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Taxpayers Likely To Pay Billion-Dollar Water Infrastructure Costs

The first meeting of Indiana's Water Infrastructure Task Force (Rebecca Thiele/IPB News)

The state Water Infrastructure Task Force held its first official meeting Wednesday. Legislators created the group last year to study the state’s water systems and make a plan to tackle water and wastewater needs. 

It’s looking into things like how growing populations and businesses will share water as well as replacing aging water lines and septic systems.

The Indiana Finance Authority says those improvements will cost about $2.3 billion — and that doesn't include stormwater or wastewater upgrades. Other estimates varied, but all were in the billions.

Jack Wittman, vice president of INTERA Geoscience & Engineering Solutions, says one thing’s clear — taxpayers will have to cover that cost.

“People pay water bills, that’s what they do,” he says.

Greg Ellis with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce says it's unlikely Indiana would receive much federal help as few federal dollars are spent on water infrastructure improvements today. 

Wittman says as the state’s infrastructure continues to age, the cost to fix the state's water system will only get higher. City of Evansville Water Distribution Manager Duane Gilles says the Evansville waited longer to fix some of their improvements and is now paying the price.

READ MORE: We’re Using Less Water, But Indiana Industries Still Need A Lot Of It

Perhaps more than any other state, Indiana relies on water for its industries. Manufacturing cars, medical devices, and drugs requires a lot of it. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce says if the state wants more businesses to move to Indiana, it will have to ensure that those industries and their employees have enough water. 

Several presenters suggested that breaking up the state into water regions would allow each part of the state to address its unique needs.

“Conversations that take place among water users that share the resource. That’s what’s needed, that’s what’s been identified," says Wittman.

Wittman says that would also help in water disputes where aquifers cross state lines.

Some experts suggested that smaller utilities could use more oversight and that the state may want to improve requirements for those utilities to form. 

The Water Infrastructure Task Force is scheduled to meeting again on Sept. 26, Oct. 10, and Oct. 30.

READ MORE: Climate, Water Resources Subjects Of First Water Summit

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.

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