Please consider the risks before you head out for a paddle. Stay safe and enjoy!
The White River is an incredible recreational asset, but like all mid-sized rivers it can become a dangerous place to recreate after a rain event. We’ve designed a three tier system to help you understand the risks associated with both flow and contamination.
Fast flowing water can be dangerous even to the most experienced angler or paddler. It’s important to know and understand that what is normal for one river in terms of streamflow maybe dangerously fast for another. Streamflow is how fast a river or stream is flowing and is measured in cubic feet per second (CFS). The USGS (a federal agency) monitors stream and river conditions all over the U.S., including several locations in Indiana on the White River. We are using their live stream gauge data to show the flow of the River in several locations and color-code this flow (red, yellow, or green) to provide you some content for the real-time risk that may be present. Please take a minute and check current river conditions before you head out and end up in a potentially dangerous situation.
The White River flows through six primary counties in central Indiana and receives direct point source pollution and indirect non-point source runoff pollution from 1.7 million acres of land. The diverse land use across this watershed results in many pollution risks along the River’s length. In fact, due to routine pollution loads, the White River in central Indiana is on the State’s list of impaired waters (i.e. waters that do not meet State water quality standards). For this reason, and until we can shift its fate, it is important to always take precautions during and after recreating in the River (e.g. never drink river water while recreating, be sure to wash your hands and body after recreating, etc.).
Many of the pollution sources to the River are intensified by rain events, particularly stormwater (storm drain outfalls), septic systems, and combined sewer systems (CSS). A CSS collects rainwater runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater into one pipe. Under normal conditions, these systems transport all of the wastewater it collects to a sewage treatment plant for treatment, then discharges to a water body. However, during heavy rainfalls or snow melt the volume of wastewater can often exceed the capacity of the CSS or treatment plant. When this occurs, untreated stormwater and wastewater discharges directly to nearby streams, rivers, and other water bodies. This is known as a combined sewer overflow (CSO). CSOs contain untreated or partially treated human and industrial waste, toxic materials, and debris. CSO events are a serious threat to human health and the environment. The main stem of the White River is impacted by 4 CSO communities – Muncie, Anderson, Noblesville, and Indianapolis – each containing numerous discharge points. To help you gauge your risk to these CSO events, we’ve assigned a red flag warning to the River’s current conditions when enough rain has occurred to trigger a nearby or upstream CSO.
Low Risk Flow
If the current flow is shown as a green flag, the river is at or below normal flow conditions.
Medium Risk Flow
If the current flow is shown as an orange flag, the river is at flood stage and is NOT safe for recreation.
High Risk Flow
If the current flow is shown as a red flag, the river has exceeded flood stage and is NOT safe for recreation and should be considered EXTREMELY DANGEROUS.
Low Risk Contamination
Green flag conditions would be ideal (i.e. water is fully safe to recreate in, reliably). Until the State is able to change the River’s impaired status, we will not issue a green flag. You can do your part to help reduce pollution levels in order to influence this status, learn more here.
Medium Risk Contamination
Orange flag warning means that pollution levels don’t meet State water quality standards. This means that the River routinely has bacteria and other contamination concerns. Those recreating should proceed with caution.
High Risk Contamination
Red flag warning means that there is likely raw sewage in the river, as well as elevated bacteria and debris due to flow from untreated stormwater outfalls. Recreation should be avoided.