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Removing 17 Elephants from the Wabash River

The Nature Conservancy Promotes Two-Stage Ditch to Protect Our Water; Assists Landowners to Implement Design

Newburg, Indiana – WEBWIRE

The weight of 17 elephants will be removed from the Ohio and Wabash Rivers. Their equivalent weight in nitrogen, that is.

A new practice implemented by The Nature Conservancy will help clean the waterways that provide an abundance of water to Southwest Indiana. This water drew original settlers to the area, and still today, is a commodity on which communities, businesses and farms rely. Keeping this water clean, however, as it flows through the landscape and eventually downstream, can be a challenge.

Excess nutrients—particularly nitrogen and phosphorus--from urban and rural sources find their way into the Wabash, which then feeds into the Ohio, which leads to the Mississippi River, then onto the Gulf of Mexico, where the nutrients are causing the infamous Dead Zone.

The Nature Conservancy is working with landowners to prevent polluted runoff from entering our streams by promoting an innovative drainage ditch design called the two-stage ditch.

”The two-stage ditch provides several benefits,” said Brad Smith, Program Director for the Conservancy’s Southwest Indiana Project, based in Evansville. “Not only does it help to slow water flow, thus reducing downstream flooding, it also results in less harmful nutrients entering our streams, which ultimately improves water quality.” In fact, a half-mile two-stage ditch reduces nitrogen by 53 tons per year (that is equal to the weight of 17 elephants).

“We want the two-stage ditch to be the go-to drainage practice for farmers,” said Smith, “It makes sense for farmers; it makes sense for water quality.” But, unfortunately not enough landowners know about it.

Alcoa Foundation has generously funded a project to jump-start The Nature Conservancy’s promotion of this innovative two-stage ditch in Warrick and Vanderburgh Counties. As part of the Alcoa Foundation funding, the Conservancy is looking for landowners in either Warrick or Vanderburgh County interested in learning more about the two-stage ditch.

The two-stage ditch mimics a more natural stream channel when compared to conventional ditches. The design of the two-stage ditch has a low flow channel and a corresponding bench that allows for bank overflows to occur within the confines of the ditch. The benches within a two-stage ditch function more like stream-side floodplains, slowing the flow of water and reducing bank scouring.

“The Nature Conservancy believes that wide-scale implementation of the two-stage ditch can be part of a viable long-term solution to benefit local and state-wide water quality,” said Smith. “And this grant will set new standards and promote the two-stage ditch.”

The Conservancy has posted instructional powerpoint presentations on its website that provide an overview of a two-stage ditch technology. Landowners In Warrick or Vanderburgh Counties interested in implementing the two-stage ditch should contact Brad Smith at (812) 401-4243.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at


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