IUPUI and Oregon State University researchers have developed an interactive online program that they say could help restore wetlands that once covered the state, while reducing flooding and boosting crop production.
Researchers say Indiana has lost more than 85 percent of the wetlands it had prior to European settlement. Those wetlands and small lakes helped capture rainwater.
The web-based program WRESTORE, short for watershed restoration using spatio-temporal optimization of resources, is aimed at restoring those watershed characteristics. It allows users to test multiple landscape designs and conservation practices to see which ones produce the best outcomes, both for the economy and the environment.
For example, a farmer could see how water might run off of his land if he used a specific type of watershed design. By playing with the web tool, he might find what design would allow him to retain the proper amount of water for his crops while avoiding flooding and unnecessary runoff.
IUPUI Computer and Information Sciences Professor Snehasis Mukhopadhyay, one of the leads on the project, says the program is just an advisory tool. It is the landowners and city and county leaders who still have to put it into practice.
“And so I think if we can demonstrate to the stakeholders, that whatever their individual preferences are, a particular design is going to help with that,” Mukhopadhyay says.
Indiana Farm Bureau staff attorney Justin Schneider says the project is a great tool for farmers. Still, he cautions against a piecemeal approach to solving the state’s water issues.
“I think it’s important to take all of those different isolated projects that are going on and try to bring it all to together create one long-term plan that maximizes the resources that are available,” Schneider says. Because it’s not easy, and it’s not really practical to just take land here and there out of production.”
But there is already interest in the project. The researchers are working with the Eagle Creek Watershed Alliance just west of Indianapolis to maximize resources in the watershed. Mukhopadhyay says he expects to see noticeable results there within the next few years.