How we can preserve the White River, and why it matters

Everything starts somewhere. For the White River, it’s in a farmer’s field in Randolph County just south of Winchester. The river winds its way through farms, woodlands, industrial sites, small towns, and even big cities, eventually feeding into other rivers that take the waters to the Mississippi River. This long journey is amazing in itself, but the story of how the White River got to where it is today — how it journeyed from being a once industrially polluted, sewage-filled river to a freshwater habitat and recreation site — is even more remarkable.

That story starts in the late 1800s, when an advertisement to recruit businesses to Muncie touted the city’s healthful location by declaring, “A perfect sewerage system conducts the drainage to the White River, by which the refuse of the city is carried far away.”

Yikes.

The White River back then certainly was not the community gem it is now. But, while it’s no excuse, that practice was not uncommon for the time. For decades, many rivers across the Midwest were used as sewer overflows and as dumping sites for industrial waste; industries producing bricks, steel, or cars regularly discharged toxic pollution directly into rivers. On any given day, the water in the White River may have been green, bright orange, brown, or red from the untreated industrial waste and raw sewage.

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