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January 29, 2013

Legislation calls for state 'water czar'

Bill grants broad powers to new water management agency

Indianapolis — Indiana’s polluted streams, chronically flooded areas and rising demand for water in fast-growing parts of the state are among the reasons cited for the need for a state “water czar.”

Legislation that has support from both conservationists and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce calls for the first-ever statewide water management plan and a gubernatorial-appointed administrator to execute it.  

The bill is authored by state Rep. Mike Karickhoff, R-Kokomo, whose legislation reflects concerns of a task force that spent 18 months studying the threats to Indiana’s natural resources.

The task force found that Indiana has “extraordinary” water resources that give the state an economic advantage. But it also found the resources are vulnerable, in part because of the lack of a coordinated effort to protect and manage the state’s water supplies.

“Water is abundant here,” said Karickhoff. “But just because a resource is abundant doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take care of it.”

Last year’s intense drought, which triggered water-usage bans around the state, highlighted how critical water is as a resource.

But concerns about how to manage both water quality and water quantity predate the drought.

In its report to the Legislature, the Sustainable Natural Resources Task Force noted Indiana’s waters are “overwhelmingly classified as impaired” — meaning they don’t meet federal water quality standards.

The report also noted the demand for water in fast-growing communities in central Indiana may soon outpace the supply.

And some parts of southwest Indiana are chronically flooded. Or, as Republican state Sen. Jim Tomes of Wadesville told his colleagues earlier this week: “We’ve been up to our eyeballs in water every spring for years.”

Karickhoff’s legislation mirrors a bill in the state Senate, carried by Democratic state Sen. Richard Young Jr. of Milltown. The companion bills borrow from similar legislation adopted by other states that faced expensive lawsuits for failing to manage their water resources.

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