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December 2, 2013

Chamber: Water plan vital to avoid dry economy

State has 824 water utilities, getting them on same page will be a challenge

JASPER — State lawmakers are expected to introduce more than 1,000 bills during the 2014 legislative session.

Vince Griffin hopes at least one will focus on water.

The state does not have a comprehensive, long-range water plan, but it ought to, said Griffin, the vice president of energy and environmental policy at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

“We have always been blessed with water,” he said. “We’ve never really needed to worry about where is it coming from and so forth, but we really should be doing that.”

Last week, Griffin spoke to more than a dozen industry leaders during a luncheon at the Schnitzelbank Restaurant. The talk was sponsored by the Southern Indiana Environmental Managers Association, which serves as a forum for private sector concerns involving environmental regulations.

Each year, a few weeks before the legislative session begins, Griffin gives the group a “mountain peak” look at energy issues percolating in the Statehouse. Lawmakers will reconvene in January.

The chamber is lobbying for a detailed water plan. Without one, Griffin warns, the state runs the risk of having a shortage in years to come. In 2012, water usage soared during a withering drought that ravaged the state, along with much of the Midwest.

“We got a pass this year from Mother Nature,” Griffin said. But another large-scale drought could strain the state’s water supply. “What we need to do,” he said, “is figure out who needs the water, where is the water and how are you going to get it there?”

The issue has serious economic implications. If drought conditions continue, more companies will look to move where water is in great supply.

“This is why the chamber’s involved with this,” Griffin said.

“Water,” he added, “will become a significant economic attraction in the very near future.”

The Patoka Lake Regional Water and Sewer District provides water to 12 counties in southwestern Indiana, treating about 7 million gallons a day. With the exception of Jasper, which pumps and treats its own drinking water from Patoka River, every community in Dubois County relies on the district for at least some of its water supply.

The state has 824 water utilities. Getting them on the same page will be a challenge, Griffin said.

But as the state’s population grows, so will the demand for water.

“If you don’t have water,” he said, “you can’t live.”

Ed Callahan, chairman of the Southern Indiana Environmental Managers Association, said Griffin’s legislative overview helps the group stay informed on what is happening in the Capitol.

“There’s always changes in the regulatory climate,” Callahan said, “and it’s sometimes hard to track those changes.”

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