GUEST COMMENTARY: Indiana's water is cleaner than it once was

2012-06-29T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Indiana's water is cleaner than it once wasBy Thomas Easterly nwitimes.com
June 29, 2012 12:00 am  • 

We want to make sure Northwest Indiana residents receive accurate information about Indiana’s efforts to address mercury and PCBs in our waterways. 

On average, mercury concentrations in fish in Indiana are less than half of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency criterion.

The complex nature of the properties of mercury should also be noted. For example, although we have reduced mercury air emissions in Indiana and are seeing reduced mercury concentrations in our waters, mercury levels in fish remain virtually the same over the past 30 years.

PCB levels in fish in Indiana have been dramatically reduced and are about 1 percent of the values they were 30 years ago.

Indiana’s waters are, by all accounts, much cleaner than several decades ago. Several initiatives have been undertaken by IDEM and our partners in the environmental and regulated communities in the last few years to further improve our waters. For example, IDEM imposes strict mercury limits on entities that discharge into Indiana waterways.

Over the last eight years, IDEM has also worked to cleanup a backlog of 263 outdated permits, issuing new permits with more stringent and updated requirements.

Also, since 2005, the number of communities with long-term control plans to reduce discharges from combined sewer overflows has grown from just nine to 105. The remaining three communities are in negotiation.

Just this year, Indiana’s Water Pollution Control Board passed new anti-degradation rules that will protect Indiana waters from unnecessary pollution, including waters that currently meet water quality standards. IDEM is proposing new water quality standards that will help protect our lakes from increased nutrient pollution.

Indiana has developed a mercury reduction plan, has regulations in place, and has implemented voluntary reduction programs. Using 2002 as our baseline, air emissions in Indiana will have reduced by 64 percent by 2018, including the 50 percent we achieved by 2010 and the additional 14 percent projected. 

Finally, comparing the number of impaired miles in Indiana and other states is like comparing apples and oranges. Indiana aggressively tests its waterways and therefore might appear to be more polluted than other states that monitor less and have less data.

Failure to recognize the progress made by industries, municipalities, environmental groups, and IDEM paints a false account of our state’s progress in improving water quality. We hope the public will visit our website at www.idem.IN.gov/4149.htm for additional facts about mercury.

Thomas Easterly is commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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