Wetlands are vital to a healthy ecosystem and water resources.

Prior to European settlement, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates that 24% of Indiana was covered in wetlands. In the 1800’s, Indiana’s wetlands were drained to make way for farms and towns. A DNR report from 1991 estimated that Indiana had lost 85% of its original wetlands.

Wetlands play a crucial role in Indiana’s landscape. They filter and purify water, they reduce the risk of flooding, and they serve as critically important habitat for many threatened and endangered species. Learn more about the benefits and view photos of Indiana’s wetlands.

See the 2021 symposium The Value of All Wetlands:  Indiana Researchers Weigh in.

The 2021 anti-wetlands law, SEA 389

A bill in the 2021 Indiana legislative session, SEA 389 changed the State Regulated Wetlands Law, significantly reducing protection for Indiana’s isolated wetlands. The first version of the bill would have repealed Indiana’s Wetlands Law entirely. Advocacy by HEC and many partners around the state succeeded in reducing the harm of the original bill and preserving a portion of state wetland protection.  Many myths about wetlands were circulated during debate on the bill and were addressed.

In the end, SB 389 passed and became SEA 389 which added many exemptions including exempting all Class I wetlands and most Class II wetlands. Only Class III, which are wetlands that are essentially untouched by human activity, retained some protection. SEA 389 also created an Indiana Wetlands Task Force to examine state wetland policy.

On April 26, 2021, a coalition of over 100 organizations delivered a letter to Governor Holcomb urging him to veto SEA 389. Countless Hoosiers also wrote in and/or called the Governor’s Office to ask for a veto.

On April 29, 2021, Governor Holcomb very unfortunately signed SEA 389 into law. It will significantly reduce protection of Indiana’s remaining wetlands. HEC and several organizations issued the following statement:

Despite having his administration openly oppose SEA 389 throughout the legislative session, Governor Holcomb signed a bill yesterday that will dramatically reduce protection for the state’s remaining wetlands. SEA 389 eliminates protection for Class I wetlands, and significantly reduces protection for Class II. It allows development of a wetland that was on cropland as long as the land was used for agriculture during the last 5 years or 10 years if it has no federal wetland. SEA 389 is retroactive to January 1, 2021, which halts the wetland permitting processes that have started since then.

According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), Indiana has already lost 85% of its original wetlands. Of the wetlands remaining, 80 – 90% were state-protected wetlands. This bill removes protection from the majority of those that were previously state-protected — which amounts to about 600,000 acres of wetlands.

The Governor’s action on SEA 389 was opposed by more than 100 organizations around the state – environmental, conservation, wildlife, hunting, fishing, faith, civic, and professional organizations, all united in urging the Governor to veto the bill. 59 state legislators, including members of both parties, voted against it. 9 Indiana wetlands scientists also recommended that the Governor veto the bill. We are grateful to all those who worked against this bill and for better wetland policy. The undersigned organizations believe that SEA 389 represents one of the greatest setbacks in the history of Indiana conservation policy because it places hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands in jeopardy. The potential loss of a massive amount of wetlands acreage could considerably cost the state in increased flooding, lost groundwater recharge, lost water purification, and lost wildlife habitat, driving up property damage, taxpayer-funded infrastructure repairs, and damaging Indiana’s vibrant recreational sector. SEA 389 also creates a Wetlands Task Force, so we are committed to working with that task force to try to reduce the great harm of this bill. We are also determined to find avenues to protect the vast amount of wetlands that are in jeopardy in the short run.

Hoosier Environmental Council
Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts
Indiana Wildlife Federation
Conservation Law Center
Save the Dunes
St. Joseph River Basin Commission
White River Alliance

Learn about the process that led to the signing of SEA 389.