Principle III: Water is Life

Many of our great cities were built where they were because of the water resources that nature provided. As those cities grew, those water sources were uniformly ruined, as greater and greater amounts of more and more exotic and dangerous filth were channeled into them. The cities turned their backs on the rivers that once attracted them. 

And yet, humankind’s affinity for water kept us from forgetting. When we began to improve those waters, we started turning back toward them, and in many cities, it is now those waters that attract the most valuable new development. The City of Chattanooga is one of the best known examples, and some Indiana cities have been paying attention.

“The natural value of our waters is part of what makes for the quality of life we seek.”

When we leave our homes, fresh waters are central among the attractions we seek out: we go to the lake, we canoe on the stream, and we fish in the rivers and lakes at a rate of a billion dollars per year. We still marvel at Cataract Falls, the great rivers, the glacial lakes, and the reservoirs. The availability of spiritual refreshment at our waters is part of what makes for the quality of life we seek. 

And there is something special about waters that still testify to the health of the ecosystems that bound and sustain them. Indiana has designated 251 miles of stream as “outstanding” and 160 miles as “salmonid” (Figure 8). As fine as these waters are, many are classified as impaired, and many are fed by impaired waters.  

Figure 8. Salmonid streams and (INRC, 2003) waters qualiying for natural or scenic status. (Click to enlarge)

Like all government agencies, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management is operating in a resource-constrained environment. That makes it critical that it establish priorities for the use of the resources it has.  Indeed, the 2014 GAO report affirms (pp17-18) that by 2016, “States are to systematically set priorities for, and in their biennial integrated reports identify waters for restoration and protection.” Indiana has set some priorities, but we recommend adoption of two factors not currently being used to set priorities. 

Recommendation 14. We recommend two high priorities for taking action to resolve impaired waters. IDEM should focus first on (1) waters that are recognized as outstanding, and (2) waters in large population centers. 

There is every reason to make the resolution of the impairment of most important water bodies in the state the subject of exemplary programs to resolve the issue of persistent water quality impairment. The programs must go beyond establishing TMDLs. IDEM must carefully, credibly, and specifically identify and address the reasons the waters remain impaired in the priority streams and rivers and their tributaries. All plans and findings should be shared with the RWMGs.

Figure 8 illustrates some of the waters that should be a priority: it show waters that support salmonid fisheries, as well as waters the Indiana Department of Natural Resources identified as qualifying for natural or scenic status.