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Bulldozers win, bald eagles lose; “Anti-Wetlands” bill signed into law

By Linda Gibson

Gov. Eric Holcomb has signed a bill that ends state protection for about 80 percent of Indiana’s wetlands, habitat that iconic species such as bald eagles depend on.

The remaining 20 percent are under protection from the federal Clean Water Act.

Until now, developers, farmers, miners or others who wanted to dredge, fill or discharge into wetlands had to get a permit from Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management. Although IDEM in 2020 sought sanctions for only one violator of wetlands regulations, builders complained that the permit process was a heavy burden under what the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Chris Garten of Scottsburg, Ind., called “out-of-control” IDEM enforcement agents.

One hundred organizations, and all Democrats in the Legislature, opposed the bill. Five organizations supported it, led by the Indiana Builders Association.

Indiana Rep. Sue Errington, a Democrat from Muncie who pushed for the wetlands task force authorized by the bill, said she was “deeply disappointed” about the rest of it. “The Governor has given into the demands of private interests and turned his back on the hundred organizations, who represent thousands of Hoosiers, that called for him to veto this legislation,” she said.

Opponents of the bill, including Save the Dunes and the Hoosier Environmental Council, say it “… represents one of the greatest setbacks in the history of Indiana conservation policy because it places hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands in jeopardy. The potential loss … could considerably cost the state in increased flooding, lost groundwater recharge, lost water purification, and lost wildlife habitat, driving up property damage, taxpayer-funded infrastructure repairs, and damaging Indiana’s vibrant recreational sector. “

Developers, farmers or anyone seeking to disturb a wetland still have to get expert consultation on whether it is federally protected, or a state Class I wetland that gets no protection.

The task force created by the bill will study the state of wetlands in Indiana and their impacts. It is to report its findings to the legislature on November 1st, 2022.

The Hoosier Environmental Council‘s website has lists of legislators who voted for or against the bill, as well as information on how to find your legislator. For a list of organizations who supported the bill, see the post “The future of Indiana wetlands: bald eagles or bulldozers?”

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Wetlands bill gets to governor’s desk for signature

By Linda Gibson

Gov. Eric Holcomb has until Wednesday, May 5th, to sign the bill or veto it. If he chooses neither action, the bill automatically becomes law. It would significantly narrow the number of Indiana wetlands protected from dredging, filling, dumping and polluting.

For an explanation of what wetlands are, what they do and why so many groups oppose the bill, see the letter whose link is presented in the previous blog post.

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Caravan organized to seek governor’s veto of wetlands bill

By Linda Gibson

More than 50 organizations have signed a letter to Gov. Eric Holcomb asking him to veto the current version of SEA 389, a bill that would eliminate protection of a significant portion of the state’s wetlands.

A caravan of people representing these groups will rally at the Capitol at 8:30 a.m. (Eastern time) Monday, April 25th, then present the letter to the governor about 8:45 a.m.

A copy of the letter follows. It includes several pages of appendices that explain the science of wetlands, policy alternatives and the broad range of groups in opposition to the current bill.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vQ7KurPtejOv3Usgzb8wWOnw0btKUEpRn1ICsFRDiNq4yXm4S1LQWoepFNqWX1XtZAgPylDMTvUNM8V/pub?embedded=true

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“Anti-wetlands” bill, amendment headed for committee vote

By Linda Gibson

Senate Bill 389, which would end state regulation of dredging, filling, draining and discharging into most of Indiana’s wetlands, is scheduled for a hearing at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 7, before the Indiana House Environmental Affairs Committee, according to legislative media spokesman Jose DeFonce.

The bill also will include an amendment to be voted on. Dr. Indra Frank of the Hoosier Environmental Council described it: “Amendment 24 is much better than the original bill…, but it still reduces wetland protection.  It’s not good, but we have been warned that if Amendment 24 doesn’t make it into the bill, then something worse will pass.” DeFonce said no testimony would be taken.

The bill as written has attracted substantial opposition from at least 80 groups representing hunting, fishing, the environment, water quality, flood control and boating. It’s supported by five groups representing builders, manufacturers, farmers and developers.

Wood storks in wetlands

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Wetlands bill still in Indiana House

Indiana Senate Bill 389, which would abolish the law protecting most of the states’s wetlands, was given a hearing in the House Environmental Affairs Committee the morning of Monday, March 22nd. Testimony was heard and the bill was held for further discussion.

Five groups, representing builders, farmers, manufacturers and energy, support the bill. Seventy-five groups, representing environmentalists, hunters and state wetlands regulators, oppose it. Without the law in place, wetlands could be bulldozed, drained, filled or discharged into without oversight, Indiana Department of Environmental Management spokesman Barry Sneed said.

For more information on what wetlands do and why they’re important, see the story below called, “The future of Indiana wetlands: bald eagles or bulldozers?”

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Buy Water or Build a Pipeline? Joliet Decides

After several years of research and pondering, the city council of Joliet, Ill. decided Jan. 28 to buy its water from the Chicago Department of Water Management, relying on a 100-year contract to keep water rate increases in check.

The alternative, building its own pipeline to Lake Michigan, an intake and an advanced treatment plant, would have cost up to $1.4 billion. Capital costs for the Chicago plan were expected to be from $592 million to $810 million.

Council members voted seven to one in favor of the buy option. Average monthly water bills by 2040 were projected to hit $142 with the Chicago option, and $149 with the build-a-pipeline option.

Eventually, costs for the build option were expected to drop below the Chicago deal as capital improvements were paid for, but that apparently didn’t make the initial billion-dollar price any easier to swallow. City officials have pledged to come up with programs to help low-income residents pay their higher water bills.

Failing aquifers that supply the city’s wells forced the city to decide one way or the other. By 2030, some of the city’s wells are expected to be dry.

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The Billion-Dollar Question: What Should Joliet Do?

By Linda Gibson

Dollar symbols flowing from an open faucet. Digital illustration.

The city of Joliet, Ill. can no longer rely on depleted aquifers to supply enough water to its failing wells. It can spend $900,000,000 to $1.1 billion building its own pipeline to Lake Michigan at a site in Hammond, Ind., or it can buy water from a lakeshore city such as Chicago. Mayors of both cities traveled to Joliet to make personal pitches to the city council for a contract.

With its own pipeline, rates for residents are expected to go up from an average of $30.75 a month to almost $100 a month. However, the city’s analysis predicts this would be less expensive in the long run than buying water. Owning a pipeline to the lake would let Joliet set its own rates, and pump surplus water to sell.

As a customer, it would have some bargaining power, but would it have enough to convince residents after rate increases imposed by another city that they’re getting the best deal?

Design, routing, permitting and construction must begin quickly to meet a deadline of 2030, when at least four wells will be close to failing. The city council aims to make a decision in January 2021.

What would you decide?