Just how much water is in Indiana?
That’s a very good question, one that cannot be easily answered for all areas of the state. Those of us within the Lake Michigan watershed are fortunate; there’s lots of water. However one only has to review last year’s drought stories to realize wells outside the Lake Michigan watershed suffered shortages or actual water loss.
There are reservoirs in southern Indiana. Many communities depend upon the ability to access water from rivers such as the Ohio, Wabash, Maumee, White, Kankakee and others. Agricultural and some residential users are solely dependent upon groundwater aquifers. But where will growth occur and how will the needed water for quality of life and economic development be supplied?
Many reference Mark Twain’s quote upon his return from California so many years ago -- “whiskey’s for drinking, and water’s for fighting.” Indiana can skip the fighting aspect and work to plan for our future as it relates to water supply, proper protection and distribution.
State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, chairs the Indiana Water Resources Legislative Study Committee. At a recent meeting, Charbonneau had multiple state agencies report on their areas of responsibilities as it relates to water quantity and quality. A presenter mentioned that though we have multiple areas covered by one or more agencies, it will be necessary to put someone in charge.
To get things started, in 2012 the General Assembly enacted Senate Enrolled Act 132, which requires the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to gather information about the state’s water resources. SEA 132 also required the IURC to complete a Water Utility Resource Report which can be found at www.in.gov/iurc. The report summarizes the findings by saying:
- Very little research has been conducted on the nexus between water and economic development.
- Better coordination is needed at the state level among the various agencies so water issues can be explored on a broader scale.
- Strategic planning is lacking for many medium and small utilities.
The report outlines 10 recommendations, and one in particular stands out.
Begin integrated water resources management. The IURC report offers that typical water management focuses only on water-supply development without consideration of ecosystems or social impacts. IWRM promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources to maximize economic and social welfare fairly without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems and the environment.
Indiana’s leaders are taking this issue seriously and have begun a deliberative process to address IWRM as well as the remaining nine recommendations.
Whereas Lake Michigan water is not going to be diverted to other parts of the state because of the Great Lakes Compact’s restriction, Northwest Indiana needs to be actively involved in working on this project.