St. Joseph River Water Quality

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St. Joseph River Water Quality

The St. Joseph River is a very beautiful complex system that for well over a century has been the lifeblood of the communities of Elkhart, Mishawaka, and South Bend.  It has been central to the development and growth of South Bend through the years - from being an early trade route and providing power for industry to becoming a vital recreation, tourist and economic development resource.  In addition to being an asset to the community, the St. Joseph River supports an entire ecosystem that includes various wildlife and vegetation.

Where does the St. Joseph River flow?

Water in the St. Joseph River travels over 200 miles.  The river originates near Baw Beese Lake in Hillsdale, Michigan.  It meanders into Northern Indiana heading southwesterly through Elkhart and Mishawaka until it makes an abrupt northerly turn at "the Bend" towards Michigan.  

What impacts the St. Joseph River Water Quality?

Throughout its journey, the St. Joseph River encounters point and non-point source pollution from industrial, urban, and agricultural areas. The river is also pressured by upstream disturbances from its delicate tributaries.

The wastewater treatment plants discharging effluent into the river must meet stringent water quality limits through their National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit.  This helps minimize pollution to the waterway.

How is the Water Quality in the St. Joseph River?

Despite sources of pollution, the St. Joseph River continues to fluorish, hosting diverse wildlife communities and providing a multitude of recreational and aesthetic opportunities for stakeholders.

Like most U.S. cities in the Northeast and Midwest, our local cities have combined sewers. During dry weather, they act like separated sewers. However, when it rains or snow melts, the sewers can be overloaded.  These combined sewers of stormwater and sewage were designed to overflow into the river to help prevent the sewage from backing up into people's homes. Eliminating these overflows is part of South Bend's long term control plan, but is very costly and will take several years to complete. In the mean time, it is recommended to not have body contact with the water after rain or a large snow melt.

311 Process Notes

Please forward questions about the river water quality to Michelle Smith at 5994.  Please forward questions about the long term control plan to Kieran Fahey at 5993.  Please forward questions about combined sewer overflows or the NPDES permit to Andrea Alexander at 5813.