"Indiana’s water policies drown in bad press

A tough spill to swallow

In response to the national outcry over his decision to allow a Northern Indiana BP plant to dump tons of pollution into Lake Michigan, Gov. Mitch Daniels has now asked the former dean of the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs James Barnes to spearhead a review of the state and federal laws about Great Lakes water quality and the state’s process to implement those laws.

In June of this year, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management issued a new wastewater treatment permit to British Petroleum’s Whiting facility, allowing BP to increase the amount of total suspended solids and ammonia in treated wastewater 3,500 feet from the shoreline of Lake Michigan.

“The company met all state and federal requirements,” according to the Governor’s Office, “and U.S. EPA approved the permit as fully consistent with current federal and state water quality laws.”

Due to widespread criticism of the permit since its issuance, however, Daniels’ office is in spin-control mode.

“Hoosiers love Lake Michigan as much as anyone and would never knowingly do anything to endanger its health,” Daniels said in a press release Monday. “That goes doubly for the conscientious state environmental employees who studied the BP permit application.

“Indiana’s standards are tougher than the federal rules, and, as far as we know, fully protective of the lake’s water quality. On my order, we rechecked the science on this point, and reconfirmed our staff findings with the EPA,” the governor said.

“But as some have continued to question that judgment, I am seeking yet another opinion about the scientific adequacy of the standards our state has been using these last 10 years.”

The governor has asked Barnes to conduct a review of the current federal and state laws concerning Great Lakes water quality and permitting, including assessment of whether these laws are sufficiently protective of the Great Lakes system. He has also been asked to “evaluate the impact of BP’s proposed discharge on Lake Michigan’s quality and uses as a source of drinking water, recreation and aquatic life,” according to the Governor’s Office.

BP sought the water discharge permit after announcing in 2006 that it would invest $3 billion into an expansion of its Whiting facility to process crude oil from Canada. According to the governor, “IDEM followed all normal procedures in issuing the permit to BP; in fact, the permit is more stringent than normally would be required by federal law because Indiana has designated Lake Michigan as an outstanding state resource deserving special protection.”

Survey says … don’t drink the water

According to a new Sierra Club study, more than 50 percent of the sources used to provide water to Indiana residents are at high risk for contamination due to industrial pollution and lax oversight of federal clean water laws. More than 1.6 million of the state’s residents are affected by this risk, approximately 30 percent of the population.

The report, “Keeping Our Nation’s Public Drinking Water Sources Safe: Why Americans’ Drinking Water Sources are at Risk,” was released in May and details how big business is working to weaken federal water quality standards to increase their own profits at the expense of consumer health.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 90 percent of source water protection areas (areas protected for surface water intakes used for drinking water) contain headwater or intermittent streams, streams that flow only part of the year. The EPA estimates that more than 110 million people get their drinking water from public drinking water systems at high risk of pollutants.

“For the last 35 years, since enactment of the Clean Water Act, America’s waters have been protected and the quality and safety of our waters have improved,” the report states. “But now, developers, the oil industry and other polluters want to weaken these longstanding clean water protections. If these efforts succeed, they will introduce more pollution into sources of our drinking water, threaten public health and force communities to pay more to treat drinking water.”

The report is available at www.sierraclub.org/cleanwater/.

Buckets o’ bad press

Both Gov. Daniels and Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson avoided any acknowledgement of water quality woes when they held a recent joint press conference to announce Veolia Water was moving its U.S. headquarters to town.

Veolia, a French-owned company previously based in Houston, is the sub-contractor hired by the city of Indianapolis to oversee its water utility. Collectively, the state and city will give the multinational company more than $1.5 million in tax credits, incentives and abatements as a reward for the move.

The quality of water provided by Veolia to Indianapolis residents hasn’t gone unnoticed by national media, however.

A recent report from Men’s Health awarded Indy’s drinking water quality a solid “F.” The study “examined the most recent data on levels of arsenic, lead, halo-acetic acids and total trihalomethane (linked to cancer) …” They also looked at the number of EPA water violations from 1995-2005 and concluded that the quality of Indy’s drinking water is a dismal 99th out of 100 cities, second worst of all cities surveyed.

Additionally, the L.A. Times recently ran a feature entitled “Misconduct Taints the Water in Some Privatized Systems.” Journalist Mike Hudson spent several months gathering data and devoted several column inches to Veolia’s record here in Indianapolis.

While much of his findings have already been covered by NUVO in the past, Hudson noted that “Seven other current and former employees said in interviews that Veolia’s budget tightening had left the waterworks in poor condition.”

After citing other problems including ongoing state and federal investigations of claims Veolia has falsified records, Hudson concluded, “The industry’s prospects for growth may hinge on whether Veolia’s $1.5 billion contract with Indianapolis is judged a success.”


Get Involved

Given the credibility and reliability of government to provide clean water to Indiana residents, those who can should sign up to participate in Hoosier Riverwatch, a Department of Natural Resources education program designed to train people to monitor local streams and rivers.

The workshop will provide general education in water-quality issues and hands-on training in monitoring the health of rivers and streams through physical, chemical and biological testing.

After the training, volunteers can perform stream testing for a wide variety of possible pollutants. They then submit their data to a statewide volunteer monitoring database that makes the information available to anyone.

The next volunteer stream monitoring workshop is at Holliday Park, Aug. 18, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. The training is free, but class size is limited. A reservation is required to attend.

To learn more about Riverwatch workshops and volunteer activities, go to www.riverwatch.in.gov.