Few have probably heard of the Bullerman Ditch, which has its origins near the corner of Lahmeyer and Stellhorn roads in northeast Fort Wayne.
From there, it winds south for about 3 miles through urbanized development and a bit of agricultural land before it drains into the Maumee River at North River Road.
"As tributaries go," said Matt Jones, water resource education specialist for the Allen County Partnership for Water Quality, "it may seem like it’s just a drop in the bucket, but indeed, it runs through the most intensely landscaped countryside as it makes its way to the Maumee."
With a conference on an Upper Maumee Watershed environmental implementation plan scheduled for Jan. 24, Save Maumee Grassroots Organization’s founder Abigail King has initiated a campaign to highlight the importance of the Bullerman Ditch.
In an effort to intensify preservation or revitalization of the tributary in the urbanized areas, Save Maumee has written an amusing letter, thanking business owners for their efforts to improve the ditch while begging them to consider planting native trees and other flora and to not mow or use pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers.
"So many times we love to point out what somebody’s doing wrong," King said. This letter is an encouraging one.
The Maumee River is the largest tributary in the Great Lakes region, directly flowing into Lake Erie, Jones said. The Maumee has taken on more importance as environmentalists and local officials grapple with the reality that drinking water cannot be taken for granted after 500,000 people in Toledo last summer went 21/2 days without potable water. Toledo, perched on Lake Erie, is in the same Upper Maumee River watershed as Fort Wayne, the river’s point of origin.
But before local agencies can apply for federal aid from the Environmental Protection Agency, a watershed management plan must be implemented, King says.
That implementation will be the topic at the Jan. 24 conference held at Indiana Tech Law School and sponsored by Save Maumee. Along with organizations such as the Allen County Partnership and the Allen County Soil and Water Conservation District, both quasi-governmental agencies, the public is invited to the conference, King said.
Another conference with local and regional watershed organizations and the EPA is tentatively scheduled for April 8, 9 and 11 at Grand Wayne Center, Jones added. It is sponsored by the Tri-State Watershed Alliance.
Greg Doublas, owner of a shopping strip in the 2700 block of Maplecrest Road, said he enjoyed getting the letter because it was positive.
"We stay away from the ditch," Doublas said. "We don’t mess around it. You know, we are doing the best we can to keep it clean." But, he added, he wasn’t aware of it either.
That said, he is keeping on eye on any tenants who dump in a grate at the low end of the parking lot. Anything poured in the grate also makes its way to the stream and eventually to the river, Jones said.
The ditch is "bombarded by lots of excess fertilizer, hobby farms with goats, chickens and definitely horses, anything that is leaking off driveways or parking lots and also any amount of pet waste (from pets) that live on the lawns, that live in the watershed," Jones said.
The algae blooms that appeared last summer in Toledo’s drinking water were the result mostly of excess fertilizer but also of "suburbs and environments where people just don’t care, and broken-down septic systems," Jones said.
In fact, 68 percent of the Upper Maumee is agricultural, but the EPA already has an outreach to farmers, King said. That’s why Save Maumee will be kindly and gently targeting the suburban and urban pollution.
"Farmers are managing far more acres," Jones said, "but they have one person who is certified by the state handling hundreds and hundreds of applications versus the suburban/urban environment, where you have thousands of people each managing their own small parcel of land without a clue as to how much fertilizer, pesticide or herbicide their lawns needs, and each one thinks that putting more out is better."
While Lake Erie may be the drinking water source for Toledo, most of the drinking water for the 350,000 people in the Upper Maumee watershed comes from the Maumee River, Jones said. The watershed spans 392 square miles with 434 miles of constantly running streams within its boundaries.
Fort Wayne’s drinking water comes primarily from the St. Joseph River before it goes into the Maumee, Jones said, which makes environmental watershed plans for both the St. Joe and St. Marys rivers critical to the health of the Maumee. Part of Fort Wayne lies in the Upper Maumee watershed.
Besides asking Bullerman Ditch denizens to stop mowing, plant native plants and curb the use of fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides, King wants them to read the labels of any product going anywhere near the ditch and consider something else.
"Retention ponds, rain barrels and rain gardens," she says cheerfully.
For more information, contact Save Maumee at www.savemaumee.org.