Principle II: We All Care About Clean Water

B. Water Pollution Regulation

The central feature of Indiana’s Clean Water Act was to prohibit pollution of Indiana waters unless the polluter had obtained a permit. Some forty years later, it is important to recognize the improvement in Indiana waters that has been made, and the change in our culture that the law has stimulated. Almost all Hoosiers recognize that each person and company that generates pollution has the responsibility to clean it up before returning liquid waste to public waters.

And yet the Environmental Protection Agency reported in 2009 that of 196 major point sources of water pollution in Indiana, 147 were not in compliance with their water pollution permits. Of those, 12 were in “significant” non-compliance. This resulted in informal enforcement actions in 53 cases. There were 5 cases of formal enforcement. There have been no comparable EPA reports since 2009, but non-compliance continues to be an issue. For example, two utilities that discharge into the White River have been in non-compliance every quarter for the past three years.  

A significant reason for the issues Indiana has with compliance is that according to IDEM’s “IDEM 101” PowerPoint presentation, the staff of the agency has been reduced by more than 14% since 2010. Along the same lines, a Hoosier Environmental Council analysis showed that the General Fund allocation for the agency’s budget has been reduced by 39% since its recent high mark in 2001-2002 and 2002-2003: from over $37 million per year to over $22 million. Using the same years as a comparison, IDEM’s overall budget, which includes funds from fees and fines as well as federal support, has dropped by 21%. There are not comparably fewer permits to monitor, fewer streams to assess or even fewer violations to deal with than there were a decade ago. Formal enforcement is, of course, not always the right action for a permittee in non-compliance. But when enforcement becomes rare, permittees who are under financial pressure—and that means all permittees—are inevitably more likely to fund other priorities and try to get by without fixing their systems. 

In addition to enforcing the permits we have issued, we need to address pollution caused by unpermitted polluters, including particularly the sources of the sewage being piped directly into Indiana waters as mentioned above. 

Finally, we need to consider the safety of new substances. The Indiana legislature showed the will to do this when it recently banned the use of microscopic plastic beads in personal care products. As new research identifies other new hazards to our waters, from hormone mimics to other nano-particles, we need to be prepared as a state to require the promulgation of standards that protect people and wildlife from the effects of those substance on our state waters. We need not and should not bind ourselves to federal action or lack thereof on these pollutants. 

We need an appraisal of IDEM’s capacity, and a commitment to appropriate staffing. In addition, there is a constant flow of new substances that may threaten our waters: certain nano-particles and hormone mimics are examples. IDEM should regularly convene a team of experts to consider setting new state standards for toxic and damaging substances in waste water.

Recommendation 13. We recommend that Indiana re-invest in its capacity to monitor and enforce its water pollution laws, recognize new pollutants, and set appropriate state standards for toxic and damaging substances in waste water.

Indiana needs to re-commit to resolving the issues of water quality. The state committed to clean water forty years ago, but we haven’t yet achieved the clean water we hoped for. We need to monitor and be willing to enforce the water pollution permits we have issued. 

Our legal system in Indiana recognizes a right to an environment that is safe for humans and wildlife. That right is yet to be redeemed in many of our surface waters. We have the resources to do it. We cannot afford not to do it. It is time to re-commit ourselves to the task.