By Allie Nash
Indiana has enough water for drinking, manufacturing and other uses now but needs to plan to prevent shortages in the future, an Indiana Chamber of Commerce study has found.
The chamber released the report Friday. It shows that different regions in the state have varying water conditions and will face different types of water concerns in the coming years.
The report is “a call to action” for Indiana officials to better prepare for future water usage, said Thomas Bruns, president of Aqua Indiana and a member of a council that guided the study.
“What this study does is set the stage for creation of a long-needed, long-range water plan for the state,” said Vince Griffin, the Indiana Chamber vice president of energy and environmental policy. “While a creditable plan may take three to five years, legislators – from the Senate and House, as well as both parties – understand the importance o this issue and are prepared to lead on the next steps.”
The study was lead by Jeff Wittman, a geosciencist who lives in Indiana but works for INTERA Incorporated- a water supply planning and investigating company based in Texas.
“This study recommends that Indiana take more careful look at its resources to assure businesses that the water is here and we know how we are going to provide water,” he said.
A separate study done by the University of Michigan found Indiana to be first in the nation in the percentage of its economy that depends on water. Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar also noted that Indiana leads the nation for manufacturing, which uses significant amounts of water.
The study found that Northern Indiana has a large amount of water available but is seeing an increase in usage for things like irrigation. But it has a lot of ground water and flowing streams. Southern Indiana has water, but may not be able to meet the future demands of local communities and struggles with larges distances between water sources, including reservoirs.
The central part of the state has diverse water supplies and utilities are making plans for the future, but population growth projections show significant amounts will be needed.
Brinegar called the study one of the most important that the chamber has ever done. But he said it doesn’t tell state officials what to do about water issues.
“I’m going to emphasize that this document is not a water resources plan,” Brinegar said. “But it is the data, research and the analysis that the state of Indiana needs to produce a water resources’ plan.”
The study also covers who is overseeing the water and what that could look like in the future.
“This study also talks about governance,” Brinegar said. “It tells the current state of government in terms of who controls the water and all the different municipal waters. And that government system could be improved on and will need to be improved on in the future in order for us to meet our goal to ensure there is no area or region who has their economic growth and economic capacity inhibited by inadequate source and supply of water.”
Chamber officials say they hope legislators will use the study to determine next steps.
Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valpariso, said “implementing a statewide water plan will take time.”
“But, now we have a framework for analyzing Indiana’s current usage of water resources and a clear outline of additional steps necessary to protect this valuable asset for all Hoosiers,” said Charbonneau, who last year chaired the state’s Water Resources Study Committee.
Wittman said implementing a water resources plan could cost in the millions of dollars, but did not have an actual projection. When pressed, he said Oklahoma has a great water-monitoring program and spends about $10 million annually on it.
Wittman mentioned another problem that the state will face is distribution, which means moving water from counties that have it to those that don’t. And he said Hoosiers will eventually need to start conserving water.
“Conversation is so normal now in the rest of the country,” said Wittman. “And it has to become an absolutely normal thing to do here. Everyone here needs to be a part of it.”
Allie Nash is the executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.