Plants, Grants and Group Work to Clean Up Morse

Plants, Grants and Group Work to Clean Up Morse
Writer / Krista Shields

Morse Reservoir is getting cleaner because a group of concerned residents have been busy applying for grants to promote safety and a cleaner environment – The Morse Waterway Association (MWA). Although the grant did not fund the pedestrian walkway along 236th street, which is slated to be finished in June, 2014, it will be used in Red Bridge Park. It was written to implement a rain garden between the parking lot and the reservoir. This garden will reduce run off from the parking lot and will serve two other purposes: “one, the root systems grow deep into the soil absorbing engine oil and radiator fluid from parked cars and two, the plants produce oxygen” , stated the Park Superintendent, Charlie Cambre. The Utility Department and the Parks Department will be implementing the garden in the summer of 2014.

The aesthetically pleasing fix became an opportunity for waterfront residents as well. Sixteen residents recently took advantage of the grant for rain gardens and shoreline plantings, which help to prevent direct runoff from driveways and lawns directly into the reservoir.

Jeff Wells was one of these residents. According to Wells, he was provided with information about what was native and grew well under submersion. He said they came up with a plan with their landscaper and submitted it to the program. “We had a spot that was an erosion problem for us and the reservoir,” Wells said. “It was really steep and the water would just run straight into the reservoir when it rained.” The grant is up to 75 percent, or $2,000. Though Wells’ complete project was over the limit, the grant supplemented the project and educated the homeowners on what was best for their property.

Cheryl O’Bold heard about the program through a postcard she received in the mail. “Michelle Kearn with White River Watershed was very easy to work with on the project,” O’Bold said. “She came out to my property promptly to see if we were a candidate. The area had a lot of debris that kept washing into the lake as well as quite a bit of erosion.” The area has since been cleared and planted with native plants that filter the water. The native plants include black-eyed Susans and irises as well as other blooming plants. “I like all the colors,” O’Bold said. “They are small, but in a couple of years they should really get full and make a larger impact visually for the lake.”

Indiana Conservation Officer Bill Doss said, “Growing up around Morse Reservoir and seeing the diverse ways the water is used helps us see the need for improvement. Several agencies work tirelessly to improve the quality and aesthetics of Morse Reservoir. For those who live around the reservoir, it is important to take care of this body of water. If you look at what has happened to the White River here in the county since the cleanup initiatives started, it is amazing. Imagine what Morse Reservoir will look like in 10 years!

“As a Morse Reservoir cleanup volunteer in the past, I can attest to the need for more volunteers. Not only is the cleanup needed to improve the aesthetics of the reservoir and water quality, but for those living on the water, their property values. I’m a supporter of these initiatives, and those residents of the Morse Reservoir need to take advantage of these grants,” said Doss.

The total funding for the projects was $57,900. The projects are all to be completed this calendar year. “An IDEM Section 319 grant was obtained by the Upper White River Watershed Alliance in 2012 to implement best management practices in priority watersheds, including Cicero Creek watershed,” MWA President Jim Schneider said. “The UWRWA’s grant will continue to implement BMPs to reduce nonpoint source pollutants including sediment throughout 2014.” These pollutants include nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural runoff, which result in higher levels of toxic blue-green algae. IDEM flagged Little Cicero Creek, which feeds into Morse, for the high levels of E. coli. “Because of these high levels, Little Cicero Creek is listed as an impaired stream in Indiana, meaning that it does not meet state standards for water quality,” Schneider said. Though they have cleaned up the island, hauled 10 loads of garbage from the reservoir every year, numbered all the docks, and now obtained a $50,000-plus grant, Schneider still estimates that about 40 percent of the residents on Morse don’t know that the board exists.

“As a resident of Morse, I see the positive impact the reservoir can have on our community,” said Matt Clarke, vice president of the MWA. “Initially, when I joined the MWA, my main concern was the overall quality and level of the water in the reservoir.”

Started in 2005 to clean up the water, the board is helping to do just that. They work closely with the Upper White River Watershed Alliance, the Department of Natural Resources, the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation Department, and Hamilton County surveyor, the city of Noblesville, and the town of Cicero. According to MWA, “they support the 1,400 homeowners living on the reservoir, the surrounding community, and the weekend recreational boaters and fishermen.”

The group meets on a monthly basis to discuss their many projects, including Safety Awareness Days, the Cicero Triathlon and lake cleanup events. They also have other environmental projects underway for the future.

Despite the steady success the group has seen to date, they are still looking for volunteers to assist with their annual cleanup. The event will take place on July 12 and volunteers can sign up on the group’s website at

MWA has also posted a message from the Indiana Wildlife Federation on their website that includes tips for residents to improve Morse water quality.

How can I help?

*Don’t use a phosphorus fertilizer unless it is a new lawn or a soil test shows signs of low phosphorus levels.
*Don’t over-fertilize your lawn.
*The best time to fertilize is in the fall. If the ground is frozen, do not use fertilizer.
*Clean up any fertilizer spills on surfaces such as driveways.
*Use grass clippings and fallen leaves as mulch.

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