(INDIANAPOLIS) – Those water main breaks you’ve been seeing every so often are just a symptom of an expensive long-term problem.
A 2014 study found Indiana’s combination of manufacturing and farming makes it the most water-dependent economy in the U.S. Hydrologist Jack Wittman says irrigation and groundwater use have continued rising. He says the state and its water utilities need to start planning now for how much water Hoosiers will need, and how to get it to customers. He says those plans need to be drafted regionally, as different parts of the state are in different watersheds — water in southern Indiana is more scarce than in the north.
The White River Alliance sponsored a two-day summit aimed at kickstarting the planning process.
Melissa Widhalm with the Purdue Climate Change Research Center predicts climate change will reduce water supply at the same time demand is increasing. She says forecasters expect an overall increase in rainfall over the next 30 years, but with all the extra rain coming in winter and spring, while summer and fall, when demand is highest, become drier.
And Wittman says water utilities face a problem of replacing pipes, most of which are the ones which first allowed the delivery of clean drinking waters to your faucet 60 or more years ago. He says the water filtration systems which began around 1920 the most successful public-health infrastructure project in history, dramatically reducing deaths from waterborne illnesses. But he says repairing that infrastructure will cost $18 billion over the next 20 years — that’s an average of more than $100 a year for every single Hoosier, with more than twice that amount needed at the outset. He says water utilities have put off addressing the issue because customers would never tolerate a rate hike that size.