It has never been more important to improve and protect Indiana’s water resources, and the COVID-19 pandemic has helped elevate the urgency. There is an increased need for guaranteed clean water for drinking and sanitation to keep people and businesses safe. Pharmaceutical and biotech companies are using large amounts of water for research and development as they race to find solutions. Meanwhile, the natural resources in our own backyards, our rivers and lakes, have become a major source of respite as vacations, summer camps and concerts have been canceled.
The White River Alliance, a leading voice for water resource protection in Indiana, recognizes Indiana’s ongoing need for comprehensive water planning which has been thrown into stark relief during the pandemic. In response, the Alliance is bringing together dynamic speakers and national experts for the third annual, first virtual, Indiana Water Summit. This apolitical, inclusive forum examines the complex interests and issues that face our state’s diverse water supply.
The Summit will be held virtually on Aug. 12-13, broadcast from the Athenaeum in Indianapolis. Event topics are meant to inform water policy in Indiana, including some that have important ties to the pandemic, such as protecting source water supplies in cooperation with agriculture and understanding usage trends in our food and beverage industry.
Water is integral to the supply chains for food, medicine, manufacturing, energy production and more. The pandemic has shown us how quickly those chains can be disrupted. As our industries look toward their future resiliency, they are making sweeping commitments to water conservation, climate change mitigation and even pollution credit trading. This includes Coca-Cola, which has implemented a Water Neutrality Commitment, a strategy they will describe at the Water Summit. These sustainability goals and guidelines are being passed down to their material suppliers as mandates to lessen their own water and climate footprint.
Despite these corporate sustainability efforts, demand for water is growing. An ongoing study, sponsored by the Indiana Finance Authority, that is looking at water supply and demand in Central Indiana will be featured at the summit, as will a session on what’s polluting our waters. It’s essential to understand the many sources of water pollution and what best practices can be employed to secure a safe and successful future. This includes taking a hard look at how we manage water in our local communities and particularly what we are doing to protect important functional landscapes like wetlands and floodplains. This “rethinking” of water management also requires the widespread integration of stormwater green infrastructure and agricultural soil health practices. Many of the strategies featured at the summit will help ensure that we capture, keep and treat our water supply in a way that allows us to meet our future demand.
The summit’s agenda and activities continue to be the outcome of many diverse stakeholders collaborating around the idea that water is an interconnected resource that we all share and need. For the past two years, summit participants helped identify priority strategies across all water sectors. This year, sessions will blend out-of-state successes with panels of local leaders and explore methods to incentivize and facilitate solutions to complex water problems and best position Indiana to be resilient in the face of crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, future droughts and floods or the economic vulnerabilities within our industries.
You can learn more about the Summit at thewhiteriveralliance.org.
Jill Hoffmann is executive director for the White River Alliance.