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Burns Ditch and Trail Creek (Indiana)

Project Status: modeling is complete


Mouse-over to view tributary flow.

Due to the similarity and proximity of the Burns Ditch and Trail Creek watersheds in northern Indiana, the Corps of Engineers will develop one model for both watersheds.

River Basin Characteristics
The Burns Ditch (a man-made waterway) and Trail Creek watersheds discharge to Lake Michigan at Burns Waterway Harbor in Portage and Michigan City Harbor, respectively. The Burns Ditch basin includes portions of Porter, Lake, and La Porte counties, and covers 331 square miles. Major sub-tributaries to the Burns Ditch include the East and West Branches of the Little Calumet River, Deep River, and Turkey Creek. The Trail Creek basin falls entirely within La Porte County and covers approximately 59 square miles. Major sub-tributaries to Trail Creek include the East and West Branches, Wolf Run, and Waterford Creek.

Land use within the two watersheds is primarily agricultural, with some forested, urban, and industrial areas. Within the Burns Ditch basin, the East Branch of the Little Calumet River is a main source of sediment due to high agricultural use. Urban development in the upstream portions of the basin contributes to elevated levels of sedimentation in Lake George, a manmade lake created by the City of Hobart in the mid-1800s. The Lake George Dam also has important effects on the river reach located downstream of the lake. As a result, dredging has been conducted along the East Branch of the Little Calumet River and in Lake George at an expense of more than $2 million. Similarly, in the Trail Creek basin, the Federal navigation channel at Michigan City acts as a sediment trap requiring frequent maintenance dredging.


Sedimentation in Lake George (in the Burns Ditch basin) required 590,000 cubic yards of dredging in 2000.

Sediment contaminants of concern in the East Branch of the Little Calumet River include E. Coli and cyanide, while Trail Creek sediments contain E. Coli, Mercury and PCBs.


Water quality problems in Trail Creek include low oxygen levels and high turbidity.

Modeling Approach
The Corps has contracted with the Michigan State University (MSU) Institute of Water Research and Purdue University - Agricultural and Biological Engineering to expand the capabilities of an existing web-based land use planning system to create an enhanced, user-friendly watershed analysis tool specific to the Burns Ditch and Trail Creek watersheds. This new tool integrates the capabilities of MSU's Digital Watershed tool and Purdue's L-THIA tool, allowing users to access either of these models to browse local datasets to learn about a specific location of interest, generate local maps depicting specific data, and predict outcomes of various land use/management scenarios.

Modeling for the Burns Ditch and Trail Creek project is complete and available online at: Burns Ditch & Trail Creek Watershed Management System.

A training workshop for state, regional, and local partners took place on December 19, 2006, at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) in Portage, Indiana. A summary of the workshop is available for download.

Use and Applications
Tools resulting from this project may be used by stakeholders who are actively engaged in planning and other stakeholders who support planning in the Burns Ditch and Trail Creek watersheds to conduct preliminary assessments. Specifically, stakeholders can obtain an overview of the two watersheds using a map service and generate land use and impervious surface estimates. Second, stakeholders can assess before and after consequences of applying soil conservation and non-point source pollution measures to agricultural lands or land use changes (e.g. agricultural land to residential). Third, hydrologists may use a model to design a number of erosion and sediment control structures.

Project Partners
Michigan State University (MSU) - Institute of Water Research

Purdue University - Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - Region 5

Purdue University Extension
Save the Dunes Council
Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR)
National Park Service - Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service

Aerial photo of Burns Harbor

For more information contact:

David F. Bucaro, P.E.
Chief, Economic Formulation & Analysis Section
US Army Corps of Engineers - Chicago District
111 North Canal Street, Suite 600
Chicago, IL 60606-7206
Phone: (312) 846-5583
david.f.bucaro@usace.army.mil



Great Lakes Commission des Grands Lacs.  2805 S. Industrial Highway, Suite 100.  Ann Arbor, MI  48104-6791.  phone: 734/971.9135.  fax: 734/971-9150.  projects.glc.org. USACE, Detroit District GLIN Partner