Bordering Lake Michigan, Northwest Indiana is blessed with abundant water resources. Water accessibility promotes community health, stability and economic development. Unfortunately, not all parts of Indiana have this vital resource at their fingertips.
Since water is a limited resource, how do we best manage what we have?
The General Assembly’s Water Resources Study Committee, which I chair, is focused on water-related issues. What I have learned from expert testimony thus far is that Indiana lacks a cohesive plan to ensure that our water resources are both protected and used appropriately. This was made apparent last summer when the Midwest was stunned by an unexpected drought.
The 2012 drought has been reported as the worst since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Communities across the state took action to regulate lawn irrigation and wasteful water usage, trying to preserve every last drop until the rain returned. Many of Indiana’s fields and crops were devastated. And this past August, Northwest Indiana endured a minor drought that was enough to make farmers weary of the potential impact on their harvest.
Experts at our committee meeting proposed the creation of a drought response team to minimize the impact future droughts may have on our state. This would allow resources and emergency workers to more effectively reach the hardest hit parts of Indiana, giving Hoosiers more peace of mind. In situations as serious as the drought we experienced last year, this team could make a major difference in how our families and businesses cope.
Lawmakers on the water resources study committee also reviewed accessibility to water that’s safe for household use. While our lakes and rivers provide great water for irrigation, cooling and other various uses, most of it is not drinkable. Indiana relies heavily on underground aquifers for that supply.
Northwest Indiana benefits from numerous aquifers and a beautiful lakeshore. However, other areas of our state contain bedrock and limestone, which make it more difficult to access water. When it is harvested, treatment is often required to extract minerals before it is safe to consume.
Since water is a limited resource, we must consider how much of it is potentially untreatable or unrecoverable. Water used for certain agricultural and industrial processes often contains chemicals, hormones and contaminates. When discussing policies and regulations, it will be necessary to create a system that balances the requirements of these economic sectors, as well as residential needs.
Although we are not in crisis mode, Indiana must plan for the future now. The development of a comprehensive water management system will allow us to plan for growth and more easily address emergencies down the road. It will also allow for recreational use of our aquatic resources and help Hoosiers maintain their quality of life.
Lake Michigan water cannot be diverted to other parts of Indiana because of the Great Lakes Compact’s restriction. Regardless, Northwest Indiana needs to be actively involved in the planning process. It’s our goal to be the first state east of the Mississippi River to implement a water resources management plan.
As we move toward the 2014 legislative session, I look forward to hearing more input on what we can do to leverage our water advantage while preserving our natural resources.
Please contact me at Senator.Charbonneau@iga.in.gov or (800) 382-9467 with your thoughts on this issue or others.