Answers to questions HEC received during our Troubled Waters Ahead? Indiana’s 2024 Water Policy Preview webinar.

Answers prepared by HEC’s Indra Frank and Susie McGovern. Have questions? Let us know!

General Water Questions

What can Indiana do to better protect our surface and aquifer water resources?

Indiana needs comprehensive and robust state water policy that reflects the most accurate science. Citizen involvement in the political system and education are some of the most important tools to achieving a state water policy that is protective of our water resources.  

Should water withdrawal include discharge of the water after use?

When water is withdrawn from either surface waters or from groundwater and used for irrigation, a good portion of it is lost to evaporation. Other types of withdrawals typically lead to some form of discharge.  Either the water is used in a residence and then the wastewater goes to a sewer or septic system or it is used by a business or industry and their wastewater is then discharged. Entities that discharge directly to waterways are required to have discharge permits which limit the contaminants that can be discharged. 

What is the best way for water scientists to have input on Indiana’s water policy process? It is critical that science professional knowledge and science facts be the basis for decisions.

Scientists can meet with their legislators, testify at public hearings, educate the public, write educational and informative papers, and contribute their skills in a number of ways to create effective political change. Check out our Legislative Advocacy guide for more resources on advocating for the issues you care about.

How can Duke Energy be required to pay for testing well water downstream?

The short answer is that it can’t.  HEC is aware of 3 Indiana locations where Duke Energy’s coal ash contaminated groundwater which got into local private wells. Duke provided new drinking water to those whose wells were contaminated. There are locations where Duke’s coal ash contaminated groundwater is moving into rivers. Wells located downstream and near the rivers could hypothetically receive water from the river, but there is no current legal requirement for Duke to test those wells.

Can you share more about issues and actions in Northern Indiana in the St. Joseph area?

HEC works on statewide issues that also affect the St. Joseph area including energy, agriculture, environmental health, environmental justice, and water issues. For a particular focus on St. Joseph County, our program on childhood lead poisoning prevention is active there. If you are interested in work on lead poisoning, please contact Jocelyn Keranen, HEC’s Environmental Health Project Manager. 

St. Joseph County and the St. Joseph River basin are in need of better stormwater storage through wetland preservation and restoration. Join HEC in advocating with your elected officials for better wetland policy. For news on when to reach out to the legislators for St. Joseph County on environmental legislation, there will be coverage in HEC’s email newsletter coming up in January through March.

Has there been any discussion on the future of Indianapolis’s water supply? A few years ago it was an item of discussion in series of watershed meetings chaired by then the Upper Whitewater alliance. Are there any updates?

The Central Indiana Water Study was recently completed and details findings related to water use and supply in the Indianapolis and surrounding areas. That study concluded that water demand will exceed supply in Central Indiana in the coming decades. The IEDC cites that study as supporting evidence of the need to transfer water from the Wabash alluvial aquifer, which they are planning to do for the LEAP project.

The new floodplain designations expanded to include 1,000’s of properties that were previously not in a floodplain use of which is optional for planning and zoning permits – what about insurance and mortgage companies can they now use the new designations and demand homeowners acquire additional insurance?

The new floodplain maps show where the floodplains are along many streams that were not previously mapped, but those floodplains have always been there whether they were mapped or not. The properties that show up on the new maps as being in the floodplain have always been in the floodplain. The only difference is that now we have the data to show where that floodplain is. The floodplains of streams and rivers are locations at increased risk of flooding. 

In the US, they are usually defined by where there is a risk of flooding at some point during a period of 100 years. This new information about the location of the floodplain can be used to the property owner’s advantage. They can now make decisions about their property, how to protect it, where to build on it, and whether to buy flood insurance based on information about where their local floodplain is. 

Also, with this new information, planning and zoning decisions can be made to reduce the number of future buildings that are built in flood-prone areas. That will save money on flood damage and flood rescues for property owners and for communities. It could even save lives. 

HEC is not aware of changes in insurance company or mortgage company policies at this time.

Questions about the LEAP Project in Lebanon, IN

Will there be a negative impact from the LEAP Project if it goes through?

LEAP has the potential for a number of negative impacts:

  • The impact on the Wabash River, its aquatic species, and downstream users
  • The impact on groundwater-dependent wetlands and streams in the Wabash riverine system in Tippecanoe County
  • The impact of construction on the wetlands and streams in Boone County that are the headwaters of Sugar Creek
  • The impact of the wastewater discharge from the LEAP district on the quantity of water in the receiving watershed
  • Pollutants discharged in wastewater from LEAP industries
  • The carbon footprint of construction and use of the water pipeline to the LEAP district.  Water is heavy, so it will take a lot of energy to move it.

Due to a lack of comprehensive environmental studies, the impacts of LEAP have been difficult to quantify and understand. While the IEDC  is proposing to protect riparian corridors and restore wetlands in the Lebanon LEAP district, these conservation goals could still be achieved without LEAP.

What is the latest water activity with the LEAP Project?

The engineering firm INTERA began the water studies to assess the sustainability of withdrawing water from the Wabash alluvial aquifer near Lafayette, IN in Tippecanoe County. They released an executive summary of their findings in the summer of 2023. Additional water availability analysis is being done by the Indiana Finance Authority with the assistance of other consultants. The IEDC also signed a contract with Black & Veatch Corporation to provide program management of the water and wastewater infrastructure for LEAP. The contract states that “the Program will convey raw water from a series of collector wells and pump stations located adjacent to the Wabash River for conveyance, treatment, and storage at the LEAP District. Wastewater will be treated and the effluent will be conveyed to the Eagle Creek Reservoir through a pipeline and a series of pump stations. The Program area generally extends along the I-65 corridor northwest of Indianapolis.” While that is the statement in the contract, at presentations the IEDC has stated that the fate of the wastewater from the LEAP district has yet to be determined.

Who is doing the water study? What can you tell us about them?

The engineering firm, INTERA, conducted the first part of the study of water availability. The remainder of the work is being overseen by the Indiana Finance Authority. Their previous work in Indiana includes:

  • A 2014 report commissioned by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, “Water and Economic Development in Indiana: Modernizing the State’s Approach to a Critical Resource”
  • A report released in 2017 in collaboration with the Conservation Law Center and a steering committee, which included representation from the Hoosier Environmental Council, “Water and Quality of Life in Indiana: Modernizing the State’s Approach to a Critical Resource”
  • A 2021 report commissioned by the Indiana Finance Authority, “Central Indiana Water Study Future Demand, Availability, Options”

Is the LEAP Project contingent on the study completion or is it going ahead regardless?

The Lilly Corporation purchased a portion of the LEAP Lebanon district and construction has begun. So, Lilly’s portion is definitely going ahead. The IEDC has indicated that they are trying to recruit other industries, but none have been announced as definite, yet. IEDC was quoted as saying to Tippecanoe County officials, “that the agency would not proceed with a pipeline before first conducting studies to ensure that diverting billions of gallons of water annually from under the Wabash River would not have an adverse impact on Lafayette, West Lafayette and other Tippecanoe County communities.”

What are we doing to stop the LEAP pipeline?

The feasibility and sustainability of the pipeline is currently being studied by the IEDC and its contractors. Because of the immense amount of public attention on the LEAP development, it is possible that the pipeline project may experience significant delays until there is enough information to determine that the pipeline is sustainable. Stop the Water Steal is a Lafayette-based organization that is rallied behind stopping the LEAP pipeline.

What will happen to the water from the LEAP pipeline after it is used?

In presentations, the IEDC and INTERA have discussed how the pipeline for the LEAP district would also solve the shortage of water in Central Indiana that is projected to occur in coming decades.

Is the LEAP Pipeline similar to the idea to flood Anderson a while back?

If built, the LEAP pipeline will convey water from one watershed to another, while the Anderson proposal included the addition of a new reservoir. Both projects are similar in that they are aimed at increasing the  water supply. A new dam to create a reservoir in Anderson is considered highly unlikely because of all the properties that would be flooded and because so much money has been invested in recent years in the White River Vision Plan, a plan based on a free-flowing river.

If the state legislature doesn’t act, what are the chances the “moratorium” on large scale water withdrawals passed in Tippecanoe County will stand? Will this be overridden by the state?

On December 4, the Tippecanoe County Commissioners passed an ordinance to place a 3-month moratorium on withdrawals or export of more than 5 million of gallons of water per day. Given the existing state laws on surface water and groundwater, it is not clear whether the county has the legal ability to prevent withdrawals or export.  Statute in Indiana could be fairly read to support a view that the state has occupied the regulation of significant water withdrawal such that local units of government are not allowed to set their own or superseding laws. On the other hand, the statute deals with a declaration of emergency, so it could be that a local unit has legal space to pass a local ordinance.

The LEAP wastewater was at one time rumored to be sent to Eagle Creek reservoir. Numerous impacts could occur. Water withdrawal is an important issue with a water discharge component. Will that discharge issue be addressed in legislation?

The amount of wastewater discharged and whether it would carry pollutants from the LEAP industries are important questions. So far, the IEDC has not made any definitive statements about the wastewater. We have not heard of any state legislation for the 2024 legislative session on this topic. Water discharges are usually regulated under the federal Clean Water Act with discharge permits issued by the Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management (IDEM).

I live in an industrial area along White River. It is my understanding that some of the LEAP water would come from White River. How extensively has withdrawal from an area like mine been studied?

HEC is not aware of any proposal to send water to the LEAP district from the White River. A study was published in 2021 of water supply and demand in Central Indiana

Do we know whether chip industry standards or regulations require taking environmental impacts into consideration?

This is an excellent question. IEDC has indicated that one potential industry in the LEAP district may be a computer chip manufacturer. At this time, HEC has not done its own assessment, but some published evaluations exist:

Where in Tippecanoe County is the planned withdrawal point for the water?  Is it adjacent to the Wabash River?

The first water withdrawal test conducted by INTERA took place about 4 miles west of Lafayette near the south bank of the Wabash River. Additional testing has been conducted, but those results have not been published as of this writing.

Wetlands Questions

How can we move to protect existing isolated wetlands from development?

State policy on wetlands can establish statewide protection.  Indiana’s wetlands law was weakened in 2021, but it appears that state wetland policy may be revisited during the 2024 legislative session. Please stay tuned through HEC’s email newsletter and Bill Watch page for opportunities to contact your legislators.

Local governments also have the option of protecting wetlands through comprehensive plans, parks, and zoning ordinances. Boards of zoning appeals can negotiate for wetland preservation or restoration when there is an application for a zoning variance.

Often large new developments just add “detention ponds” for water retention after they cement over much land. These ponds are often surrounded by stone and turf grass. As citizens, how can we encourage our local officials to negotiate for a requirement that some of their land be used for wetland development and remediation, rather than just dumping the water into these ponds? It’s extremely frustrating to see these companies not only allowed to freely degrade the environment, but often even receive tax abatements to do so.

The best thing you can do is to get involved!

  • Show up at public hearings. Testify and advocate for wetlands at those hearings,
  • Write comments to the commissions, councils, and environmental agencies on new development proposals.
  • Share your knowledge with others
  • Tell stories about the value of wetlands, including on social media.
  • Form coalitions with your neighbors or others interested in advocating for better wetland protection in your area
  • Do your research and be well-informed on what you are advocating for
  • Utilize existing comprehensive plans in your city/town, watershed studies, and other data sources to support wetland protection

How can we best include wetland protection in our county comprehensive land use planning update process? Do you have any info sheets that could help convince county decision makers of the costs of not protecting water resources?

The Indiana Dept of Natural Resources produced a factsheet with estimates of the dollar value of wetlands in 2021.

A recent study calculated that loss of one hectare of wetlands can mean up to $8000 per year in additional flood costs.

Are there maps of all wetlands throughout Indiana by cities or counties?

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) maintains a database and interactive map of wetlands called the Wetlands Mapper.

Is there an incentive for wetlands already in place for property owners?

Yes, it is called the Classified Wildlife & Classified Forest program.

Are there negative impacts for a wetland to become a pond? Do wetlands include Indiana lakes?

Wetlands are defined as areas where the soil is saturated for enough of each year to change the nature of the soil and vegetation. Wetland soil, which is called “hydric soil”, harbors microbes that can live without oxygen (anaerobes). The vegetation growing in wetlands is adapted to growing in saturated soil. Once water is deeper than 1 to 1.5 feet, many forms of wetland vegetation can no longer grow there. Wetlands are among the most biologically productive ecosystems because of the plant variety they support, which brings in a wide variety of wildlife. Because of their plant life, wetlands are better at purifying water than ponds are. The edges of ponds and lakes often host patches of wetland.

The Cowardin classification system, used by the USFWS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines wetlands and deepwater habitats by five major types: marine (ocean), estuarine (estuary), lacustrine (lake), palustrine (marsh) and riverine (river). Marshes, bogs, swamps, fens, and vernal pools are also considered wetlands. Learn more about wetland classification.

Questions about Policy

Has anyone considered modifying or vacating the ‘Common Enemy Rule’?

The “Common Enemy Rule” states that every landowner has the right to fight unwanted water without regard for how their drainage activities might adversely affect other properties. This doctrine is used in legal cases, and it appears to still be in place.

How can the Indiana MS4 Partnership help with policy development?

MS4s are Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems. They are required to have permits under the federal Clean Water Act in order to protect waterways. The local governments, conservancy districts, and universities that hold these permits have personnel responsible for permit related activities. The Indiana MS4 Partnership is a professional organization for those personnel. MS4 personnel see the impacts of state water-related policies first-hand, so one of the most important things they can do is inform their local elected officials of how policy affects the health of our waterways and water resources.

Do you feel as if it is more important to enforce existing legislation, or create new legislation at the state level?

This question poses an interesting choice. If one had to choose just one, which would it be? In theory, enforcement and law writing are separate functions carried out by separate entities. Enforcement of existing state law falls to our state agencies, which are under the direction of the Governor. Creation of new legislation (new laws) is the responsibility of the Indiana General Assembly.

In reality, the degree of enforcement can vary with different Governors. Indiana’s environmental laws are not always strongly enforced. We also see examples every year of the General Assembly changing the laws because they didn’t like the effects that enforcement had on their constituents. 

In recent years, some of these cases have included harsh words by legislators against the agencies and agency personnel, even when the agency was simply enforcing the laws as the General Assembly wrote them. This has led to additional agency reluctance to fully enforce. If we could get full enforcement of existing environmental laws, it would be beneficial for the health of Indiana’s ecosystems and that would be good for all of our health, but there are also gaps in current environmental law that could be fixed with new legislation.

Is there any current legislation or action being considered in regard to becoming more proactive and less reactive with water resources? (i.e. increasing budgets for IDEM, or offering more financial resources and or guidance for local MS4 authorities)

After years of repeated budget cuts, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) was operating with 18% lower revenue in 2017 than it had in 2007, when adjusted for inflation.  Since then the General Assembly has provided some limited restoration of IDEM’s funding.  In the budget written in 2023, they allowed updated fees for IDEM’s air office and increased funding for oversight of drinking water safety.

Do you have plans to try to limit big corporations on sourcing ground water for industrial use and or imposing requirements for reporting their use and how they recycle that water?

The Hoosier Environmental Council is focused on the environmental effects of water withdrawals, water transfers, and wastewater discharges.  For example, we are looking at whether pumping large quantities of groundwater would dry up groundwater dependent streams or wetlands.

Questions about Indiana’s Drainage Task Force

Though there was not a final report issued by the Drainage Task Force, are those draft recommendations available to the public in any form?

Yes.  The Drainage Task Force’s draft recommendations are available by clicking on the Oct 25, 2023 meeting.

Can you clarify WHY the task force did not issue a final report?  That makes no sense to me?

The members of the Task Force did not come to consensus about what recommendations to include in the report, so the majority of them voted not to include recommendations in the report. There is, however, an informational report which summarizes the Task Force meetings.

Where can I find a list of the Drainage Task Force’s members?

Check out the list of Task Force members on the Indiana General Assembly website.

Water Quality & Other Environmental Concerns

What about water quantity and quality issues about CAFOS?

While our Troubled Waters Ahead? webinar focused on issues we expect during the 2024 legislative session, there are certainly many other water quantity and quality issues in Indiana, including the challenges that come from confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Check out our website for more on the impacts of Indiana’s CAFOs.

Can you comment on the MachH2 Hydrogen Hub for Indiana?

While the Hoosier Environmental Council has not gotten involved in the Hydrogen Hub, two of our partner organizations have. Learn more from EarthJustice and Just Transition NWI.

Who’s overseeing the effect of new subdivisions on rural water supply?

Regulation of water access falls to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) under Indiana law at IC 14-25. The DNR has a very useful page on water rights. The current Indiana law on groundwater rights is IC 14-25-3  and IC 14-25-4. The DNR can assist in resolving the situation when a domestic well fails due to a nearby high capacity well. If a new subdivision will be joined to an existing public water system, the cost of the connection is overseen by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management oversees the public water systems’ testing for bacteria and chemicals.

Are there “drought plain” maps that show areas susceptible to dry conditions?

Indiana tracks drought conditions around the state and publishes state drought info, including access to a drought map. The National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln maintains the US Drought Monitor which contains data and map tools related to drought conditions and areas susceptible to drought.

Does Indiana have a robust farm conservation delivery system?

Good soil and water conservation helps retain rain (water) on the land. The federal Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has $19.5 billion in new farm conservation dollars that will expire in Sep 2031. Indiana appears to be participating in the IRA funding for farm conservation.

Indiana has also had significant investment in conservation farming practices dating back to the first Soil and Water Conservation Districts in 1940. The Indiana Department of Agriculture promotes conservation farming through its Division of Soil Conservation. Other efforts include the Indiana Conservation Cropping System Initiative, the National Resource Conservation Service’s work in Indiana, and soil health efforts led by Purdue Extension.

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