Drought fuels renewed drive for a statewide water policy

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The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is finding that there is nothing quite like a dry, arid, hot summer to spark people’s interest in water.

Vince Griffin, vice president of energy and environmental affairs at the chamber, has been busy in recent months meeting with different groups around the state who have invited him to talk about the need for a statewide water policy. His main point is that water and electricity are the backbone of the economy and without either, the economy will not exist.

stemler Stemler

The chamber’s focus on water is nothing new. It has been calling for legislative action for some time and is again listing the crafting of a water policy as one of its top legislative priorities for the 2013 session.

Water has always been a sleeper issue, Griffin said. The drought of 2012, called the worst in 100 years, just woke people up and may provide the impetus for the Indiana General Assembly to act.

However, what the content of any potential water legislation would be and even if any bills will be introduced is unknown. The Water Resources Study Committee did examine the impact of the drought and water management but was unable to adopt recommendations or file a final report because it had a lack of quorum at its last meeting.

Still, Rep. Steve Stemler, D-Jeffersonville, has stated he anticipates introducing a bill addressing water accessibility. Also, Gov.-elect Mike Pence specifically highlighted in his Roadmap for Indiana that his policies will include directing state agencies to establish a plan for managing the state’s water resources and for accelerating the effort to clean the state’s waterways.

Stemler and other members of the water resources committee were unavailable for comment.

In general, Griffin said, the questions are simple: Where is the water? Who’s going to need the water? And how are we going to get the water there?

The answers, on the other hand, will be much more difficult.

Running dry

During the 2012 session, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 132 which directed water utilities in the state to report annually to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission the types of use and the operations and maintenance costs. The IURC will then submit a summary of the data to the Legislature in the first quarter of 2013.

John Hardwick, chair of the Water Utility Council Committee of the Indiana Section of the American Water Works Association and retired director of the Valparaiso City Utilities, believes that data will provide a clear direction for water policy and planning.

Unless the state takes water concerns seriously, Indiana will not be able to sustain its drinking water supply, Hardwick said. He believes many aquifers around the state are not refreshing themselves as fast as they once did.

The worst case scenario he presents is even more frightening.

“Without planning, there may be individual pockets around the state that run out of water,” Hardwick said.

Already have statutes

Jack Wittman, director of geosciences at Layne Christensen Co., is optimistic both the incoming governor and the Legislature are serious about tackling the water issues. It is, he said, a purely bipartisan topic.

He sketched a series of water policies that he touts as creating a win-win situation for industry, farmers and municipalities. Among his proposals are:

• River bank filtration which would pump the shallow groundwater near rivers. These sources of water are drought resistant and offer the quality of groundwater but with the limited impacts of surface water diversion.

• Aquifer storage which would put water back into the aquifer. Regulations should encourage storing water and not place too many limits on what water (drinking or runoff) is allowed in. The natural ecosystem will cleanse the contaminants and bacteria.

• Conservation which would reduce the waste of water resources.

Daniel McInerny, a partner in the environmental law and agribusiness groups at Bose McKinney & Evans LLP, has represented parties in water disputes and noted often tensions arise over whose priority is more important.

Indiana common law and the statutes in place have been able to address these water issues, which makes him question the push for additional policies and regulations.

“Is there a need for something else?” McInerny asked. “I don’t know.”

A key statute governing water usage in the state is the Emergency Regulation of Ground Water Rights, I.C. 14-25-4. This provision protects owners of small-capacity wells from significant water-level declines and failures caused by large users. These large users are defined as entities that withdraw at least 100,000 gallons of water per day.

Through this statute, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Water investigates complaints and, if it determines the large user is impairing the water level, has the authority to restrict the pumping of water and seek compensation for the small-well owner.

Appeals of the findings can be made to the Natural Resource Commission. In 2012 no appeals were filed, which is significant in light of the number of complaints and, some say, indicates the statute is resolving issues.

In June and July, the period when many systems were running full tilt, the DNR Water Division investigated 150 to 200 claims, said Mark Basch, head of the Water Rights and Use Section of the DNR Division of Water. In a normal year, the division investigates an average of 100 complaints over the course of an entire 12 months.

The problems this year were no different than past years, Basch said. The well failures happened in the same areas that typically have chronic supply issues during the summer.

Basch agrees the water statutes are working, but he does not think that is enough reason to not take a deeper look. Specifically, it would be helpful if the Legislature would make an assessment of the groundwater and surface water resources in the state to determine if those resources will meet future needs.

Timing and location

Indiana, as a whole, has plenty of water, Wittman said. The problem is timing and location because while water is plentiful, it is not always available where it needs to be.

Such a situation can hinder energy production and economic growth. Businesses looking to start big operations want to know the location will provide adequate power and water.

One area currently seen as ripe for economic development is the southwestern section of the state along the new portion of Interstate 69. That area can grow quickly, Griffin said, but it has a limited water supply and raises the concern of how to get more water there.

“If we continue to have drought years, we’re going to have trouble because we haven’t figured out a way to get water to where it needs to be,” Wittman said.

Although any proposal to transfer water usually raises howls, he advocates for an infrastructure and policies that allow for moving water but with the caveat that water will never be taken from anyone who is using it.

Under his proposal, the state would invest in building system pipelines that tap into new, more drought-resistant sources like the Wabash and Ohio rivers. This would not divert water from a source that is already being used but rather it would add to the total amount available to residents.

“What we’re talking about isn’t for today,” Wittman said. “It’s for 20 years from now.” •


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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.