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

E. The Regional Water Management Process

The right place to identify needs, sort out conflicts, and implement plans is at the regional level. This process begins with collaborative planning through the creation of Regional Water Management Groups (RWMGs). They will identify and resolve issues with the participation and support of state IWA staff and of additional technical staff people from DNR and IDEM, and as needed, other state agencies involved in collecting and affecting water management. RWMGs will determine whether the water resource is generally adequate to satisfy identified needs, and if not, agree to adjust and explore options for supplementing the available resources. Finally, RWMGs will develop drought plans with all stakeholders present and participating, forging agreements for the compromises that will be necessary in shortage conditions. Upon IWA’s approval of a regional plan,  that plan will be incorporated into the state water plan, and the RWMG will qualify for state implementation funding. The RWMG will use the plan and the funding to help the units of government in the region carry out the plan.

Our recommendation for regional water management adds specifics to the general recommendations made in the 2014 Chamber of Commerce report. The Indiana Code already includes many analogous authorizations for development and economic planning entities that operate at regional scales. A simple legislative directive incorporating the features described in this Report will establish a template for the RWMGs. A draft statute is provided in the appendix of this Report. 

Recommendation 5. Create Regional Water Planning and Management Groups. The advance negotiation regarding priorities and trade-offs that we believe is essential for water planning must take place in the RWMGs and, in the case of extra-regional issues, with the involvement of the IWA. 

Regional Planning and Management

The RWMG planning process should feature regular public meetings, and should be consistently staffed by an IWA staff person, as well as technical representatives from DNR and IDEM, with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Army Corps of Engineers invited to have representatives present at all meetings. In addition, other state agencies that collect relevant data, or manage programs that affect water quality or quantity should be given notice of RWMG meetings and should participate as requested by the RWMG. The Group members could be appointed to three year terms by the Governor with input from regional officials, and the Groups will elect their own Chairs. Of the ten members of each Group, we recommend that no more than six be affiliated with any one political party. Terms will be staggered to preserve continuity. Each Group should have members representing the following water interests: 

  • drinking water and domestic use
  • local government
  • natural values, fish and wildlife, and ecology
  • recreational use
  • industrial use
  • electric power production 
  • agriculture  
  • public health
  • drainage and stormwater management

Once approved by the IWA for incorporation in the state’s comprehensive water plan, the regional water plan will be implemented by the units of government within the regions, with the key marginal funding available through the Regional Water Management Groups. The RWMGs will then carry out the ongoing process of adaptive management, adjustments to changing conditions, and follow-up to ensure that planned projects are completed. The RWMGs will amend plans when appropriate.  RWMGs will also have authority to declare regional drought emergencies, and, through the sponsoring units of local government, should implement the voluntary and mandatory responses set forth in their planning documents. All RWMG meetings are to be public, and time must be allotted on every meeting agenda to take public comment.

Good regional plans and management will lead to good questions about statewide water governance. For example, Regional water managers may ask their legislators about certain state-mandated priorities. At present, domestic water users owning land adjacent to a watercourse have legal priority over “all other uses” for satisfying “domestic” needs.  (Ind. Code §14-25-1-3.) “Domestic,” however, is defined to include water for livestock and poultry and domestic animals. That surprising definition of “domestic” may be appropriate for some regions, but not others. No one wants livestock to suffer from inadequate water, and we must plan carefully to avoid that catastrophe. But the needs of commercial livestock operations as a water priority ought to be considered independently from domestic uses of water.

The Regions

One of the first steps to be taken in any regional planning process is the delineation of planning regions. Several alternatives have been considered and proposed based on methods used in other states. In Texas, the water supply planning regions are delineated along county boundaries that fit either the watersheds (East Texas) or the aquifer boundaries (West Texas). In each case in Texas, the regional water users are extracting supplies from the same set of water resources. Georgia follows the same principles; it has established 11 regions based on watershed boundaries. Like Texas, Georgia has used the county boundaries as the delineation perimeter for the regions. Doing so makes the best use of the established local governance mechanisms. 

Figure 5. Examples of potential water planning and management regions in Indiana. (Click to enlarge)

Indiana has other already established regions that could be used to define regional units of the water planning process. For example, the existing Indiana Water Shortage Plan uses climactic regions. These do not track the water resource but they are already used for reporting on drought (Figure 5a). Another approach would be to use a set of boundaries that exist in the water supply industry – the districts of the American Water Works Association (Figure 5b). The advantage of using this way of defining regions is that most of the water utilities in these areas already know their neighbors and meet with them in these district meetings. The disadvantage is that the AWWA regions do not follow watershed boundaries and they are slightly larger than optimal for regional planning. A third alternative is to define a region as a subset of watersheds that are naturally connected (Figure 5d). The watersheds can be combined and divided in various ways to result in seven to ten planning and management regions. This third approach appeals to many members of this Report’s Steering Committee.

In any case, the planning regions should share a set of water resources, face common growth and development issues, and share a natural landscape and relatively similar ecological advantages and limitations.