Experts from state and local governments gathered in Indianapolis to teach Indiana stakeholders about changes to federal water laws and how climate change is shaping local public policy.
The IU Robert H. McKinney School of Law held a symposium entitled “Protecting Hoosier Waters: What’s New and What’s Next in Law, Science and Public Policy,” which brought together experts in water science, water infrastructure, environmental law and public policy to discuss multiple facets of Indiana’s water policies and challenges.
“It’s an important time to talk about water issues,” said Bruno Pigott, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. “What I love about this symposium is that we’re bringing all of these issues together, which are important for ensuring that we continue to see progress from ensuring that our water is safe and clean for recreation, fishing and consumption.”
Water policy has taken on added importance in Indiana due to climate change. Scientists who study the issue have seen changes in the amount of precipitation and the rate at which it falls in the state.
“We’re getting wetter and wetter, faster,” said Jeff Dukes, director of Purdue University’s Climate Research Center. “That’s particularly true in the southern part of the state. And it’s not just that we’re getting more precipitation, but we’re also getting more precipitation in the heaviest events.”
Dukes said researchers have seen a 42% increase in the amount of precipitation that falls in the heaviest downpours across the Midwest. In Indiana, the rain changes have had implications for flooding, erosion of agricultural fields and water quality issues.
Increased precipitation has already made a huge impact on the way Hoosiers live and work.
Heavy rainfall negatively affected production of the state’s top agricultural crops, corn and soybeans in 2019. The year’s 4.82 million acres of harvested corn is the state’s lowest total since 1983.
Increased rainfall has also caused increased flooding in the state’s rivers, lakes and streams, adding a financial burden on Hoosiers and municipal governments when disaster strikes.
Flooding also threatens to spread toxic pollution found at Superfund sites across the state.
To address the diverse set of problems, the symposium featured experts from state and local governments discussing how to best plan and fund for infrastructure improvements to handle the increased water burden.
The symposium also touched upon a major change in federal law that narrows the list of which waterways fall under federal instead of state protection.
The Navigable Waters Protection Rule scraps a 2015 rule that included eight categories of waterways, including ephemeral streams, short-lived bodies of water that only exist and connect to larger bodies of water after rain events.
The new rule cut the number of protected categories to four.
“The rule dramatically restricts what kinds of waterbodies are protected by the Clean Water Act so much that conservation groups, states and many businesses and others have dubbed it the Dirty Water Rule,” said Jon Devine, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “With this rollback, the Trump administration has made it easier for these waters to be polluted or destroyed.”
The symposium will be posted online here sometime this week.