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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Water now, water forever: Hoosiers deserve a clear water policy

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Humans fight wars over oil, diamonds and gold. All of these commodities carry monetary value, but none are a basic requirement for life. Imagine what value water may command one day if it’s treated as a commodity.

Yet Indiana, currently blessed with abundant water, blithely ignores what’s increasingly clear: water will be the critical factor in whether a place is habitable or not. Like most states Indiana does not have a comprehensive policy to ensure Hoosiers can rely on our water supplies for generations to come.

The LEAP development near Lebanon has done something environmental advocates so far have been unable to: focus the water issue. It has created a circumstance where diverse groups such as the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, the Indiana Farm Bureau and at least 10 communities along the Wabash River have called on lawmakers to enact comprehensive water policy.

The Nature Conservancy in Indiana and many others have long advocated for such a policy. It requires the state to establish priorities for water supplies, policies for how and where it should be distributed and standards for ensuring all Hoosiers have sufficient clean water.

This policy must take into consideration many things the General Assembly has studied in recent years. Wetland policy is critical because these natural sponges help control flooding while purifying and replenishing aquifers. Drainage policy is important to ensure equity, supply and purity. Development policy is critical to ensure new projects are near sufficient water supplies.

Policy must also consider who has access to water and how it’s distributed. Right now individual homeowners have little protection for their well water supplies; likewise our cities and towns’ water supplies are equally at risk.  And sufficient water quantity is meaningless if we allow polluters to foul our water.

Sadly, the General Assembly has rolled back wetlands protections in recent sessions, and a drainage task force failed to reach consensus on any recommendations after more than a year of study.  

Lawmakers did, however, double the appropriation for Clean Water Indiana in the last budget and included $10 million in new funds for the President Benjamin Harrison Conservation Trust. They also created an important framework to create watershed development commissions.

Now is the time for Gov. Eric Holcomb and the General Assembly to muster the resources to determine a path forward and provide the legislative framework to make it happen. This is an effort rarely undertaken, but water is too important to Indiana’s future for lawmakers to shrink from the task.

The objective is simple: Enact laws and regulations to ensure Hoosiers have access to adequate clean water so its residents and economy can flourish well into the next century.

The details are difficult, but the expertise is abundant. Engage the experts from industry, universities and state agencies. Draw on conservation and environmental groups who are dedicated to these principles. Create a transparent process so Hoosiers can trust their interests are being served. And appropriate the money necessary to do the hard work leading up to the policy decisions.

Unlike many states, particularly those in the western United States, Indiana has the benefit of time—for now. If we squander this advantage, our state’s bright future could become decidedly bleak.

Larry Clemens is state director of The Nature Conservancy in Indiana.

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