Salt Creek Watershed

Salt Creek Watershed Group Vision

A healthy Salt Creek watershed that protects and improves Lake Michigan water quality, provides recreation for surrounding communities, and helps maintain a strong economic base and an excellent quality of life.

The Salt Creek watershed is located in Porter County within Indiana’s Lake Michigan basin. With a total of 49,573 acres, the Salt Creek watershed covers 19% of Porter County. In 2006, Save the Dunes began working with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to coordinate the development of a watershed management plan to address the non-point source pollution problem in Salt Creek. Save the Dunes worked closely with a diverse group of stakeholders – the Steering Committee – to develop a watershed management plan that addresses the issues identified by IDEM and those of community members and stakeholders.   The Salt Creek Watershed Management Plan was approved by IDEM in July 2008 and can be found HERE.


Water Quality Improvement Projects

Salt Creek Cost-Share Program for Critical Areas

Save the Dunes administered a cost-share program to implement the Salt Creek Watershed Management Plan. The Cost-Share program, funded through IDEM Section 319, allowed Save the Dunes to cost-share a portion of the cost to implement eligible agricultural and urban Best Management Practices (BMPs) in critical areas of the watershed. Cost-sharing reduces the fiscal burden on any single organization, and helps build capacity in other organizations for future water quality projects.



Thorgren Basin Naturalization & Retrofit

This innovative project was another successful collaboration with the City of Valparaiso. Thorgren basin was a 2-acre conventional stormwater retention basin owned by the City of Valparaiso. A conventional stormwater retention basin is designed to hold stormwater for a short time before conveying it to a nearby stream. They do not treat stormwater or reduce pollutants in the water. This project redesigned the basin to have greater overall stormwater storage capacity, sediment traps at both inlets for easier removal, a meandering flow path to reduce velocity, varied topography to develop multiple habitats (permanent pools, transitional wetlands, and upland infiltration zones), and native vegetation which includes grasses, trees, and flowers.

Thorgren Basin Naturalization and Retrofit Design Plan

Thorgren Basin Naturalization and Retrofit Design Plan

Save the Dunes acquired a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) grant to cover the project’s costs. An additional Forest Service grant (for trees) and volunteered resources from the City of Valparaiso helped to complete all the needed improvements.

The basin now annually removes 402 lbs of nitrogen, 130 lbs of phosphorus, and 23 tons of sediment from stormwater draining the Sager’s Lake watershed (which is a designated critical area in the Salt Creek Watershed Plan). Through this work, the site is now home to abundant wildlife as well as many different native plant species.

Thorgren Basin naturalization and retrofit

Thorgren Basin the first year following completion





Salt Creek Integrated Pilot Project

Save the Dunes is working with IDEM and USEPA Region 5 to maximize the opportunities to integrate Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), wetland, storm water, low impact development (LID), and 319 nonpoint source pollution management efforts. Building on the existing Salt Creek E. coli TMDL and the Salt Creek Watershed Management Plan, additional modeling and analysis will be conducted in support of an Integrated Watershed Pilot project. EPA Region 5 will work with Save the Dunes and IDEM using the enhanced technical information from this effort to identify potential wetland restoration sites, as well as impervious cover management guidelines for inclusion in the existing watershed management plan.

salt creek park forest park golf course rain garden

Rain garden at Forest Park Golf Course in Valparaiso.

Rain Gardens

A rain garden is a bowl-shaped garden used to manage stormwater runoff. Rain gardens have been installed throughout the Salt Creek watershed to protect the creek and educate the public about this beautiful solution to pollution. Save the Dunes and partners have planted rain gardens at Portage High School, in the Valparaiso roundabout, at Forest Park Golf Course, in residential areas, and at Haven Hollow Park with help from volunteers.




salt creek bioswale along Calumet Avenue in Valparaiso.

Bioswale along Calumet Avenue in Valparaiso.


The Salt Creek Watershed Group has installed bioswales throughout the watershed to protect Salt Creek. A bioswale is similar to a rain garden in that it is an attractively-landscaped depression used to treat stormwater runoff. Bioswales often contain amended soil and deep-rooted plants to promote infiltration and filtration as water is slowly conveyed downward. Save the Dunes and partners have installed bioswales at Valparaiso University, the Village in Burns Harbor, and along Calumet Avenue in Valparaiso.




Pervious Pavement

Pervious pavement allows water to soak into the ground below, recharging groundwater and filtering out pollutants. In 2010, Save the Dunes partnered with the City of Valparaiso to install a strip of pervious pavement and a bioswale in a parking lot located at Jefferson & Lafayette in the City of Valparaiso.

salt creek green roof at Imagination Glen Park in Valpo

Green Roof at Imagination Glen Park in Portage.

Green (Vegetated) Roofs

A green roof consists of a vegetated green space on top of a human-made, impervious structure. Save the Dunes partnered with the Portage Parks Department to install a green roof on a concession stand at the Imagination Glen soccer complex.

Engineering Feasibility Study

Save the Dunes conducted an engineering feasibility study of several projects that could protect and improve Salt Creek water quality through a grant from the IDNR-Lake and River Enhancement (LARE) Program. The study details the social, environmental, economic, and engineering feasibility of several potential projects.



Education and Outreach Projects

Hey – This Drains  to Lake Michigan!
salt creek sign

Signage developed for Valparaiso area by Save the Dunes in partnership with the City of Valparaiso.


water sampling2

Staff and students testing water quality.

Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring

Volunteers help Save the Dunes collect valuable water quality data to identify pollutant sources and critical areas of the Salt Creek watershed.  The volunteer program is a great way to help protect Salt Creek, learn about water quality, and get to know your watershed.  Save the Dunes works with the Hoosier Riverwatch Program coordinators to provide training and certification to volunteers.  In addition, we have partnered with local universities through the GLISTEN program to educate college level students on water quality monitoring.

salt creek rain barrerls

Addressing water quality household by household with rain barrels.

Rain Barrel Program

Through funding from Porter County Community Foundation, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the City of Valparaiso, Save the Dunes helped more than 300 home owners obtained rain barrels typically costing ~$100 for only $10. Participants attended a 30-minute workshop before picking up their barrel.  At the workshop, residents learned about stormwater runoff, watershed management,  the benefits of rain barrels, and how to properly use and maintain them over time.

Developing a Framework for Managing the Salt Creek Watershed

On May 16, 2006, Save the Dunes hosted a conference to inform Salt Creek stakeholders about watershed management planning and implementation. The conference, entitled “Watershed Based Planning: Developing a Framework for Managing the Salt Creek Watershed”, was held at the Porter County Administration Center in Valparaiso, Indiana. It was planned and conducted as an important step in raising awareness, overcoming barriers, and forming a collaboration of diverse community members concerned with the Salt Creek watershed.

salt creek watershed meeting

It takes tons of stakeholder input and collaboration to develop a meaningful watershed plan.

Storm Drain Marking

In the summer of 2006, Save the Dunes led a 7th grade watershed group from Willowcreek Middle School on a storm drain marking project in Portage, IN. Middle school teacher, Samantha Hayes and her after-school watershed club members, were enthusiastic about educating homeowners in Austin Hills and Landmark Acres, two subdivisions that drain into a nearby fen in the Salt Creek watershed. The students affixed curb markers reading “Dump No Waste, Drains to Wetland” to storm drains, and went door to door educating residents and distributing brochures with information on water pollution.

drains to lake