Right now, it looks like a farm field with a newly constructed, low mound built into it. But by next spring, it should be a 7-acre wetland teeming with wildlife and wetland plants that also will prevent about 2.4 million gallons of rainwater from contributing to flooding in Fort Wayne.
"If we can hold it in the upper part of the watershed, it benefits everybody downstream," said Rod Renkenberger, Maumee River Basic Commission (MRBC) executive director.
In addition to creating additional wildlife habitat, wetland restoration projects like one scheduled for completion this week in southern Noble County also help remove nutrients and soil washing into streams from farm fields, which improves water quality in local streams, Renkenberger said.
The MRBC, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last fall, used to help landowners and organizations restore wetlands as part of its mission to reduce flooding in the Indiana portion of the Maumee River basin, he said. Its service area includes Allen, Adams, DeKalb, Noble, Steuben and Wells counties.
The St. Joseph and St. Marys rivers merge in downtown Fort Wayne to form the Maumee River, which flows from here to Lake Erie at Toledo.
But the nonprofit MRBC had to stop contributing money to wetland restoration projects about 10 years ago because it had started running low on funding, Renkenberger said.
This spring, however, the Indiana General Assembly approved $1 million in new funding for the organization so it can continue its flood prevention and flood mitigation work.
The southern Noble County wetland restoration lies in the upper reaches of the Black Creek watershed, Renkenberger said. Black Creek flows into Little Cedar Creek, which sends its water into Cedar Creek and then the St. Joseph River.
MRBC is partnering with the landowner, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and conservation group Ducks Unlimited on the project. That makes it possible for MRBC to turn its $3,500 investment in the project into a nearly $25,000 wetland restoration, Renkenberger said.
About 90 percent of northern Indiana once was wetlands, said Colby Stanger, project manager for S & L Environmental Group in Goshen, which worked on the Noble County wetland restoration. Based on Stanger's research, this site had been farmed since at least the 1940s, and mostly likely longer.
While doing some of their excavation work, Stanger said the S & L crew unearthed a small section of historic oak wood drain tile. Renkenberger said wood drainage lines typically were used before the 1880s.
The landowner initially contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about its Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, said Scott Fetters, a fish and wildlife biologist with the government agency's office in Warsaw. The program helps landowners restore wildlife habitat.
Fetters contacted Renkenberger and other project partners to see if they wanted to be involved.
In addition to the wetland, the landowner plans to plant 7 to 8 acres around it with native prairie plants and to reforest about an additional 7 acres, for a combined total of more than 20 acres of habitat, Fetters said.
Fetters also is interested in assisting landowners with restoration projects that protect endangered species, such as the federally endangered mussels in Fish Creek in eastern Steuben County.
Renkenberger said the MRBC board of directors last week approved contributing to a second wetland restoration project, which is in the northwest corner of the Cedar Creek watershed. Water held by that wetland, which will connect to an existing wetland, will help reduce flooding in Waterloo, Auburn and Fort Wayne.
MRBC still intends to help communities by contributing money and expertise for home buyouts and installation of flood-protection equipment, Renkenberger said. But he hopes the organization also can partner in at least three to five wetland restoration projects this year and next because they offer so many benefits for a small contribution of funds.
* For more about the Maumee River Basic Commission, call 449-7226 or go to www.mrbc.org.
* For more about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, call biologist Scott Fetters at 1-574-267-5090.