Advocacy group seeks protection of Indiana’s water resources

Herald-Times

March 24–Water is essential for life, and Indiana has “terrific” water resources, according to Bill Weeks, director of the Conservation Law Center in Bloomington.

Even so, there are many threats to Indiana’s water, and actions need to be taken quickly to ensure its quality and quantity. That’s what Weeks believes, and it’s at the center of a proposal he is presenting to the governor’s office today. The creation of a statewide water authority to help protect and manage the valuable resource is among the recommendations.

“For a long, long time, we never had to worry about water in this state,” Weeks said during a local Green Drinks event meeting on Wednesday, which was World Water Day. But that has changed, he told the audience, citing a growing demand on water for irrigation as well as clean drinking water throughout the state. Indiana also has a $1 billion water recreation economy that is vital to the state’s economy and quality of life.

Even with the federal Clean Water Act, which was enacted in 1972, more than 60 percent of Indiana’s stream miles and more than 90 percent of Indiana’s lakes are classified as impaired, the report states. The causes of contamination range from E. coli to PCBs, from mercury to algae. At Lake Monroe, it’s less E. coli and more having too little dissolved oxygen in the water due to algae growth, which can lead to “dead zones” where nothing lives, like the one in the Gulf of Mexico. “We have our own local version of that,” Weeks explained.

Indiana waters also have a large amount of E. coli bacteria, which come from livestock and also sewage that is piped into the waters, something that has been stopped in many other states, Weeks said. One solution to lessen runoff from livestock would be adding a buffer of vegetation between the livestock and waterways, Weeks said.

There is less testing of Indiana’s rivers, streams and groundwater today than 12 years ago, when the state had 100 monitoring wells. Today, there are only 30 monitoring wells throughout Indiana.

The reason? A change of budget priorities within Indiana’s Legislature, which lowered funds for monitoring, Weeks said.

The proposal Weeks will present today at the Statehouse is based on the “Water and Quality of Life in Indiana” study prepared by the Conservation Law Center and Intera Inc., which is a geosciences and engineering consulting firm based in Texas. Involved in the study was a steering committee of 11 people from various agencies, universities and companies including the Hoosier Environmental Council, the Indiana Environmental Rules Board and a farmer who was the former U.S. deputy secretary of agriculture.

What the steering committee discovered was that Indiana is behind, both in studying and taking steps to protect its waters.

The water study cited a Hoosier Environmental Council analysis that showed the general fund allocation for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s budget has been reduced by 39 percent since its high point in 2001-02 and 2002-03. It also stated that using those same years as a comparison, IDEM’s overall budget has dropped 21 percent.

Working toward solutions

What Indiana needs is a 21st-century approach to water, Weeks believes.

“We need to pay attention to this resource as if it matters,” he said, adding that part of the solution would be to develop an Indiana Water Authority, which would be a statewide authority with help from regional water boards. It’s one of the 14 recommendations in the water study.

The recommendation states: “Create the Indiana Water Authority to coordinate Indiana’s water management, catalyze needed investment and ‘roll-up’ regional plans into a comprehensive state plan that reflects state, regional and local priorities.”

Weeks said that planning in advance by regions across the state would allow better response to emergencies such as droughts or floods that would greatly affect Indiana’s clean water resources. That could include giving power to regional water boards to restrict or prohibit watering lawns and such activities during droughts, Weeks explained.

Weeks hopes the state Legislature and governor’s office will be willing to work toward creating regional and state water authorities, in part, because the state has already prohibited the use of microbeads found in face washes, toothpastes and abrasive cleaners that were causing environmental problems for fish and other aquatic animals.

He is also hopeful that Senate Bill 416, which would create a water authority to prevent a water crisis such as the one in Flint, Michigan, is the beginning of the type of water authority that could be developed. “It’s a start,” he said, adding that people should tell their state representatives and senators to support the Indiana Senate bill. The bill has already passed the state Senate, 46-2, with area state Sens. Mark Stoops, D-Bloomington; Eric Koch, R-Bedford; and Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville; voting for it.

Weeks also hopes groups of citizen scientists and other Hoosiers begin to work together to promote ways to monitor Indiana’s rivers, streams and groundwater. One such group that was mentioned at Wednesday’s meeting is the Friends of Lake Monroe group, which is currently working to ensure that all the water that drains into the state’s largest manmade lake is as clean as possible.

What’s recommended?

The Water and Quality of Life in Indiana study has 14 recommendations to modernize Indiana’s approach to its water. They are:

1. Invest in Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Geological Survey programs for monitoring groundwater levels and stream flows.

2. Fund the Indiana Geological Survey and others to perform systematic assessments of water resource and water supply availability in major river basins in the state.

3. Commit to managing Indiana water resources for their ecological and social values as well as their economic value.

4. Create the Indiana Water Authority to coordinate Indiana’s water management, catalyze needed investment and “roll-up” regional plans into a comprehensive state plan that reflects state, regional and local priorities.

5. With the IWA in place, have regional water management groups help implement and own the regional water plans.

6. Have the Indiana Water Authority develop and maintain a forecast of water demand for all water use sectors and help guide analysis and priorities.

7. Amend Indiana codes to require the state Department of Natural Resources to prepare flow duration curves for third-order and larger Indiana streams and rivers to help regional planners understand how to plan for minimum stream flow.

8. Plan for water conservation.

9. Research, develop, test and, if justified, implement new water storage.

10. Have the Legislature empanel a study committee to consider requiring livestock producers to maintain vegetated buffers.

11. Eliminate direct piping of untreated or inadequately treated waste into Indiana waterways, and fund local health departments so they can regularly inspect septic systems.

12. Empower county surveyors and drainage boards to take the environment into account when assessing drains and drainage projects.

13. Have state agencies recommit to improving water quality by possibly hiring more staff and providing funds for monitoring and enforcement.

14. Have IDEM vigorously protect streams that are recognized as outstanding, and address key issues of streams and rivers in and near large population centers.

Read the report at www.conservationlawcenter.org/water.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Waterways Council, Inc.