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Indiana seeks water use strategy

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Indiana's water resources include surface water, as seen here running through Clifty Falls State Park in Madison, and ground water holdings. Legislators are seeking to better understand how much is here, how much is being used and how long it will last. - PHOTO COURTESY OF "PMY CAMERA AND ME" VIA FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS
  • Photo courtesy of "Pmy camera and me" via Flickr Creative Commons
  • Indiana's water resources include surface water, as seen here running through Clifty Falls State Park in Madison, and ground water holdings. Legislators are seeking to better understand how much is here, how much is being used and how long it will last.


By Olivia Covington

Indiana has one of the best water supplies in the nation but lacks a central management system to ensure it is used appropriately, experts told the Water Resources Study Committee on Monday.

"While other states are fighting over water, I think we're in a position where we should be laying out a plan (so) we don't allow our water advantage that we have today to go to waste," said Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, who chairs the legislative study committee.

Hydrologist Jack Wittman told the committee that while much of the western part of the country is facing a drought, Indiana is "in one of the better areas of the country" for water supply. But, portions of Indiana are still receiving less water than needed.

Wittman said most water competition occurs in the High Plains, the Southwest, the Gulf Coast and metropolitan areas, so Indiana doesn't face much competition. But, since Indiana doesn't have any major rivers or lakes that provide drinking water, the state has to rely on underground aquifers for water.

Most of the state's aquifers and other water sources are in the north, but water is needed the most in the south. Wittman also said there are "barely adequate" supplies of water in central Indiana.

"We have to be cognizant of the fact that water is a limited resource," Charbonneau said.

The state's natural resources, environmental management, agriculture and health departments - plus the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission - all have some jurisdiction over different areas of water management. Wittman and Charbonneau each said they believe the state needs a plan to oversee all areas of water management.

"We don't have a statewide plan for the construction of infrastructure and regulation of (an) increasingly important resource: water," Charbonneau said. "We need to be recognizing ... and leveraging our water advantage while preserving and enhancing natural resources by providing a sustainable approach to water that will protect the quality and quantity of water now and well into the future."

Experts also said Indiana needs to plan for the state's future. Purdue climatologist Dev Niyogi said droughts like the one in 2012 are difficult to foresee, so he said the state should create a drought response team to deal with the effects of dry weather.

Niyogi also said he believes the state should shift some of its focus to water plans in cities, rather than focusing only on water for agriculture and irrigation.

Legislators took some first steps to developing a water management plan by passing Senate Bill 132 in 2012, which requires water utility companies to submit an annual report detailing their water use to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. But, Commissioner Carolene Maystold the committee very few utilities submitted usable data.

Olivia Covington is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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