Holding Ground

by Shane Gibson, Environmental Education Director

This article originally appeared in the fall 2018 issue of The Twig, our newsletter for Sycamore members. To see more articles or view it as a PDF, click here.

When I talk to students about water quality, most are surprised to discover that the number one pollutant of our water in Indiana is sediment. But it’s true: the Environmental Protection

Agency lists sediment as the most common pollutant in rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs. As you read in the cover article, factors like erosion, surface runoff, and plant and animal decay can all lead to sediment buildup in our waterways, and this affects the health of the environment and we humans who depend on it.

Clean water speaks to many of us. According to a 2017 poll commissioned by the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust (a Sycamore funder), the environmental issue that concerns Hoosiers most is clean water. Ninety percent of respondents in this statewide poll were “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about the water they drink, swim, and fish in.

Part of caring for the earth is building a conservation ethic among Hoosiers of all ages, so that all will embrace the responsibility to protect it. Through Sycamore’s Environmental Education program, we reach more than 5,000 participants annually, mostly students pre-k through 12th grade. We teach about water quality through hands-on stream site assessments, macro-invertebrate identification, dissolved oxygen, and pH testing, all to help determine the overall quality of the water and riparian area. Students learn first-hand how a healthy habitat impacts water quality.

Native plants are outstanding at holding onto soil because the root system is so deep and extensive, and perfectly suited to our climate. The roots also help soil absorb more water, slow down the flow of water, trap sediment, and naturally filter runoff. For example, native big bluestem grass can grow six feet or more above ground while the roots extend eight feet below ground. Compare that to typical lawn grass roots, which extend only a few inches below the surface.

One of the most rewarding programs we bring to schools is the Native Plant Project, funded by several groups including the Duke Energy Foundation, INPAWS, and the Brabson Library and Educational Foundation. Through this program, students have planted hundreds of trees and thousands of native plants on their school grounds and Sycamore properties across southern Indiana. You can read more about the Native Plant Project in our summer 2018 issue of The Twig, available at

You can help!

All of us have a role to play in reducing sediment runoff, and we can all make a difference!
– When mowing, leave a 10- to 25-foot buffer around the stream bank.
– Sweep driveways and sidewalks instead of hosing off into drains or waterways.
– Use erosion-control blankets or straw when re-seeding an area or after tilling a lawn.
– Notify local government officials if you see sediment entering streets or waterways near a construction site.