The Star Press in Muncie: Proposed reservoir threatens rare dragonflies


Proposed reservoir threatens rare dragonflies

Some warn MoundsLake reservoir would destroy an ice age fen

Apr. 1, 20141:56 AM   |

The clamp-tipped emerald dragonfly is a rare species in the Mounds Fen State Nature Preserve. / Photo provided by Jim McCormac

Written by
Seth Slabaugh

Restoration ecologist Kevin Tungesvick says MoundsState Park is home to ancient trees that would be destroyed by MoundsLake reservoir. / Photo provided by Kevin Tungesvick.

The public is invited to a Mounds Fen State Nature Preserve walk on June 29. Tom Swinford, a regional ecologist at the Indiana Department of NaturalResources, will lead the walk. To attend, contact the East Central Chapter of the Indiana Native Plant and Wildlfower Society


MUNCIE — The star-nosed mole, the clamp-tipped emerald green dragonfly and the shining lady’s-tresses orchid could get in the way of plans to build the controversial Mounds Lake reservoir.

The Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society (INPAWS) says the reservoir would flood an ice age fen that is home to rare species and undermine the state’s nature preserves act, “which has not faced such a challenge since its passage in 1967.”

The $350 million lake would be created by damming the White River in Anderson, creating a reservoir over what is now seven miles of free-flowing river from Anderson upstream to an area north of Daleville.

According to an upcoming article in The INPAWS Journal, “as the reservoir drama unfolds, proposals will surface that natural resources lost through flooding will be mitigated by replacing them elsewhere through habitat restoration.”

The author, Lee Casebere, retired assistant director of nature preserves for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, writes, “In this case … how do you replace a glacially created, ground-water-fed complex system whose parts are not fully known or understood? It can’t be done.”

Kevin Tungesvick, a local restoration ecologist, recently told bird watchers from the Robert Cooper Audubon Society the fen (a type of wetland) “is so hydrologically and geologically complex … you cannot recreate this setting. In other words … fens are not created by men; fens are created by ice ages.”

Proponents of the lake say at this stage the reservoir is just a concept subject to an in-depth environmental assessment before it could become a reality. Its supporters include numerous local government officials in Madison and Delaware counties and the owners of Mounds Mall, which would be inundated.

Because it is not open to the public without special permission, the Mounds Fen State Nature Preserve at MoundsState Park in Anderson is virtually unknown. The state park itself, bordering White River, is also home to a species “of special concern,” the semi-aquatic star-nosed mole that feeds on insects and worms.

The fen results from water percolating through glacial gravel deposits, according to DNR. The emerging ground water is highly alkaline and creates a rare ecosystem. The fen was dedicated as a state nature preserve in 1980 because of its clean water and high biodiversity.

“Within the fen there’s an even more specialized habitat called a marl flat,” Tungesvick said. “It’s completely saturated.” That is where some of the rare species are found, including shining lady’s-tresses, a member of the orchid family.

The “floristic” quality of the fen has been found to be of “paramount importance” to the natural heritage of East Central Indiana by biologists at BallStateUniversity, who documented 478 species of plants in the wetland.

Rare dragonflies

The fen is also home to the rare brown spiketail dragonfly, which inhabits seeps, fens and small, spring-fed streams. “No wonder it’s in Mounds,” Tungesvick said. “Mounds has all three of those habitat types.”

The fen is also one of only three Indiana sites for the grey petaltail dragonfly, which has been on the planet for 200 million years. Females lay eggs in permanent, hillside seeps.

A third rare species of the fen is the clamp-tipped emerald green dragonfly. “I’ve had one hover in front of me in the wetland,” Tungesvick said. “It’s quite dramatic to see those great big green eyes staring at you.”

During a meeting with the bird watchers at Kennedy Library, Tungesvick criticized a phase 1 environmental assessment commissioned by The Anderson Corporation for Economic Development, the organizer of the reservoir.

“The consultant said because these rare dragonflies are mobile as adults, they would likely not be impacted,” Tungesvick said. “Uhh, yeah! These require breeding habitat, and the breeding habitat would all be inundated by the reservoir.”

INPAWS is also raising concerns about the impact of the reservoir on the state park itself as well as on miles of forested river bankswhere crow-size pileated woodpeckers are common.

“All the deep ravines in the park that harbor spring-fed streams that never freeze or dry up would be destroyed by the reservoir,” Tungesvick said. “If you have ever hiked Trail 5 along the river, you are aware of all this water gushing out of the hillside.”

He added, “In effect, MoundsState Park would become all edge. It’s that way a little bit already: kind of a long, skinny park. The reservoir takes away of course beloved Trail 5 where everyone hikes, runs and cross-country skis.”

The reservoir would come within 50 feet of one of the ancient earthworks built by the mound builders for whom the park is named, Tungesvick said.

‘Fishing in the algae’

Opponents claim damming the river will create a reservoir vulnerable to algal blooms because of agricultural and urban fertilizer runoff and livestock manure.

“If you’ve been in Broad Ripple or anywhere in Indianapolis where dams impede the flow (of White River), this is what you see: blooms of algae and Eurasian watermilfoil (an invasive aquatic plant that branches profusely and forms a dense canopy over the water’s surface),” Tungesvick said, displaying photographs on a screen.

“The fly fishing group I spoke to loves the free-flowing river,” he said. “They don’t want to fish in the algae. The river in this section falls at a pretty rapid rate. You see mini-rapids or extreme ripples that are pretty fun to go over in a kayak or a canoe. One of my favorite things is floating under the sycamore trees through this stretch of river. It’s a great place to be on a sunny day.”

State law prohibits the taking of nature preserves for any other use except another public use and only after a finding by the natural resources commission of the existence of an imperative and unavoidable public necessity for the other public use and with the approval of the governor.

“If this did proceed, that would be a very controversial topic right there,” Tungesvick told the bird watchers, referring to whether the project qualifies as an “imperative and unavoidable public necessity.”

DNR calls nature preserves “living museums” that contain a record of the state’s original natural character.

Proponents say MoundsLake would provide billions of gallons of water to central Indiana that would mitigate drought and flood impacts and allow the entire region to continue to grow economically for decades to come.

MoundsLake is still just a concept, “a good idea,” the Anderson Corporation for Economic Development reports. Coming next is an in-depth phase 2 assessment of environmental issues, financial issues and community impact.



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