New Video Shows How Farmers in Indiana Are Working to Improve Water Quality From Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico

The Nature Conservancy Expands Work along Wabash River  with Support from Nestlé Purina PetCare Company

Indianapolis, Indiana | March 21, 2017

Mars Harlan’s farm is eight miles south of Terre Haute along the Wabash River.

Farming is the only job he’s ever had, and over the years, he’s seen the Wabash flood many times, losing crops in the flooded lands. Recently, Harlan worked with The Nature Conservancy to start restoring natural habitats in these “marginal” floodplain lands.

“The land along the river is actually very good soil,” Harlan said. “If you could just keep the water off of it, it’s some of the best soil in the world. You just can’t count on it every year when the river comes in and takes your crops out. That’s what makes it marginal.”

Harlan and other farmers are working with the Conservancy to take their often-flooded lands out of production, restore natural habitat, and ultimately reduce the amount of nutrients and sediment in the Wabash River.

Harlan is featured in a new short video produced by The Nature Conservancy, which shows how the Conservancy is working with agriculture and industry to improve water quality. It also includes animation showing how nutrients can enter our waterways and make their way to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Conservancy has worked for decades to protect water quality in the Wabash River, a critical tributary of the Mississippi River Basin and a resource for drinking water, agriculture, industry and wildlife. Reducing nutrient runoff along the Wabash is part of the Conservancy’s system-wide strategy to improve water quality throughout the 31-state Mississippi River Basin and reduce excessive nutrient pollution that causes the Gulf of Mexico dead zone each year. With generous support from Nestlé Purina PetCare Company, the Conservancy has expanded its work along the Wabash and throughout the Mississippi River Basin to achieve a healthy source of clean water for both people and nature.

Purina’s support of $120,000 is helping the Conservancy to:

  • Enact a system-wide approach to help reduce nutrient runoff — primarily nitrogen and phosphorus — into the Mississippi River Basin,
  • Work with private agricultural landowners to restore at least 150 acres of critical floodplain to wetlands and woodlands in key locations along the Wabash River, and
  • Assist participating landowners to enroll their croplands in the Fieldprint® Calculator, an online tool from Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture that helps farmers analyze the environmental and operational impacts of management decisions made on the farm.

“We have a lot of respect for the way farmers have stewarded their land while increasing yields to feed our ever-growing population,” said Jack Scott, director of sustainability for Nestlé Purina PetCare Company. “We are proud to play a small role with The Nature Conservancy and farmers to continue this journey.”

“Purina’s contribution is making it possible for us to build upon decades of work to protect an invaluable river system that supports our way of life here in Indiana as well as in communities throughout the Mississippi River Basin,” said Mary McConnell, state director of The Nature Conservancy in Indiana. “Restoring and protecting floodplains along the Wabash is a win-win strategy for farmers and nature we can undertake to also improve the water quality in the Wabash and have a significant impact on the health of the Mississippi River.”

Connecting Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico
Although the Wabash River drains about 1.1 percent of the total Mississippi River Basin area, it delivers 11.4 percent of the nitrogen that flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Nutrient pollution — primarily excessive nitrogen and phosphorous — in the Gulf creates an annual “dead zone,” an area of low oxygen that makes it difficult for marine life to survive. The dead zone disrupts the valuable fishery of the Gulf, threatening commercial and recreational fisheries valued at almost $1 billion.

Nutrient runoff from fields cost Midwest farmers an estimated $400 million each year. This nutrient loss escapes into streams and rivers, damaging natural areas, tainting drinking water supplies, impairing fish and wildlife habitat, and imposing tremendous water treatment costs on communities. To help reduce nutrient loss, more and more growers are introducing conservation practices on their farms—from buffer strips and cover crops to precision farming and conservation tillage. To complement these efforts in and around the croplands, it’s essential to restore natural wetlands and reconnect floodplains. These natural areas catch nutrients and sediment that escape into waterways, trapping them before they have an opportunity to flow downstream.

Protecting and restoring floodplains helps to slow the flow of the water, allowing nutrients to settle as opposed to continuing to flow downstream. To date, the Conservancy has helped protect or restore 44,000 acres of floodplain habitat along the Wabash River. The Conservancy’s goal is to protect or restore an additional 10,000 acres by 2022.

“The funding from Purina is allowing us to scale up our work and address the critical issue of nutrient pollution that is not only impacting our treasured Wabash River here in Indiana, but countless communities and wildlife throughout the Mississippi Basin,” said Larry Clemens, director of The Nature Conservancy’s North America Agriculture Program. “Our work will have lasting impact on the health of one of America’s most iconic river systems and the millions of people who depend on it today and for generations to come.”

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.

Contact information

Chip Sutton
The Nature Conservancy
(317) 829-3915


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