(The following column from Vince Griffin, our VP of environment and energy, appeared in the Inside INdiana Business newsletter.)
Wouldn't it be nice if every time you got in your car, you had a full tank of gas? You wouldn't have to worry about where you were going to fill up next or how much it was going to cost. Unfortunately, this is how most Hoosiers view the state's water supply.
Right now Hoosiers are using water with little to no regard for where it will come from in the future. Most people take for granted everyday things such as how they are able to have water available every time they turn on the faucet. As the most manufacturing-intensive state in the country, Indiana uses vast amounts of water each day to keep its economic engine operating. The aquifers and rivers also support agricultural production in Indiana that contributes almost $38 billion to the state's economy.
This abundant resource may become unreliable if we do not take the proper steps now. Indiana, along with other states east of the Mississippi River, currently doesn't have a plan that secures its long-term water supply.
A clear and concise strategy is required for getting water to Hoosiers who will need it most. In order to do this, three questions must be answered:
1. Where is the water?
2. Who needs the water?
3. How do we get the water to where it is needed at the right time?
Central and southern Indiana have fewer aquifers than the northern half of the state. Without some policy that promotes regional distribution systems, development could be geographically constrained. Regional supplies would alleviate those concerns.
The Ohio River could serve as one resource. Twelve billion gallons of water flow through several Indiana cities and towns that sit on the river. At several points along the Ohio, there are ranney wells built during World War II to collect water from the river. But they have not been used in recent years. By adding pumps to these wells and building a system to distribute the water farther north, future shortages could be addressed.
Other options also would be available. All would be focused on moving the water to where it is needed. Doing so will help stabilize the economic performance of southern Indiana.
Lessons can be learned from Texas. Despite experiencing a tremendous population growth, it has no usable water source. In order to combat this problem, the state is divided into water regions. The supplies being used by each are closely tracked and, depending on consumption, water moved to the regions that need it most. This system allows for continued economic growth as potential shortages are addressed.
While there are future challenges, now is a time of opportunity. Unlike many areas of the country, Indiana has water resources. We can invent our energy and water future by taking charge and planning for the future.
Senate Enrolled Act 132 in 2012, which enables the state to gather information from water utilities, will help policymakers make informed decisions. The data also will help the utilities make smart choices when it comes to distributing their resources. Utilities submitted their surveys earlier this year, and the combined findings will be reported in September.
By being proactive, Indiana can become an example for others to follow. Early commitment is also critical as projects to distribute water supplies, while tremendously beneficial, will be costly.
In a recent speech, Dr. Jack Wittman, a national water expert based in Bloomington, summed up the importance of creating a water plan: "The first state, east of the Mississippi, to come up with a plan is the winner."
Indiana has the opportunity to be that winner. The state will soon have the data; it then needs to use it. The goal is to have a plan in the next two years, then execute it to secure the water future for all Hoosiers.