Principle I: Active Stewardship of Our Water Resources is Essential for This and Future Generations
B. Active Stewardship: Planning for Water Resource Management
If we commit now to a water management process in which the voices of all of the state’s water stakeholders can be heard, we can avoid making rushed and poorly considered decisions in the face of future water shortages and floods. Indeed, if we do not plan in advance, such predictable water events will become crises. For instance, the Tippecanoe Watershed (see Insert below) can either become an example of a crisis or an example of informed collaboration that optimizes the achievement of diverse objectives for a water resource.
Attempting to manage without understanding is a recipe for failure.
NIPSCO’s two hydroelectric dams on the Tippecanoe River have created Lakes Shafer and Freeman (see map insert). Both dams are licensed by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) as “run-of-river”, meaning that they are required to operate so that the outflow from the dams approximates the sum of the inflows to the lakes (NISPCO, 2015).
Downstream of those NIPSCO dams is a diverse freshwater mussel community, including several mussel species that are listed under the Endangered Species Act (USFWS, 2015). During drought conditions in 2012 and again in 2013, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) documented mortality of mussels in this critical stretch of the Tippecanoe River. The mortality was attributed to low flows.
RESPONSE: The USFWS diagnosed the problem as one of dam operation. They recommended to NIPSCO a series of changes in releases to mimic natural flows and sustain downstream mussel populations during drought. However, implementation of the
recommendations lowered lake levels in Lake Freeman. The lower lake levels reduced the recreational opportunities on the lake and caused property owners to be concerned about the long-term effects of the policy.
The Tippecanoe watershed must serve at least four masters: (1) upstream users, including agriculture; (2) NIPSCO; (3) our legal commitment to aquatic wildlife, including endangered mussels; and (4) the lakeside property owners. A full analysis of the effects of various ways of operating the dam is not possible because essential data has not been gathered.
Analysis of the historic water levels, current water use, and trends in the basin could support decisions and mitigate this conflict. From the Indiana Finance Authority’s current work, we know that:
The lakes cannot be managed to satisfy all needs of the system during low water flows– Lake Freeman cannot provide substantial, long-term releases during dry periods without facing periods of low lake levels. Some compromise and optimization will be essential.
Increasing groundwater use in the basin may limit future options – The increasing use of groundwater in the basin is currently registered in the IDNR significant water withdrawal facilities database but there is no management of this use when stream flows are low.
High aquifer storage masks impacts of increasing groundwater withdrawal – Although aquifer storage is high now, the effect of releases on lake levels could be much more dramatic if drought conditions return and additional releases are needed.
Method to predict low flow needs to be improved – Naturalized flow analysis presented in the report suggests that the USFWS’s linear scaling method may be biased toward overcorrecting for potential low flows, and may result in recommending releases that actually exceed natural flows.
If the Tippecanoe River region had water-resource plans and regional water management groups, not only could this analysis have been done before the low-flow rule implementation, but all of the stakeholders would have the information needed to negotiate an optimal solution for providing for upstream irrigation, maintaining lake levels so far as possible, and providing, as federal law requires, for the survival of Indiana’s endangered aquatic wildlife.
Recommendation 3. Commit to managing Indiana’s water resources in an environmentally, socially and economically conscious way. Managing water can be an active, resource-driven effort that benefits the users while protecting streams and aquifers.
State and Regional Water Planning, Management, and Implementation
Our vision for active management of Indiana’s water resources involves enhanced commitments at regional and statewide levels.
Proper stewardship of Indiana’s freshwater resources requires gathering information, analyzing demand and trends, making infrastructure investments, and setting priorities that will guide us in times of water scarcity. Statewide, Indiana should facilitate the transformation of current work now being done in the Indiana Finance Authority into a focused effort that we call the Indiana Water Authority. The IWA will lead, coordinate and catalyze state-level water planning, management and investment. At the same time, much of the information that will be used by a statewide agency ought to be generated regionally. Active water stewardship should include the establishment of Regional Water Management Groups. These RWMGs will develop authoritative regional water plans.
The RWPGs will be supported and their plans harmonized and ultimately approved by the Indiana Water Authority. The combined statewide and regional efforts will embody a new state focus on protecting and developing Indiana’s water resources as public capital.