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Great Lakes Article:

Wetlands could help Indiana beach
By Kathy Ceperich

Itís no great mystery that the water in the Great Marsh is cleaner than other neighboring waters, environmentalists say.

Itís been known for years that wetlands and marshes help to clean water naturally before the water makes its way via gravity to its destination following the lowest areas to the lowest point which many times is Lake Michigan.

However, scientists are hoping to take advantage of the natural process to prevent beach closings.

"The cleanest water in this park comes out of the Great Marsh," said property manager Ted Bohman of the Indiana Dunes State Park.

The area is a naturally occurring wetland that was not ditched as the early developers dug ditches to drain the area so they could build on the land and cultivate the soil for harvesting.

The ditches short-circuit the water from the treatment benefits of being spread out over large areas where the proper conditions of light, plants and soil filtering take out some unwanted contaminants, such as E. coli, before the water reaches Lake Michigan.

In a few weeks, work will be complete on a man-made one-acre wetland at the state park, a part of the Dunes Creek watershed.

The constructed wetland will give scientists insight about the dynamics of how wetlands work and may serve as a prototype for building additional wetlands.

Scientist Richard Whitman of the U.S. Geological Survey said this is the first time such a construction and research project is being undertaken in Indiana for non-point sources and with plans to model the flows for study.

Scientists have already been taking background samples for the study and have found average E. coli readings of zero to 500 parts per million with some much higher spike readings. Whitmanís studies also demonstrate that E. coli can survive months in the soil before being washed out to the lake.

Indiana State Parks North Region supervisor Terry Coleman said the selected construction site presented the least risk to rare species of plants found in the park and the area already had standing water.

The project is unique because unlike other constructed wetlands, this one is being built on sandy instead of more clay-like soils. They plan to keep the water level shallow, 18-inches or less.

"We want this to be as natural as possible," he said.

The project was funded by a Great Lakes Coastal Restoration grant for $100,000 with the state matching $25,000.

The project and studies are funded through September 2005 when Save the Dunes Conservation Fund, through another federal grant, will continue the research studies.

SDCF is currently working on a management plan for the Dunes Creek watershed through Project Manager Christine Livingston.

Livingston added, "I think itís an important step in determining what will help solve the E.coli problem. I think it has a lot of potential. Wetlands are so important to water quality," she said.

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