By Lacy Scarmana
Indiana industries rely more on water than any other state, according to a recent report from the University of Michigan. And now, a new study commissioned by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce in partnership with INTERA, warns that unless state officials take action now, Indiana could face water shortages in the future, which could, in turn, hurt economic growth.
Currently, ground and surface water in Indiana are regulated with riparian water rights, which is a system for allocating water among those people and businesses who own land along the water.
“Indiana looks at water, particularly ground water, as kind of like the Common Law, where it’s there available for anyone who wants to use it as long it’s a reasonable, beneficial purpose,” says Mark Basch, section head of Water Rights and Usage in the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.
Following the report, the Chamber of Commerce has issued a call to action for the state legislature to develop a long term water management strategy.
Rhonda Cook, Director of Government Affairs and Legislative Counsel for the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, served on the advisory council for the Chamber’s study and says the number one component for moving forward is raising awareness by educating people about the potential of water shortages.
“Right now, Indiana has enough water. We’re fine,” she says. “But in the future, we can see that’s not probably going to be the case as our population grows, which it’s supposed to grow by a million people by 2050, as the report points out. We’re going to have different demands.”
She suggests increased well monitoring and developing a standardized method for analyzing data from ground and surface water throughout the state.
The report also states there should be cooperation and leadership from the state’s universities.
Frank Nierzwicki, lecturer in the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, serves on the board of the Indiana branch of the American Planning Association.
“I strongly believe that Ball State with their planning school, Purdue with agriculture and engineering, and obviously IU with SPEA both in Bloomington and in Indianapolis should be involved in this project and I’m very excited,” he says.
The possibility of moving forward with any of the study’s suggestions depends on how important the legislature thinks a statewide water management plan is and whether they are willing to fund it.
An expected start-up cost of 10 million dollars per year for the first three years is expected, but could range closer to 50 million dollars annually once the management system is in place.