I recently attended a meeting of the West Lakes Association to discuss what was accomplished in the just-finished legislative session. Our discussion centered primarily on recent flooding in the area and key policy changes at the state level that would aid local decision makers in more effective water management and emergency response. This discussion brought to mind an opportunity for more debate on this issue which is happening at the statehouse this summer among members of the Water Resources Study Committee.
During the 2012 legislative session, the General Assembly approved a law that requires water utilities in the state to report annually to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) the methods of use and specific costs of providing service to ratepayers. This is a first step to developing a comprehensive statewide water plan based on recent data.
Hoosiers have experienced both extremes in past years. In 2008, the Midwest experienced heavy rainfall causing the Ohio River tributaries to overflow, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided over $175 million in disaster assistance to repair the damages caused by the flooding. According to FEMA in 2011, Indiana experienced six flood-related catastrophes since 2006, and everyone remembers last year’s drought.
Currently, many state government organizations share the responsibility of protecting and addressing water related issues facing Hoosiers. The Indiana State Department of Agriculture is an excellent resource for farmers affected by the drought to find assistance. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has information on a variety of topics including: dams, levees, ground and surface water, Lake Michigan, floodplains and flood insurance to list a few. For information on flood related issues like advisories, how to prepare and what to do during a flood, the Indiana Department of Homeland Security has championed these issues.
With so many water related incidents, the General Assembly needs to consider having a resource available to the public that covers all related topics. While most natural disasters are unpredictable, we can work to better prepare our state to “weather the storm” by establishing a statewide comprehensive water plan and by creating a consolidated resource to address Indiana’s water concerns.
Developing new water policy is a major undertaking. It requires time, considerable effort and careful examination. For example, how should we address areas that receive heavy or little rainfall? As Lake Michigan attracts considerable rainfall to northern portions of state, other regions receive less. The new water plan should include a water distribution policy for areas experiencing shortages.
I appreciate the opportunity to have a frank conversation with those who attended the West Lakes Association meeting earlier this month. I look forward to working with fellow legislators in the coming months to find common-sense policies for the management of Indiana’s water resources. I encourage you to join me during any public meeting and let me know what concerns you have or contact me via email at email@example.com or by phone at 317-232-9643.