Joining Team Green 

White River needs protecting

White River needs protecting

Can one woman save Indiana’s contaminated waterways? Not alone. That’s why Rae Schnapp, the official Wabash riverkeeper and water policy director at the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC), is rallying river communities.
Paul Schmidt and Andrew Dalton with junk from the White River.

Last Saturday, Schnapp led a clean-up of the White River as part of a larger statewide effort to “De-Trash the Wabash” and its tributaries. This particular clean-up was supported by the Indianapolis Colts and owners Meg and Jim Irsay. This season, Colts fans get a chance to “join Team Green” and learn about environmental issues at all Colts games. The hope is that some will get inspired to take part in actions like river clean-ups. Says Tim Maloney, executive director of HEC, “A connection to the river can lead to an interest in protecting it.”

By all accounts, the White River needs protecting. The waterway is listed as a Category 5, meaning that it fails to meet federal water quality standards, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s 303(d) list. The culprit? High E. coli bacteria levels due to discharges of untreated sewage and runoff from confined livestock feeding operations upriver. E. coli means eating fish caught in the river or swimming in the river could make you sick.

If E. coli is an invisible threat, solid waste such as tires are a more obvious pollutant. It’s no wonder the White has been considered a dumping ground for tires. According to water activist John Bundy, there isn’t a single designated tire recycling facility in Indiana, even though there are 6 million defunct tires here. In scoping out the White River for this clean-up, Schnapp spotted 60-75 tires. Schnapp persuaded the Firestone Company to handle any tires the river cleaners could dredge up. When the day was done, the 30-odd volunteers ended up with several canoes worth of tires and trash.

For more information about the Hoosier Environmental Council’s riverkeeper program and future river clean-ups, visit

The art of junk extraction

I was among the green-minded souls gathered on a late October Saturday of vibrant sun and 20 mph winds to collect junk from the banks of the White River.

Paul Schmidt, Andrew Dalton and I piled into a canoe and braced ourselves for a stiff headwind. Before long we were yanking away at a plastic patio umbrella protruding from a high bank, just south of the Riviera Club. We figured this piece of detritus had been lodged in the dirt for a good 30 years, and it took at least 20 minutes to get it out with a shovel and Andrew’s elbow grease.

Buoyed by our success in extracting most of the umbrella, we paddled on, debating whether to stop for the smaller but no less ugly transgressions such as a Wal-Mart bag caught in a tree branch or a Faygo bottle on a sandbar. By the time we hit the Michigan Road underpass, we had collected a lawn chair, two Talk-to-Tucker signs, a boot, a skateboard, an electric fan, a fridge filter, mattress coils, carpet and a grill. Some of this was too big to pile into the canoe, so we left it on the banks for the trailing barge to retrieve, arranged like a contemporary art sculpture.

Being this close to the river, laced with fallen leaves, I’m reminded that its beauty easily masks its imperiled health.

Laker is a longtime NUVO contributor and member of the Hoosier Environmental Council board of directors.

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