Bills to regulate large water withdrawals in Indiana face uncertain fate

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The Wabash River in Lafayette, October 2022 (Eric Learned/IBJ photo).

A pair of Republican state lawmakers have filed legislation that would regulate large water withdrawals in Indiana, a response to a state proposal to take as much as 100 million gallons of water per day from aquifers connected to the Wabash River and transport it to a high-tech manufacturing district in Boone County.

Rep. Sharon Negele, R-Attica, and Sen. Spencer Deery, R-West Lafayette, authored a pair of identical bills that would require groundwater withdrawals of at least 10 million gallons of water per day that are transported to a destination beyond the aquifer surface area to receive prior approval through a regulated permitting process overseen by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Under the legislation, large withdrawals would also require public hearings and written feasibility studies that would have to be peer-reviewed by an expert in water resource hydrology, with the Natural Resources Commission becoming the permitting authority.

It’s unclear if either of the bills will get a hearing. For a House bill to be considered for action by the Senate, it must advance out of the House chamber by Feb. 5. The deadline for Senate bills is Feb. 6.

Negele told IBJ she’s been in conversations with House leaders to “try and find a comfortable spot” for the legislation.

“The door’s not closed yet,” Negele said.

Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, who chairs the House Utilities Committee where the bill has been assigned, declined to comment. House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, also declined to comment.

Deery said that anyone interested in Indiana attracting economic investments for the LEAP District should be interested in attaching a regulatory system to water withdrawals “because it will let business know what to expect, and it will let the public know we’re establishing a framework.”

Senate Utilities Chair Eric Koch, R-Bedford, said he hasn’t read Deery’s bill, but Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, said his chamber will give it “a very serious look” in the coming weeks.

“It seems that we have an ample supply of water in the state of Indiana, but we need to verify that with appropriate scientific studies,” Bray said. “Once those studies are done and they’re shared with everybody, then we can start to make decisions on what that might look like, and we will not make decisions until then.”

Gov. Eric Holcomb and top state legislators have committed to Lafayette officials there will be no action in the 2024 session to advance a proposal to transport water from Tippecanoe County to Boone County. The Indiana Finance Authority is expected to complete a comprehensive water study this fall.

Large water withdrawals don’t need prior approval or review by a state regulatory agency, which has raised concerns that the state could go through with the plan with little oversight.

After Lafayette residents raised their concerns, Gov. Holcomb transferred responsibility for the water impact study being conducted in the Lafayette area from the Indiana Economic Development Corp., a quasi-governmental agency that is developing the LEAP Research & Innovation District in Boone County, to the Indiana Finance Authority.  LEAP stands for Limitless Exploration/Advanced Pace.

Holcomb said he chose the finance authority to oversee the study because it has experience in water-related issues. In addition to overseeing state-related debt issuances, the agency manages the Wastewater and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Loan programs and the Indiana Brownfields Program, which assists in the redevelopment of former industrial or commercial sites.

The governor also has instructed the agency to accelerate the start of a planned comprehensive regional water study for north-central Indiana that will examine watersheds covering Tippecanoe County and at least 12 other counties.

The study, which will be the fourth such regional water study the IFA has conducted since 2017, is expected to be completed next fall.

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7 thoughts on “Bills to regulate large water withdrawals in Indiana face uncertain fate

  1. The only experience the finance authority has in water related issues is reappropriating water supplies without the proper research or the approval of the entities served by the aquifer.

    We can be like every other state that has not taken this topic seriously or actually get out in front of it.

    If you don’t believe water management is an issue, then all you have to do is look at our Western and desert SW states. They are running out of drinking water and they have waited so long to rectify the issues that the Feds are now involved and the control has been removed from the states and now sits in Federal hands.

    Indiana needs to stop waiting for everyone else and actually lead for a change.

    1. Correct BS. Water is one of our most precious resources and we need to safeguard it however we can

  2. Really, Chuck W. all you have is some lame claim of bribery? How about Eli Lilly and others promise to bring millions in property tax revenue (eventually) and relatively high paying jobs to an area of the state that doesn’t have much of either. And construction workers will have jobs, and the folks who build infrastructure like roads and sewers and water lines. Who knows, maybe people will want to move nearer their jobs, creating opportunities for new housing and supporting businesses.

    I don’t support the water withdrawal until its beyond doubt it won’t hurt the Lafayette and other areas dependent on that water being available. I don’t want to rob Peter to pay Paul. But bribery of officials…no I don’t think so. There are lots of questions here…for serious minds.

  3. Deery is correct when he says, “because it will let business know what to expect, and it will let the public know we’re establishing a framework.” As a business owner one of the things I look for is stability and managed risk. There would be no way that I would commit to investing hundreds of millions or more than a billion dollars in the LEAP district if I wasn’t sure the water would be there. As the previous comment mentions, the lack of planning in water rights is no choking the SW US. The state has to get out in front of this issue and these bills seem like a good place to start the conversation, at lease have the debate. My concern is that like most things the legislature will just kick the can down the road.

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