Editorial: Special care and transparency needed to plan for Indiana’s water needs

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As Indiana economic development leaders prepare a 7,000-acre innovation district for development in Boone County, it’s become clear that more attention needs to be paid to the state’s water needs.

As IBJ’s Peter Blanchard reported last week, state officials are exploring the possibility of tapping into the aquifer along the Wabash River in Tippecanoe County and piping water 35 miles south to meet the water demands of potential tenants of the massive Boone County development.

Just this week, the Lebanon City Council approved an agreement to reserve water and wastewater availability for a $2.1 billion project Eli Lilly and Co. plans to build on the innovation site.

The agreement would pre-allocate 864,000 gallons of water per day for the Lilly development, the only tenant announced so far for the innovation district. Much more water would be needed if other large industrial tenants are lined up.

While a study of central Indiana’s water resources last year concluded the region is generally well-positioned to meet its water needs for decades to come, Boone County is among the few localities expected to need additional capacity.

But the Indiana Economic Development Corp. sees the county as being strategically located along Interstate 65 between Indianapolis and Purdue University, with the potential to become a major research and innovation hub.

The IEDC has declined to say whether tapping into the Wabash River aquifer is among the options being considered to meet the area’s water needs but said the innovation district holds the promise of driving the region toward a solution for a long-standing need.

David Rosenberg, IEDC’s executive vice president, told IBJ many options are on the table and that it’s too early to get into specifics.

Like residents in the area, we hope the IEDC will soon become more transparent about its intentions and that it is thoroughly taking into consideration the potential impacts tapping into the Wabash aquifer will have on residents, farmers and businesses that already rely on that resource.

We also hope economic development officials are giving strong consideration to developing a plan that would reuse and recycle water, as some have suggested. While the practice is not widely used here, it could help reduce stress on existing aquifers.

Most of all, we hope Boone County’s dilemma will encourage regional economic development groups to take a deeper look at their existing water needs and the future demands required for economic growth.

While nothing like the water shortages in California have been predicted for Indiana, previous studies have found that counties south of Bloomington could face water-supply problems in the not-too-distant future without proper planning.

The issue could become particularly problematic if economic growth along the southern spur of Interstate 69 takes off as some state leaders envision.

Ultimately, no part of the state should become economically parched due to the lack of an adequate water supply. And care must be taken to make sure existing aquifers aren’t overtaxed or abused.•


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