Group forms in opposition to LEAP District water pipeline

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David Sanders (in hat), who serves on the West Lafayette City Council, authored a resolution in opposition to the IEDC's plans to tap into a Wabash River aquifer and transport water to Boone County (Peter Blanchard/IBJ photo)

Residents in the greater Lafayette area have formed a grassroots organization in opposition to a state-sponsored project that would pump as much as 100 million gallons of water per day from aquifers connected to the Wabash River to an advanced manufacturing park in Boone County.

The group, “Stop the Water Steal,” plans to lead a letter-writing campaign to local and state officials, urging them to stop the pipeline, slow its progress or minimize its impact on community water resources. It will also research the potential impact the pipeline might have on the Wabash Valley’s water resources and advocate for more “modern water rights laws” in Indiana.

David Sanders, a West Lafayette City Council member who previously authored a resolution in opposition to the project, said he decided to form the group after receiving “five or six emails or calls a day” from residents asking what they could do to stop it.

“I think there’s more we can do in an organized fashion than as individuals,” Sanders told IBJ. “We’re hoping to bring more and more attention to this issue, and keep it as an ongoing enterprise.”

The group will rely on local elected officials, experts from Purdue University and other key stakeholders to keep residents informed about the project’s developments, he added.

The Indiana Economic Development Corp., the state’s quasi-public economic development agency, is overseeing the development of the LEAP Lebanon Innovation and Research District, a planned 11,000-acre development west and north of Lebanon. LEAP stands for Limitless Exploration/Advanced Pace.

The IEDC last month released the results of a commissioned study that concluded that the pipeline won’t impact the state’s water supply, but Lafayette residents remain skeptical of the agency’s claims.

More than 2,800 people have signed an online petition urging local officials and state agencies like the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to “take immediate action” to halt construction of the pipeline. Sanders said the petition is unrelated to his organization.

The controversial project has prompted state lawmakers representing the Lafayette region to draft legislation that would create a permitting process and require a deeper public review of any effort in the state to pump more than 10 million gallons per day from a community’s aquifer.

In addition to West Lafayette, the city of Attica and the town of Shadeland, which also rely on the Wabash River aquifers, have passed resolutions in opposition to the LEAP pipeline.

The IEDC is also looking to other parts of the state for a steady water supply to support the LEAP District, but earlier this month, Indianapolis-based utility company Citizens Energy Group withdrew its petition to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to supply up to 10 million gallons of water per day to the development.

IEDC spokeswoman Erin Sweitzer said the pullout won’t affect the development.

“Lebanon currently has the water supply to support the short-term and intermediate needs of LEAP,” Sweitzer said, including those of Eli Lilly and Co., which is building two manufacturing sites that will be served by the existing Lebanon Utilities system.

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