As Citizens Water evaluates the pros and cons of participation in the proposed reservoir in Anderson, it will be interesting to see to what extent it might extend charity, in the form of continued survival, to the low-income Irondale community.
One way would be for Citizens to decline to participate in the possible dam and water deal which would wipe Irondale off the map after property acquisition, demolition and inundation. The displacement of this community would be largely to support a seemingly insatiable thirst for lawn irrigation water by burgeoning Indianapolis suburbs in Zionsville, Westfield, Carmel, Noblesville, and Fishers. These are affluent areas which have shown little or no interest in water conservation and which tally very high maximum-day demands on the water system during the dry months.
Despite its much-touted legal configuration as a public charitable trust, Citizens Energy has some history of degrading communities which have limited means. For over 100 years, Citizens Energy Group operated a huge coke plant on the southeast side of Indianapolis. The plant had very debilitating effects on the surrounding working class neighborhoods. Those effects are reported in a University of Indianapolis study When the Ovens Go Cold— Industrial Contamination and Community Response, a Preliminary Report of the Coke Plant Re-Use Project Group, March 2009. It concludes, in part,
“The literature on environmental racism and environmental classism demonstrates clearly that non-white and non-affluent areas have been the dumping ground for the waste created to maintain a high standard of living for an increasingly smaller part of the American population (Bullard, 1990; Bullard, 1993). Similar environmental sociology research in Indianapolis and Indiana report clear evidence of racism and classism in the locating of toxic waster generators and toxic waste dumps (Maher, 1998).”
If Citizens Water becomes the principal user of water captured in a Mounds Lake as proposed by the CED, most of the water released at the dam during dry-weather, low-flow conditions would be used for wasteful turf grass irrigation in the northern tier communities of Indianapolis which have been mostly indifferent to, if not contemptuous of, water conservation. These communities are populated largely by wealthy and politically-powerful people who view a heavily-irrigated expanse of green lawn as a sign of wealth and status. (During the 2012 drought, one residential customer in Carmel on the Citizens system was drawing at a rate of more than one million gallons per day). Also, theses communities are still growing at a brisk pace, and the politicians don’t want to slow their fast-paced growth which itself has come to be perceived as a symbol of status. And Citizens Water too is loathe to restrain the expansion of the urban area in any way because the expansion of its customer base and thus revenues is a key business and strategic objective.
If Citizens Water decides to push ahead in a deal to build a reservoir, it will be interesting to see how its engineers and PR consultants will craft their statements of need in order to finesse these and other significant social equity and environmental issues.
Irondale residents celebrated their annual reunion this weekend. One wonders how many more such gatherings will be held if Citizens Water decides to pursue building a reservoir.