Expert: Water access will drive Indiana's economy

2013-03-22T18:00:00Z 2013-03-24T09:57:06Z Expert: Water access will drive Indiana's economyLauri Harvey Keagle lauri.keagle@nwi.com, (219) 852-4311 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | A water expert believes Indiana is uniquely poised to attract development because of the state's abundant water supplies, but lawmakers need a plan to ensure the resource is promoted.

"The national picture is going to drive industry right here because we're wetter here," Dr. Jack Wittman said. "The state understands the jobs follow and that's what we have to understand: The jobs follow the water."

Wittman, general manager of Layne Hydro in Bloomington, Ind., shared his research with stakeholders gathered Friday at Purdue University Calumet's World Water Day summit.

"We are really trying to take action when the memory of the drought is still fresh," Wittman said. "Indiana and everywhere else on Earth, if it just rained, people have a hard time remembering when it didn't rain."

Wittman said the 2012 drought, which hit 63 percent of the U.S., caused a 1 percent drop in the gross domestic product.

"There are very few natural disasters that will do that," he said.

Wittman said the northern part of the state, particularly Northwest Indiana, has an abundance of groundwater and surface water. The amount of water available declines southward, with central Indiana having a moderate amount and southern Indiana having the greatest need.

"We are not uniform hydrologically and that is the big issue when it comes to where we need to go next," Wittman said.

Power plants, industrial facilities and agriculture all need water to operate, he said.

"Agriculture is the fastest-growing single sector in the economy in the past decade," Wittman said. "Agriculture is a really important economic driver in our state."

Infrastructure also plays a role, particularly highways and their correlation to areas with water access.

"We haven't really matched these things up," he said.

Indiana Senate Bill 132, passed in the last session, required all municipalities to submit water use data for 2012 including their source, customers, cost of delivery and alternate water supplies.

Wittman said the bill is "a good starting point," but does not ask the same questions of power companies, industries and agricultural users.

"Every state around us is doing planning, so we have to go in this direction," he said. "It's the only civilized way to move forward, but all of the players have to be involved. It isn't just about municipalities."

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