INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana State Budget Committee last week authorized the release of $2.3 million in state funding to the newly formed Kankakee River Basin and Yellow River Basin Development Commission.
The panel’s action completes the first step of broad state legislative initiative to tackle nearly a century of water management challenges in the Kankakee Basin, according to commission chairman and St. Joseph County Surveyor John McNamara
“Never before has the state of Indiana invested so much in the Kankakee and Yellow Rivers,” McNamara said. “We now can fulfill plans rather than merely make them.”
“The drainage problems in the Kankakee and Yellow river basins has been a major headache, costing landowners significant time and money over the last several years,” State Rep. Jim Pressel, R-Rolling Prairie, said. “The $2.3 million from the state will help to alleviate some of those issues as the commission begins to work toward making improvements.”
Pressel co-authored the law during the 2019 legislative session establishing the new commission. Previously 24 members, the streamlined nine-member board has representatives from each of the eight counties in the basin and one from Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
The Kankakee River Basin in Northwest Indiana, which includes both the Kankakee and Yellow rivers, was once the second-largest freshwater marsh in the United States, according to commission executive director Scott Pelath.
Over a century ago, the basin was drained to make way for over a million acres of agricultural land and a number of communities. However, the underlying topography and geology of the basin continues to cause widescale flooding, heavy erosion and water management dilemmas throughout the region, Pelath said.
“Despite being only months old, the Basin Development Commission is aggressively moving to put state and local resources to work,” he said. “I was pleased to report to state officials that our eye is on the long-term, but our energy is dedicated to immediate progress.”
In testimony to the Budget Committee, Pelath described the Commission’s plans for the money, which include:
• Removing thousands of fallen trees and logjams that impede river channels
• Redesigning the sediment-heavy Yellow River banks in Marshall and Starke counties
• Converting a commission-owned farm in Newton County to water storage
• Assisting Jasper County’s efforts to stabilize failing Kankakee River banks
• Preserving seven U.S. Geological Survey river gauges and the data they provide
“These tasks constitute the opening phases of years of work ahead,” Pelath said. “Our problems are decades in the making, and not all solutions will come quickly. But some things we can start promptly, and we intend to do them. It is never too soon to start making a noticeable difference.”
Commission treasurer and Starke County Surveyor Bill Crase agreed.
“We have planned for years, and now it is time to seek results,” he said. “I am grateful that the long-term partnership of the state of Indiana and eight Northwest Indiana counties is making it possible.”