EDITORIAL: Study water needs while there’s time

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Ignoring the future won’t make it go away. And without legislative leadership, Indiana’s future looks dry.

Indiana is one of the largest users of industrial self-supplied water nationwide. In fact, Indiana and Louisiana together account for 32 percent of withdrawals of fresh surface water (such as rivers and reservoirs) in the country. Surface water used for cooling in coal-fired power plants makes up 65 percent of Indiana’s water use.

Economic development that is expected to follow the extension of Interstate 69 will increase water demand over coming decades in southern Indiana. And the Indianapolis area’s continued population growth will strain demand in central Indiana.

For now, the state is fairly water-rich, particularly in the north. Groundwater, the term for water drawn from underground aquifers, is fairly abundant in northern Indiana. But water is harder to find in the southern half of the state, and the uneven distribution of natural resources might cause friction down the road.

Utilities are already looking ahead, considering such options as collecting excess water during floods to store for times of drought, building pipelines to draw water from faraway lakes, and even treating wastewater for reuse.

But some of their plans could lead to wrangling between regions and rival utilities over water sources. Environmental considerations also might get lost in the shuffle.

The General Assembly should take the lead in assessing the state’s water resources and long-term needs, to coordinate a strategy that balances the needs of businesses and consumers across the state, and includes protection and conservation of natural resources.

Minnesota is the longtime national leader in water planning. In 2008, the Land of 10,000 Lakes took its efforts to the next level, dedicating a portion of a new, 0.38-percent sales tax to protecting water. Two years later, the state unveiled its most comprehensive water plan to date, a 25-year strategy coordinating the efforts of the Governor’s Office and nine state agencies.

Locally, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce is already studying Indiana’s long-term water needs, in the hope of spurring the Legislature to similar action. Never known as a tree hugger, the chamber does, however, recognize the high priority businesses place on access to plenty of clean water. Especially in this manufacturing-intense state.

We urge the General Assembly to move the future of Indiana’s statewide water needs to the front burner, with a study committee in the 2014 session tasked with a deadline to produce a realistic strategy.

The study must be a means to an end, not a means to manufacture a thick, dust-collecting report that serves only to fell Hoosier hardwoods. Our hopes for sufficient clean, safe water depends on it.•

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