Steering Committee Chair Discusses Levee Maintenance

Save Maumee wants to talk openly with city officials, and with the taxpayers, about our waterways and the cause & effect of current practices relating to land use and water quality. The water we speak of is the same water we drink, bathe our children in, water our gardens with, and live alongside. It is our greatest natural resource.
Recently, the city hired a tree service to remove vegetation along the Niagara Levee (the same area Save Maumee has been repairing since 2005) for a levee inspection in December 2012. Conversations with Flood Control Supervisor Cathy Burleson revealed that the Army Corps of Engineers required much of this removal in their levee regulations that came as a result of Hurricane Katrina. She stated that she did not want to cut the trees down, ACE regulations required her to do so. Burleson also mentioned that there are 10.5 miles of levees that the City of Fort Wayne, Board of Public Works, are responsible for maintaining. Walk the River Greenway along Edgewater Avenue or Spy Run and you can see that definition of maintenance ~ removal of all trees and vegetation with the installation of rip rap. One small portion of Edgewater was developed using what was referred to as “green” technique (using vegetation surrounded by non-degradable, plastic mesh called Scour Stop at a large additional cost).
We understand the issue of levee safety in those areas are a priority, and are in complete agreement that the safety of the home and business owners, and their property are of utmost importance.  The last thing that we want is for anyone’s lives or homes to be in danger as a result of any compromising of the structure of the levees.
The problem that we seem to be having in Fort Wayne is the primary solution to control flooding is being addressed through removal of native plants and trees for “integrety of levee structures”.  It has been well documented in a vast amount of literature and studies (even those reported by the Corps, the EPA, and FEMA) that issues such as increased impervious surfaces, the use of rip rap, removal of vegetation, and removal of wetlands not only increase the likelihood that flooding will occur during peak seasons, but also that water quality will (and does) continue to decrease due to the removal of such areas.  Not to mention the effects on habitats and wildlife, both serving critical links in the food chain for humans and other wildlife.
Edgewater DURING removal of vegetation 2011
We have been observing the Board of Works cutting down “weeds” and “trees” along the levees because of the regulations that require them to do so, handed down by the Corps, in an effort to protect homeowners from flood waters.  We don’t see the Board of Works planting Willow shrubs in the allowable portions of the riparian areas or planting native grasses to assist in keeping the soil on the banks from eroding (as recommended by the Corps).  We only see them taking away from riverbank areas~and replacing trees, grasses, and shrubs with more impervious surfaces in floodways.  We don’t see the Fort Wayne Parks Department or City Planning making any concerted effort to decrease the likelihood of flooding by preserving natural areas with appropriate vegetation plantings to contain flood water (as a wetland would do).  Instead we see variances for housing additions, gas stations, strip malls, and pavement ~ all contributing to both flooding and decreasing water quality.
Edgewater levee AFTER vegetation removal & installation of Scour-Stop
The practices that are being used by our local government are antiquated procedures that are increasing the likelihood that our waterways will spill over during peak seasons.  We are urging the Corps and our city government to make more responsible choices when it comes to the overall picture, for Fort Wayne and for those downstream.  The Upper Maumee Watershed Partnership and the Army Corps of Engineers recognized in a 2009 report that the city of Fort Wayne’s Flood Control “projects are localized and do not address overall problems.”  It was recommended in this same report that riparian areas be expanded, and that the increase use of USDA/NRCS practices of restoring wetlands would help to decrease peak discharges into the waterways.  The city has made little effort to do either, instead relying on non-profit groups to do the work for them.
The riparian area that Save Maumee has worked on since 2005 is the only area of the Fort Wayne rivers where a riparian area is actively being re-established, thanks to over 300 volunteers who come out each Earth Day to repair that one small portion of the Maumee River ~ the Maumee is the largest watershed that flows into the Great Lakes.  Up to 80% of a stream’s water quality is inherited at its headwaters (Hoosier Riverwatch 2009); for the Maumee River, that is in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Both the St. Marys and the St. Joseph Rivers (which come together to form the Maumee River)  are on the  2010 303(d) List of Impaired Waterways due to E. coli.  Other impairments that plague the rivers and watershed are Mercury, Nutrients, Free Cyanide, PCB’s, Siltation, and Ammonia ~ pollutants that impair the Maumee River from Fort Wayne to Lake Erie.
The installation of rip rap and removal of vegetation has been common practice along eroding areas of our rivers, increasing the speed of the water through the rivers after running off of impervious surfaces, thereby increasing the likelihood of soil erosion downstream from these areas and also the likelihood of flooding downstream as well. The city and county continuously allows the clearing of natural areas for development, areas that could be utilized to slow down water and hold it for storage until it has a chance to percolate through the soil via the root systems of native plants and recharge the groundwater supplies ~ which would also filter the water while decreasing soil erosion on the banks downstream.   The practices that are being utilized are actually increasing the problems and increasing the burden on taxpayers and homeowners.  We want to see our city and the Corps work to decrease the chances of flooding, while simultaneously decreasing that financial burden.
We understand that the position of the Corps is to maintain safe and secure levees, not to be involved in the local government issues.  The problem is that all of these water issues are connected and it does not appear as if there has been much effort from any of the decision makers to promote less invasive and more efficient and practical methods of dealing with flooding or water quality.  We are asking that the all involved decision makers begin to work toward more fiscally and ecologically responsible solutions on these issues.
Marissa Jones
Lake Erie Waterkeeper,
Save Maumee Steering Committee Chair
Marissa@SaveMaumee.Org
Cited Work:
Effects of Rip Rap on Riverine and Riparian Ecosystems.” Army Corps of Engineers Report, April 2003.

“Functions and Values of Wetlands.” Environmental Protection Agency, September 1, 2001. http://water.epa.gov/type/wetlands/outreach/upload/fun_val_pr.pdf
Engineering With Nature; Alternative Techniques to Riprap Bank Stabilization.” FEMA Report, modified January 2011.
“Landscape Planting: Objectives and Engineering Requirements.” Chapter 2. Army Corps of Engineers ETL 1110-2-571, 10 April 2009.
“Western Lake Erie Basin Study, Upper Maumee Watershed Assessment.” Western Lake Erie Basin Partnership, 3 August 2009.

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