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Why Business Leaders Say Indiana Needs A Water Plan

Chamber officials says if legislation doesn't make water supply a priority, Indiana could lose business.

Quarry

Photo: Jess Kaiser (Flickr)

Study finds water supply in Indiana is limited, especially in the south.

Over the next few months, legislators and other policy makers are working to establish recommendations on how to create a statewide water management plan.

The task stems from a report the Indiana Chamber of Commerce released last week, warning that new economic development could put a strain on the state’s existing water supply. Officials there say if action isn’t taken in the next 20 years, Indiana will face serious water challenges.

The first meeting is part of a legislative study committee that will convene on Sept. 2, and by the next legislative session in January, they hope to have a proposal in place that lawmakers can put to a vote–and fund.

The Chamber of Commerce estimates the next step in water data collection could start at $10 million a year.

But before they get to that point, there are several factors that need to be considered.

The most important, chamber officials say, is how a water plan, or perhaps more accurately stated, not having a water plan, could affect Indiana’s manufacturing industry.

Why Indiana’s Water Supply Is Key For Businesses

Sixteen percent of jobs in Indiana are tied to manufacturing, and that number is growing as companies recover from the recession and others decide to relocate here.

One of the things that makes Indiana so attractive for businesses isn’t its tax rates or business friendly legal environment (although those are also factors). It’s the state’s abundant water supply.

In fact, a report last year from the University of Michigan found Indiana’s manufacturing intensive economy is more dependent on abundant sources of water than any other state in the country.

Take BG Hoadley Quarries in Bloomington for example.

It’s harvesting season at the quarry, and owner David Fell says he can use up to 500,000 gallons of water each day.

“It’s essential,” Fell says. “Without water we wouldn’t be able to operate our saws.”

We have to pay attention in a way we haven’t ever before.” – Jack Wittman

The quarries pump water from a reservoir on-site, and that way they don’t have to pay for city water, an option they had to turn to in last year’s drought.

“If this hole goes dry we have another hole to go for,” Fell says about their water source. “So until they run out of holes we’re not going to be that worried. But right now as far as planning goes, we’re starting to plan now.”

Several years ago, the state labeled BG Hoadley as a significant water withdrawal facility. By definition, that means it can pump at least 100,000 gallons of water per day or about 70 gallons per minute.

When a facility gets this classification, it’s subject to increased monitoring from the Indiana Division of Natural Resources.

“You look at actual water usage by the state and the past couple years, we have a little over 4,000 registered facilities in the state, capability of pumping 100,000 gallons per day,” Mark Basch, head of water rights and use at the DNR says.

The DNR keeps data on all the wells in the state so at any given time the agency knows where water is being used and for what reason. That data was referenced in the chamber’s study.

Hydrogeologist Jack Wittman was the lead author on the water resource study the chamber of commerce commissioned.  He says the state could better understand how to manage its groundwater if it made use of the data it already has and also made an effort to increase groundwater monitoring wells across the state.

“We have to pay attention in a way we haven’t ever before,” Wittman says. “So what we’re going to have to do is make use of resources that have just sat idle. Imagine a road no one drove on. That’s basically what we’re talking about.”

Wittman says the state has only 30 monitoring wells, which he says is an embarrassing figure.

Indiana Water Supply Differs In Each Region

As we mentioned, Indiana has an abundant water supply, but things aren’t entirely equal across the state.

The Chamber’s report divides the state into regions:

Northern Indiana’s resources are strong, but face a growing need for irrigation.

Central Indiana has diverse water supplies but the need for water will increase with population growth.

And, Southern Indiana’s water sources are too spread out, leaving many parts of the region limited.

 

Chamber of Commerce officials say the report is one step towards creating a plan that could help manage the water use in the parts of the state that may not have as much access to water.

For example, the entire route of I-69.

“It is cutting through arguably the most dry area of Indiana,” Griffin says. “It’s not good water resources along there until you get to waterways themselves. You can drill a long way through rock and not get much water at all. So it’s going to be critical to figure out a way for that corridor to get water up and down it to be economically developed.”

The chamber says cooperation and coordination between the counties and the local businesses such as Fell’s quarry are key in establishing a water resource plan.

“This is actually about local control, this is very much a ground up suggestion” Wittman said at the study’s release. “This is not a top-down idea. This is really about providing the information about aquifers, river, etc. but then allowing the regions to provide their own perspective and priorities about how that water should be used.”

What This Means For Local Business

Without an established water supply plan, Griffin says businesses might not continue to be as eager to relocate or expand in Indiana.

“We like jobs, we like business, we want to grow business, keep business here. And the fact is that Indiana has great water resources,” Griffin says.

Griffin says the chamber will look to legislation next year to keep looking into water management and how to fund it.

“We don’t see the DNR or IDEM doing this or the USGS but they have the data and info to feed into this, so they’re going to be a critical part of this,” Griffin says. “There will probably have to be legislative action to empower whatever that entity is to go to these people and say we need to see this data and make that happen.”

Until we’re pushed to the edge we’re not going to look at it any more seriously than we are now, but we have to have water.” – David Fell

Back at the quarry, Fell says it wouldn’t do him any good to worry about water now.  He has plenty.

He tries to just put it in the back of his mind and remain hopeful the state will come up with a plan before there is a problem.

“For us until we’re pushed to the edge we’re not going to look at it any more seriously than we are now, but we have to have water,” Fell says.

Casey Kuhn

Casey Kuhn is a reporter working for WFIU/WTIU news. Originally from Cincinnati, she recently graduated from Indiana University with a B.A. in journalism. Her main interests are dogs, baseball, and food. Follow her online at @CaseyAtTheDesk.

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