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Indiana has nearly 36,000 miles of rivers, which are an extremely important part of Indiana's past and present. The major rivers in the state include the Ohio, Kankakee, Wabash, White, and Tippecanoe.

Rivers were important in settlement times because they were a major source of transportation for the pioneers. They have also served as a travel route for aquatic and terrestrial animals, as well as plant life, thus playing "a key role in shaping the present distribution of much of the state’s native flora and fauna” (Huffman 217).

An example of the importance of rivers in Indiana is the Big River area, which helps form the southern and part of the western state border. It is composed of the Ohio River, the lower Wabash River, and the lower White River. The Big Rivers’ aquatic environment is of “tremendous size…with its own distinct assemblage of aquatic organisms” (Huffman 217). More fish, such as silvery minnows, channel catfish, and white crappies, exist in the Big Rivers than in any other bodies of water in the state. Furthermore, because of the steady current in the main channels and slower, deeper pools, several rare fish species, such as lake sturgeons, alligator gars, and skipjack herrings, also survive there.

Typically, when ecologists and geologists talk about rivers, they also talk about watersheds. Watersheds refer to the entire landscape that drains its surface water into a particular lake or stream. Indiana has thirty-nine major watersheds, all of which are important when considering water quality in a given area. If, for example, pesticide runoff contaminates one tributary in a watershed area, the larger body of water it drains into is also contaminated. Thus, the broader implications of water pollution can be best understood by examining the drainage patterns of water within a watershed.

Fortunately, efforts have been made to improve the river water quality, such as improved agricultural practices and better wastewater treatments, but these rich ecosystems will probably never regain the pristine quality of pre-settlement times.


Huffman, Hank. "Waters in Motion: The Big Rivers Natural Region." The Natural Heritage of Indiana. Ed. Marion T. Jackson. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991. 217-22.

State of Indiana. Department of Environmental Management. Office of Water Quality. "Executive Summary." Indiana Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report 2002. 2002. 18 Nov. 2002 <www.in.gov/idem/water/planbr/wqs/quality/2002integrept/

---. Department of Environmental Management. Office of Water Quality. "Watersheds 101: Useful Things to Know About Your Water Resources." Watershed Action Guide for Indiana. 2002. 18 Nov. 2002 <www.in.gov/idem/water/planbr/wsm/chapter8.pdf>.