White River Timeline

Both the Miami and Delaware Indian tribes originally inhabited the area surrounding the West Fork of the White River. Settlers began arriving in the area in 1801.

Early White River Settlement (1800’s)

In 1886, natural gas was discovered, beginning the Gas Boom. Increasing population and industry created from this boom resulted in large discharges of pollution to the White River.

Photo Credits: Ball State University Libraries (Archives and Special Collections), John Craddock (Director Emeritus, BWQ), The Minnetrista Heritage Collection (Muncie, In diana), Rick Conrad (Aquatic Biologist, BWQ)

Pre-Bureau of Water Quality (1901 – 1972)

By 1901, Muncie’s population had swelled to over ten thousand people. Industries producing steel, bricks, and cars discharged pollution directly to the river.

By the early 1970s, the White River in Muncie was extremely polluted. Wastewater treatment plants, combined sewer overflows, raw sewage discharges, founderies, steel mills, battery and transmission plants, tool and die shops, and numerous other point source stressors discharging directly and indirectly to the White River had gone unregulated.

It was common to see the White River run green, brown, yellow, and/or red from additions of untreated industrial waste and raw sewage.

Toxic pollutants (including ammonia, cyanide, and heavy metals) were in such high concentrations in the White River that it was unsuitable for all but the most tolerant forms of aquatic life and unusable for human recreation.

Photo Credits: John M. Craddock, Director of Emeritus, Bureau of Water Quality

Post Bureau of Water Quality (1972 – Present)

“We only have one Earth, let’s all work for its protection.”

John Craddock, Director Emeritus

Bureau of Water Quality (BWQ) Established in 1972

The BWQ was created as a local testing and enforcement agency designed to clean up and protect the White River by addressing potential pollutants from various sources including raw sewage discharges, combined sewer overflows (CSOs), industrial discharges, and agricultural or urban runoff to name a few.

Fish Community Assessments

Aquatic Insect Assessments

Chemistry Assessment/Analysis

In response to these threats, the BWQ implemented Industrial Pretreatment Programs, testing of the Wastewater Pollution Control Facility (WPCF), and biological monitoring of fish, aquatic insects, and mussels to monitor and improve local water quality.

White River Headwaters

The West Fork of the White River originates approximately forty miles upstream of Muncie, Indiana.

Numerous recreational activities including fishing, canoeing, hiking, bird-watching and many others are provided by this river. The White River also provides water for crop irrigation and industrial uses. It is the primary source of drinking water for several cities, including Muncie and Indianapolis.

Present Day

Today, cleaner waters have led to a return of numerous fish, mussels, birds, and mammals along the White River. Though much has been accomplished, many threats to water quality remain. The BWQ will continue its efforts to restore and protect the resources of the White River for the citizens of Muncie and Delaware County.

Today there are 65 species of fish present in the White River in Muncie.

More than 100 species of insects are present, with the majority being clean water species.

Improvements In Water Quality

Through BWQ programs, the White River has shown extensive reductions in pollutants. The graphs below display changes that have taken place as measured just downstream from Muncie.

Zinc (Zn) concentrations have been reduced 77% from the 1970s , while lead (Pb) and chromium (Cr) have seen a 97% and 83% reduction, respectively.

E. coli concentrations have been reduced 87% from the 1970s.

Ammonia (NH3) has seen a 94% reduction since the 1970s, while phosphate (PO4) has seen a 78% reduction.

Continuing Threats

Habitat Alteration/Loss

  • Dredging
  • Riparian (bank vegetation) removal
  • Channelization
  • Wetland destruction


During rainfall events, untreated wastes may be discharged directly to the White River

  • Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs)
  • Storm drains

Other Non-point Pollution

  • Agricultural Runoff
  • Urban Runoff