By GARY POPP
Indiana State Rep. Steve Stemler made water the focus of a 2013 legislation preview he hosted Monday at Jeffersonville’s St. Augustine Catholic Church’s Parish Hall.
Stemler, D-Jeffersonville, holds the event annually, saying it gives area residents the opportunity to learn the major initiatives that he expects to arise in the approaching state’s House of Representatives legislative session.
Stemler is working on a policy — which he anticipates will be introduced as a bill in the approaching session — that addresses how the state will match its water resources with its water needs. He said recent drought conditions have made water accessibility a prevalent issue. He added that projections of population increases in some areas, including Central Indiana, could result in water shortages if leaders don’t confront the issue.
“We are behind,” Stemler said. “We need to catch up.”
Stemler said Southeastern Indiana is fortunate to have access to a large aquifer, which it shares with parts of Jefferson County, Ky.
“We have been very fortunate in terms of our water resources that we share with the city of Louisville and Kentucky,” he said. “But, we need to better manage the water resource we have and come up with a state policy of how to be able to share that resource in areas that are not as fortunate as we are that are desperately needing it and it is really hindering their growth economically.”
He said it is a big undertaking that does not always get the attention it deserves.
“It is not something that gets a lot of flash and attention, frankly,” Stemler said. “It is not real exciting, but it is immensely important.”
Vincent Griffin of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and featured speaker at Monday night’s event is working with Stemler in addressing the state’s water issues. Griffin said Stemler has been a champion in the Indiana House on water-planning issues.
“We need a plan. We don’t have a plan. We are getting perilously close in many parts of the state to not being able to provide adequate water very soon,” he said. “We need to identify where is the water, where do you need it and how are you going to get it there. That is why we need a plan.”
While parts of the state are facing possible severe water shortages, the state as a whole is an abundant water source.
“We, in Indiana, and the Great Lakes area are sitting on what you might call a gold mine, when it comes to water,” Griffin said.
He said in addition to an abundant water source, the state also has access to large of amounts of data that will be used to devise a water policy.
“This is sort of like having all the pieces to the puzzle; we just need to put them together to do something that is smart,” he said.
Stemler said other issues state leaders must confront in the upcoming session include passage of the state budget, education, job creation and unemployment insurance. The Indiana Senate and the House of Representatives will reconvene Jan. 5 and will be in session until as late as May 1.
Odd-number years mark long sessions, while even numbers, the legislative session must be adjourned by March 14.
Stemler said it is remains unclear who will become the House’s leaders in the next session, as the state’s next governor will not be elected for several weeks. He also said that, due to redistricting, many of the representatives have withdrawn from this election cycle.
At minimum, 51 of the 100 representative will have less than two years of experience in the House, Stemler said.
Stemler is up for re-election, but is running unopposed, Nov. 6.