There is an epic journey to be taken from the southern shore of Lake Michigan and east across northern Indiana to the Maumee River, and then south and down the Tippecanoe River and the Sugar Creek to the Wabash, down the White and the Patoka to the Wabash, and finally, on the southern border of the state, to the north shore of the great Ohio River. Indiana has an extraordinary system of fresh waters that are the arteries of life in the state. Our water represents a comparative advantage in a water-constrained world. Indiana water has amply supplied Indiana people, and permitted the state to compete effectively for industrial investment. Indiana’s fresh waters sustain a billion-dollar recreational economy.
National security agencies and corporate planners alike have identified fresh water as a likely flashpoint for conflict in world affairs in this century. In the West, “water’s for fighting” has been the rule for more than one hundred years. Forward looking leaders in the relatively well-watered eastern half of the United States have, however, begun to understand that water in our region is no longer to be taken for granted. Indiana is a signatory of The Great Lakes Compact, for example. The Compact is a preemptive agreement by the Great Lakes states to collectively exercise the greatest care in protecting the waters of the Lakes from demand for water export.
Within their own borders, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota have significantly increased their investment in understanding, protecting and governing their surface and ground waters. We in Indiana have not made comparable investments in understanding and protecting our state’s water resource. New interest has been generated by a study sponsored by the state’s Chamber of Commerce that took a careful first look at water uses and trends. Among the legislative responses to the study was to start building and re-building the state’s water monitoring capability. And as described later in this Report, Indiana law now enables our biggest water suppliers to begin to close the hundred-year capital investment gap in their infrastructure.
Yet that is only a beginning. Indiana’s own Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plans (2006-2011 and 2011-2015) as well as reports from the Great Lakes Commission, the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation, and the 2013 Report of the American Sportfishing Association all point to water as a driver of quality of life and the economy that follows it: in Indiana, fishing, boating, and other aquatic recreation alone generate well over a billion dollars annually. Our policies for the protection of that economic value-driving asset don’t recognize the urgency of preserving it. We are not even prepared to maintain our place in the world as an exceptional center of biological diversity in mussels and other aquatic life. Indiana streams and rivers are home to nine mussel species now listed as nationally endangered: this is both a mark of distinction and a warning sign.
Decades ago, Indiana adopted comprehensive legislation that promised fishable, swimmable, and drinkable waters. We are still working at meeting the vision of that legislation, and we have made progress. But by many measures we have stalled. Almost seven thousand miles of our streams and rivers, for example, are still impaired because untreated sewage is piped into them!
The time is now to make the appropriate investments in planning and action to preserve and protect Indiana’s freshwater resources. If we make those investments, not only will we benefit, we will fulfill the responsibility we have to future generations. The health of our streams, rivers, and lakes is one critical measure of our wisdom and foresight as a state and society. This Report is intended to re-focus our policy-makers, our public voices, and our institutions on fulfilling the promise of our laws to restore and protect the natural values of Indiana waters.
There is a lot to do. The most important thing we can do is get started.