareness of residents and local officials in the watershed's 15 counties. This project will further assist the FotSJR strategic plan to become a center for watershed communication and resource for innovation/change by building a strong coalition, publishing quarterly newsletters, increasing member/donor activity and improving the FotSJR web site.

Freshwater Future builds effective community-based citizen action to protect and restore the water quality of the Great Lakes basin. They work towards this goal by providing financial assistance, communication and networking assistance and technical assistance to citizens and grassroots watershed groups throughout the Great Lakes basin. Grassroots organizations and citizen initiatives in both the U.S. and Canada are eligible for funding in the two annual funding cycles.

"The selection process was especially difficult this Spring as so many government agencies are underfunded and citizens are stepping up to fill those gaps," said Jill Ryan, Executive Director of Freshwater Future. "An amazing array of projects to protect and restore rivers, lakes and wetlands were presented and the Friends of the St. Joe River rose to the top."

The mission of the FotSJR is to unite a diverse group of stakeholders throughout the watershed in a collaborative effort to project, restore and foster stewardship of the St. Joseph River Watershed as critical components of the Great Lakes basin. The grant from Freshwater Future will help accomplish this mission by developing and coordinating a bi-state wetland coalition to direct the wetland protection and restoration in the watershed through prioritization and targeted education/outreach to landowners and municipalities.

"To date, wetland protection and restoration efforts have been passive," said Matt Meersman, FotSJR President. "This new coalition will target restoration and protection resources and expertise (such as cost-share programs) to prioritized areas. Through the media campaign, the general public and key stakeholders will have a greater understanding about the loss of wetlands within the watershed and their functions, the impacts on water quality and habitat, and the opportunities to protect and restore wetlands through federal and state programs."

If you would like more information on this project, contact Leah Cooper, FotSJR Outreach Coordinator at

FotSJR Awarded U.S. EPA Wetland Program Development Grant

The Friends of the St. Joe River (FotSJR) has been awarded a $115,000 Wetland Program Development Grant through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). The goals of the EPA’s Wetland Program include increasing the quantity and quality of wetlands in the United States by conserving and restoring wetland acreage. The program will also help state, tribal and local governments develop and implement effective,  comprehensive programs for wetland protection and management. The long-term goal is to increase both voluntary and regulatory wetland protection.

The St. Joseph River Watershed (SJRW) – the third largest sub-watershed contributing to Lake Michigan – has lost 53 percent of its pre-settlement wetlands. This has resulted in degraded water quality, increased flooding and fragmented habitats. The Wetland Program Development Grant will help improve water quality and wildlife habitat by developing tools to target wetland protection and restoration efforts in the SJRW.

Project Scope

The project, supported by an additional $40,200 in local matching funds, will foster the development and coordination of a bi-state wetland partnership between Michigan and Indiana state agencies and local tribes. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources & Environment (formerly MDEQ), Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi and the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi are committed to participating in this bi-state wetland partnership. These groups will share ideas, data and approaches to support and build state, tribal and local wetland programs.

A Landscape Level Wetland Functional Assessment (LLWFA) will be completed for the entire St. Joseph River Watershed. The LLWFA encompasses an in-depth analysis of wetland trends and is intended to assist watershed planning groups with prioritizing wetland preservation and/or restoration activities. This analysis is much more than a basic report on wetland loss, but considers loss of wetland functions as well.The LLWFA will evaluate every existing and historical wetland in Michigan and Indiana for several water quality and habitat related functions.

Sub-watershed groups can use the LLWFA to target wetland protection and restoration activities in watershed management plans. The information can also be used by land conservancies, conservation districts and tribes. Further, the LLWFA can be used to educate decision-makers and landowners about wetland functions, their value within a natural ecosystem, and their importance to the local economy and quality of life.

Additionally, this project will help establish a comprehensive process to identify, evaluate and prioritize wetland efforts. This information will be combined with other criteria to prioritize areas for protection and restoration so partners can use their resources more efficiently.

Click here for more information on the U.S. EPA Wetland Program Development Grant.

FotSJR Awarded "Heart of Cook" Grant

St. Joseph, MI, May 11, 2010 – The Friends of the St. Joe River (FotSJR) was awarded a $2,000 "Heart of Cook" grant from the Heart of Cook Foundation. The FotSJR will use this grant to help further the St. Joseph River Watershed Wetland Partnership project. The grant, which is administered by the Berrien Community Foundation, seeks to fund educational, human services and environmental projects and programs in southwest Michigan and northwest Indiana. Of the 75 funding requests received for the 2010 application year, over $54,000 were provided to 35 area non-profit organizations. The grant review committee, comprised of Cook Nuclear Plant employees, gives special consideration to agencies and projects that have involvement by I & M employees.

FotSJR Grant Abstract Summary

Specifically, the grant funds will be used to support the hiring of a contractor to coordinate the bi-state wetland partnership, maintain a web site with wetland information, and develop wetland protection and restoration maps and educational materials for municipal officials and landowners. Expected outcomes of the Watershed Wetland Partnership project include development of bi-state partnership working to increase wetland protection and restoration projects in the St. Joseph River Watershed. FotSJR, along with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources & Environment (formerly MDEQ) will develop a Geographic Information Database of existing and lost wetlands with an assessment of their functions. Further, FotSJR, with input from the partnership, will prioritize wetland sites and use this prioritization for targeting outreach efforts to landowners and municipalities in defined critical areas. With targeted outreach efforts, the level of understanding wetland functions in the watershed will increase. Ultimately, the number of restored and protected acres of wetland will increase, resulting in reduced flooding, increased wildlife habitat and improved water quality of the St. Joseph River and Lake Michigan.

3rd Annual St. Joseph River Watershed Council Meeting Puts Wetlands in the Spotlight

South Bend, IN, April 15, 2010 – Often misconstrued as open breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes, wetlands have earned a less-than-appealing reputation. During mid-March the Friends of the St. Joe River (FotSJR) worked towards reversing the negative opinions of wetlands during their 3rd Annual St. Joseph River Watershed Council Meeting. The theme of the meeting was “Restoring our River: A Hydro-Logical Approach” and focused on the important connection between thriving wetlands and healthy river systems.

Guest speaker Rob Zbiciak, from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, spoke about the wetland issues in both Indiana and Michigan, in particular the critical loss of wetlands in both states. According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, there were approximately 5.6 million acres of wetlands in Indiana 200 years ago. Today there are fewer than 813,000 acres of wetlands, a loss of over 85 percent. In Michigan, nearly 54 percent of its 11 million pre-settlement wetlands are gone. The loss of these lands poses special problems for hydrological processes and water quality because of the natural storage and cleansing functions of wetlands.

Because wetland hydrology (the movement, distribution and quality of water) plays a vital role in the structure and health of a wetland’s ecosystem, particularly by acting as the main pathway in which nutrients are transported in and out of the system, the vegetation and species compositions are significantly affected when natural or man-made hydrologic alterations occur. Examples of wetland alterations could include drainage, filling, damn construction, water diversion, groundwater pumping and dredging.

Acre for acre, wetlands produce more wildlife and plants than any other habitat type. For ducks, geese and other migratory birds, wetlands are the most important part of the migratory cycle, providing food, resting places and seasonal habitats. Wetlands also play an essential role in sustaining a productive fishery, with many species found with the St. Joseph River Watershed depend on for successful reproduction.

The FotSJR, along with its stakeholders and Watershed Council recognize the need to address the loss of wetlands within the St. Joseph River Watershed. The watershed faces a number of challenges, including excess sediment and nutrient runoff. Most water quality impairments could be improved with the restoration and protection of wetlands. Currently, the FotSJR are hosting a donation campaign called the “Southeastern Lake Michigan Wetland Protection/Restoration Partnership”. This is a collaborative effort to prioritize wetland areas in the St. Joseph River Watershed, and will direct limited resources to areas with the most potential impact for restoring hydrology and gaining back lost wetlands.

To view a summary of the 3rd Annual St. Joseph River Watershed Council Meeting, click here


St. Joseph River Clean Up a Success

South Bend, IN, March 27, 2010 – Hundreds of volunteers from around the South Bend community cleaned up a nearly four-mile stretch of the the St. Joseph River. Many volunteers kayaked their way along the river bank picking up trash, and the Notre Dame Rowing Team helped bolster the clean up efforts as well. Matt Meersman, President of the Friends of the Joe River, spoke with Nick McGurk of WNDU/Channel 16 on the clean up and how it improves both the aesthetic and water quality issues facing the St. Joseph River. 

Groups Try to Reduce Sediment Flowing into St. Joseph River

St. Joseph, MI, March 5, 2010 – While the Army Corps of Engineers is awarding contracts for spring dredging of the St. Joseph River harbor, several organizations are aiming to reduce sediment loading that makes the expensive work necessary each year.

Runoff from 5,000 square miles of land in Michigan and Indiana drained by the river is responsible for a lot of the sediment that clogs the harbor, making it tough for ships to navigate without annual dredging. Runoff that carries sediment nutrients and other pollutants into the river can be reduced by convincing farmers to use best land management practices, preserving and restoring water-retaining wetlands, and other strategies, the St. Joseph River Harbor Authority was told Thursday.

Marcy Colclough, senior planner at the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission, and Matt Meersman, president of the non-profit Friends of the St. Joe River, described the improvement efforts.

Click here to read the full story (as published in the Herald Palladium) 

FotSJR Welcomes New Outreach Coordinator 

South Bend, IN, September 1, 2009 – Leah Cooper has joined the Friends of the St. Joseph River (FotSJR) as Outreach Coordinator. Leah is a professional marketing consultant with over 12 years of high-level/high-profile creative and technical writing and communications. In this role, Leah will manage the creation and distribution of the FotSJR newsletter, public relations, web site and membership database. As needed, she will support the research and writing of targeted grant applications.

Most recently, Leah spearheaded the marketing communication program for a top Midwestern ecological consulting firm. She is well versed in the serious issues facing the St. Joseph River Watershed and abroad.  Leah has studied alongside some of the top water resource scientists to better understand the interaction between hydrology, biology, geology and geomorphology within a watershed area. 


Friends of the St. Joe River Association, Inc.                                                                                                          
P.O. Box 1794
South Bend, Indiana 46634

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