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Report says statewide water plan needed

– Indiana needs more money – and a single, state-level planning entity – to better manage its water supplies to ensure businesses and communities have ample water in the decades ahead, a report released Friday by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce concludes.

Bloomington-based geoscientist Jack Wittman, who analyzed the state’s water supplies and water use trends for the business group, said that unlike some water-hungry states west of the Mississippi River, Indiana’s water is plentiful – in rivers, streams, reservoirs and underground aquifers. But the lack of detailed data on its aquifers’ reserves and the absence of a statewide water-management plan put Indiana at a disadvantage when competing with other states to woo new water-dependent businesses, Wittman said.

“There’s enough water, but we need to change and be smart about how we optimize these resources,” he said at a news conference.

Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar noted that a University of Michigan study released last year found that Indiana’s manufacturing-intensive economy is more dependent than any other state on abundant water supplies.

Wittman’s report calls for Indiana to assign a single, state-level entity to lead the way for assessing its future water needs and how best to manage them. It also calls for the state to start drafting a long-range water management plan.

Indiana has less than 30 groundwater monitoring wells statewide – far less than the hundreds needed to give a clear picture of how much water is available in Indiana’s aquifers, according to Wittman, a hydrologist for Texas-based consulting firm INTERA Inc. He said that information is important so that communities will know, for example, how much they might tap during severe droughts, such as in 2012.

Brinegar said the chamber would ask lawmakers next year to include $10 million in each year of the two-year budget to finance additional groundwater monitoring wells.

Vince Griffin, the chamber’s vice president of energy and environmental policy, said Indiana’s future water needs will be the first item tackled by a legislative study committee set to meet Sept. 2.

Wittman’s analysis found that northern Indiana has ample groundwater supplies, but those are facing increasing pressures for agricultural irrigation, which has become Indiana’s fastest-growing water use sector.

Wittman estimated central Indiana will need an additional 50 million gallons of water per day to meet its needs by 2050 or face faltering economic growth. He suggested that extra water could come from either adding new reservoirs or tapping other watersheds with wells linked to pipelines.

Wittman said his recommendations are not an endorsement of a proposal to dam the West Fork of the White River in Anderson to create a seven-mile-long reservoir.

Tim Maloney, senior policy director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, said the council and numerous other groups that oppose the reservoir “want the broader aquatic ecosystem impacts of water management and use to be fully considered in water planning.”

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