The Case For Action

Fresh Water Indiana

There is no resource more essential than water. The quality and quantity of water affects Indiana’s economic development, its public health, and quality of life. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce addressed water’s economic development importance in a ground-breaking 2014 report. The Chamber Report notes that many states with which Indiana competes for business and intellectual talent are investing in their water resources. Indiana has not yet made a comparable commitment. Our report complements the Chamber’s good work by making a case for protecting Indiana waters for public health, ecological values and quality of life. 

It is well documented now that Indiana faces major challenges associated with updating an aging water infrastructure. Indiana water is more than the pipes. Our vital “built” infrastructure depends on a much more expansive natural infrastructure: the landscape that services surface and ground water. Investment in that natural infrastructure is just as vital—and just as seriously deferred—as the investment coming due on our built water system.

"Our waters are at risk."

This Report endorses many of the recommendations made in the 2014 Chamber report, but we also consider many issues that are beyond the scope of the Chamber’s project. The billion dollar water recreation economy of the state is a solid indicator of the economic and ecological potential of our waters, as well as a vital element of the state’s quality of life. Our waters, however, are at risk. Indiana’s environmental monitors report that most of the state’s streams, rivers, and lakes are polluted. At least nine thousand miles of streams and rivers are contaminated by pollutants that wash directly into them from streamside lands. Seven thousand miles of streams and rivers are impaired because we are still piping sewage directly into them. During times of reduced rainfall, Indiana waters are at risk for both quantity and quality, compromising public health as well as economic and ecological values. We need to address these issues.  

A diverse steering committee composed of Indiana civic, corporate, environmental, scientific, and academic leaders studied, developed, and stands behind this Report. Over the past year the committee volunteered many hours in and between a series of meetings to provide direction and guidance as the Report was being researched and drafted. The result points the way toward a twenty-first century water policy for Indiana. 


The Steering Committee

  • Dr. Indra Frank, MD, MPH, Director of Environmental Health and Water Policy, Hoosier Environmental Council
  • Dr. Jane Frankenberger, Professor, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Purdue University
  • Sen. Beverly Gard, Chair, Indiana Environmental Rules Board; Former State Senator
  • Cassie Hauswald, Freshwater Ecologist, The Nature Conservancy
  • Cloyce Hedge, Ecologist; Retired Director of Indiana Natural Heritage Program
  • Julianne Lis-Milam, Partner and General Counsel, Hammond, Kennedy, Whitney & Company, Inc. 
  • Brett McKamey, CFA, President and Chief Operating Officer, Goelzer Investment Management
  • James Moseley, Farmer; Former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture 
  • Natalie Stucky, Assistant General Counsel, Real Estate, Environmental & Corporate Responsibility, Cummins. Inc.
  • Joseph Sutherland, Director, Government & External Affairs, Citizens Energy Group 
  • Dr. Jeffrey White, Professor and Director, Integrated Program in the Environment, Indiana University

Affiliations of Steering Committee members are provided for identification purposes and generally do not imply endorsement of this report by the indicated affiliates.

The Report was made possible with major funding from the


Principles and Recommendations

Principle I. Active Stewardship of Our Water Resources is Essential for This and Future Generations

  • There is increasing pressure on freshwater resources in Indiana and the world. 
  • For our economy and our quality of life, it is essential that we plan ahead to preserve our freshwater resources. New demands and uncertain precipitation patterns create new stresses that need to be addressed before, not after potential crises.
  • Other Midwest states are investing in fresh water data and management and will be at a competitive advantage to Indiana if our state does not commit to active water stewardship.  
  • Active stewardship means good information, sound plans, and attentive water management. The alternative is that water issues will be resolved ad hoc and at great expense in courts rather than through representative processes.
  • We can reduce pressure on freshwater systems by making use more efficient, repairing leaks in water distribution systems, and planning ahead for sensible conservation during periods of low flow.
  • Indiana must develop system-wide plans to address drought and flooding, both of which are likely to occur more frequently in the coming years.

Principle II. We All Care About Clean Water

  • No one defends water pollution. And yet, more than 60% of Indiana’s assessed stream miles and an even higher percentage of our lake waters are classified as impaired. We can and must do better.
  • Water pollution affects us more than we know: 80% of Indiana water utilities recently surveyed report that water quality sometimes affects the amount of water that they can use from their sources of supply (Indiana Finance Authority, 2015).

Principle III. Water Is Life

  • Indiana businesses and communities are competing to attract and retain talented, entrepreneurial people. To prevail, we have to build, maintain, and feature a high quality of life. Clean freshwater systems are essential to the quality of life Indiana can offer. Indiana is naturally endowed with great rivers, streams and lakes. These freshwater systems are essential for drinking, for industry, for agriculture and for economic development. They can be a jewel of our environment, as well. Indiana fresh waters sustain recreational fishing, boating, canoeing, and aquatic wildlife. Freshwater recreation contributes well over $1 billion annually to our economy. 
  • The health of our unique complement of aquatic wildlife—including several nationally endangered species of shellfish—is a vital indicator of the health of our fresh waters. Those waters sustain us, physically and spiritually.

Our Recommendations Are:

  1. Invest in Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and United States Geological Survey programs for monitoring groundwater levels and stream flows to better understand the connection between aquifers and surface waters. Add at least 60 monitoring wells to the state’s groundwater network. (go to section)
  2. Fund the Indiana Geological Survey and others to perform systematic assessments of water resource and water supply availability in major river basins in the state. (go to section)
  3. Commit to managing Indiana water resources for their ecological and social values as well as their economic value. Use collaborative processes, supported by data on resource availability, water use, and future demand, to better determine priorities, identify key ecological limits, and define management triggers. (go to section)
  4. Create the Indiana Water Authority (IWA) to coordinate Indiana’s water management, catalyze needed investment, and “roll-up” regional plans into a comprehensive state plan that reflects state, regional, and local priorities.(go to section)
  5. Once regional plans are approved by the IWA for incorporation in the state’s comprehensive water plan, Regional Water Management Groups must own and help implement the Regional Water Plans, including employing and adapting Plan priorities for managing water in periods of water shortage. (go to section)
  6. Using Regional Water Management Group data when available, as well as other available data, the IWA should develop and maintain a forecast of water demand for all water use sectors to help guide analysis and priorities. Regions with stable use and abundant water resources will address water planning and management differently than regions with increases in use and limited water. (go to section)
  7. Amend Ind. Code §14-25-7-14 to require DNR to prepare flow duration curves for third order and larger Indiana streams and rivers. These will help regional planners understand how to plan for minimum stream flow that will support water quality, public water supply needs, and healthy communities of aquatic life. (A third order stream is fed by a stream or streams that already have two smaller tributaries. Third order and higher streams comprise generally about a quarter of total stream miles.) Previous studies commissioned by DNR indicate that preserving the flows needed to sustain aquatic life will enable us to meet water supply objectives we have for our fresh waters. (go to section)
  8. Plan for water conservation. Financial incentives can help. In addition, one common sense measure that we recommend be considered in every regional plan is identifying drought indicators that would trigger mandatory curtailment of lawn and ornamental watering in regional drought warning and emergency conditions. (go to section)
  9. Research, develop, test, and if justified, implement new water storage that is carefully planned to be off-stream, flood-water supplied, and otherwise consistent with environmental stewardship. (go to section)
  10. The legislature should empanel a study committee to consider requiring livestock producers to maintain vegetated buffers to attenuate the most frequently cited source of impairment of Indiana streams and rivers: runoff from livestock grazing and feeding. If vegetative buffers are shown to be impracticable for watercourses affected by these sources, we need to develop a viable alternative strategy for reducing the E. coli (fecal) pollution of Indiana rivers, streams, and lakes. (go to section)
  11. Eliminate the second most important cited source of stream and river impairment: direct piping of untreated or inadequately treated waste into Indiana waterways. This is in addition to continuing to invest in reducing combined sewer overflow. Another essential investment is funding for local health departments to regularly inspect septic systems and to enforce the septic system rules. The IWA should catalyze the repairs or replacements needed to address each of these issues. This may include an evaluation of the feasibility of creation or expansion of rural sewer or septic management districts and other advanced sewage management technologies. (go to section)
  12. County Surveyors and drainage boards should be empowered to take the environment into account when assessing the system, maintaining drains, and planning new or replacement drainage projects. Very minor statutory amendments could accomplish this, and suggested amendments are included in an Appendix to this Report. (go to section)
  13. Indiana needs to re-commit to improving water quality. This will include re-examining Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s (IDEM) staffing, which has been significantly reduced in recent years. Reduced funding for staff has affected monitoring and enforcement of existing permits. We also recommend that Indiana invest more in recognition of new pollutants, and regularly commission a team of experts to consider new state standards for toxic and damaging substances in waste water. (go to section)
  14. IDEM’s first priorities for cleaning up polluted streams should be vigorously protecting streams that are recognized as outstanding, and addressing key issues of streams and rivers in and near in large population centers. (go to section)