Freshwater and Land Use in St. Joseph County

Hogan Wetlands

Sara Hogan

Many studies in the past have demonstrated that aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems are connected, and at times completely dependent on one another for success and productivity. This study focuses on freshwater ecosystems and land use in Indiana, specifically St. Joseph County in order to bring attention to the need for sustainable management of aquatic ecosystems.

Indiana has an especially interesting history with land use change, because much of the freshwater wetlands that dominated the landscape in the past were drained for agricultural and urban development. Therefore the first portion of the study focuses on wetlands in Indiana. A survey was created to understand local farmers’ knowledge and attitudes towards wetlands and wetland restoration. Because farmers own a large portion of the land it is likely that their opinions have the ability to affect policy and the future of the land. Although not a large enough sample size was gathered to accurately assess results, it can serve as a good tool for future use once enough contacts are gained.

Wetlands are also important components of watersheds. Because water flows through watersheds into larger bodies of water, land use within watersheds has the potential to affect water quality. Hence, second portion of this study investigated land use within the watersheds of two lake systems in St. Joseph County: Worster Lake and the Chain O’Lakes. Land use in the watersheds and water quality data for the two lakes were compared. Land use and lake trophic status were found to differ between lakes, suggesting that differences in land cover may be partly responsible water quality differences.

With a better understanding of how land use can affect aquatic ecosystems and their water quality, better management practices and education can be promoted to encourage sustainable management of aquatic ecosystems.