It’s no secret that Indiana’s water policy has failed to protect one of our most precious resources: wetlands. Wetlands provide critically important ecosystem services including fresh water; nutrient cycling; food and fibre production; carbon fixation and storage; flood mitigation and water storage; water treatment and purification; and wildlife habitat for biodiversity, yet they are among one of the most threatened ecosystems globally (Kingsford et al., 2016). Wetlands are also considered a blue space, which is a natural area that has water. Spending time in blue spaces has been shown to increase happiness and improve human health (Maund et al., 2012).
Despite all the known benefits, Indiana’s wetlands are consistently under attack due to weakened laws. The most recent federal court decision in Sackett v. EPA significantly reduced the number of wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The court decision removed a vital element of the CWA, the significant nexus rule, which protected wetlands that were shown to have a significant impact on waters of the United States. Back in 2021, Indiana’s Senate Enrolled Act 389, also exempted many wetlands from regulation, including all Class I wetlands and Class II wetlands under certain conditions.
The result of this weakened protection under state and federal law means that Indiana is continuing to lose wetlands without sufficient replacements of their functions. HEC has been tracking a development on the southside of Indianapolis that will impact a 45-acre wetland ecosystem along I-65 South and County Line Road. The developer wants to build speculative commercial and industrial warehouses which will directly impact 28 acres of wetlands. But because Indiana’s water laws are so weak, only 4 acres are being regulated by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM).
Prior to the Sackett decision, a 19-acre wetland on the property was regulated under the significant nexus rule because it was thought to have a significant impact on the nearby Pleasant Run Creek. And, many of the exempt wetlands are only exempt because of SB 389, which removed protections for Class I wetlands and wetlands that are “cropped,” or found on farmland, even though these wetlands are directly connected to regulated, Class III wetlands. Instead of the 45-acre wetland ecosystem being regulated as a whole, under a more holistic approach, our water laws are structured in a way that divides up wetland ecosystems and ultimately leads to greater losses of our wetlands. Indiana desperately needs better state policy on wetlands, and we hope that you’ll continue to support HEC’s work to improve wetland policy. Learn more about the wetlands threatened by the I-65 and County Line Road Development, and visit our Bill Watch page for updates on wetland policy for the 2024 legislative session.