Water Conservation an untapped resource

Following is my recent letter to the Indianapolis Business Journal regarding water conservation.  This is the original letter– several portions were cut by the IBJ editor from the version which was published.


“IBJ’s 11-2-13 editorial (Study water needs while there’s time) should have noted the value of conservation in meeting future area needs. Available supply should be carefully stewarded and not “promiscuously pumped”, as one water expert recently put it.

From attending many of the recent meetings of the Citizens Water board and its technical advisory group, it’s clear that supply during droughts is indeed strained. This is exacerbated when some residential customers (e.g. one in Carmel on the Citizens system) draw at the rate of more than a million gallons per day even during last year’s drought.

Yet a recent consultant report on water supply for Boone County didn’t even mention water conservation– it only considered finding and financing new supply as the only solution for meeting future demand. As a result, that’s what the area’s public officials will focus upon– to the exclusion of other viable, less expensive solutions. Many cities have significantly reduced their consumption without pain. San Antonio reduced its per capita daily use from 225 gallons to 115 gallons within 25 years by instilling and implementing a water conservation ethic. The water utility there pumps less from the local river than it did in the early 1980s—with 67 percent more customers.

Interestingly, Citizens Water’s baseline pumpage has been declining slightly but steadily over the past several years, much to the chagrin of its financial managers who lament the revenue decreases. This indicates that customers across the board are conserving more. Water has become increasingly expensive. But conservation is vastly cheaper than financing new supply sources.

However, if the principal public goal continues to be the unlimited growth of the urbanized area in central Indiana — along with the perpetuation of our highly wasteful lawn irrigation practices — we will inevitably be forced to continually search for new, increasingly expensive supply sources. Do Citizens Water ratepayers really want to continue to finance unlimited suburban sprawl in addition to maintaining an aging and increasingly maintenance-intensive Indianapolis water infrastructure?”

Clarke Kahlo

Sports parks, and irrigated lawns, are profligate water users

Two large sports parks are currently under development in Hamilton and Marion counties.

The largest is a massive Grand Park in Westfield which features 26 baseball diamonds and 31 multi-purpose playing fields on 360 acres. To irrigate these expanses of turfgrass, 3 sources of water will be needed— on-site drainage retention ponds, 2 drilled wells, and service from Citizens Water. Already, the City of Westfield has compensated several nearby property owners for the resultant failures of their residential wells.

The World Sports Park in southeastern Marion County comprises 40 acres and 4 playing fields for various sports. Irrigating this park, as it is being developed, has also caused private area wells to lose water and the City to incur additional costs to drill deeper wells.

Both of these newest sports projects are intended to produce economic development benefits. One wonders, though, about their long-term effect on groundwater availability. Citizens Water had recently reported some difficulty in finding locations for new wells in Hamilton County which deliver a sustainable yield of groundwater. Boone County officials have recently produced a report which calls for new sources of supply to support desired high rates of suburban growth that have come to comprise “bragging rights” for officials in Carmel, Noblesville, Fishers and nearby areas.

Irrigation of turfgrass is a wasteful use of water, especially potable water, during times of drought. Yet in 2010, America had 21 million acres covered with turfgrass. Last year during the drought, one residential Carmel customer on the Citizens Water system was drawing more than a million gallons a day of potable water from the Citizens’s system to irrigate his property, presumably including a private golf course.

Hopefully, the demand for lawns will change over time. It will need to if central Indiana is to properly manage its water resources. As Laura Vanderkarn put it (USA Today, Out of Fashion: Green Lawns, 8-17-10: “The best approach is for all of us to start thinking of lawns as fashion— a fashion like wearing the feathers of rare birds in hats was once a fashion. Fashions can change when enough people decide they are ridiculous or wasteful.”

No consultation with Citizens Water prior to Gov. Pence’s $600,000 gift to the Anderson CED

I attended the November 20th meeting of Citizens Waters’ Technical Advisory Group. During the Public Comments portion of the agenda, I provided copies of the Heart of the River Coalition’s two-page Case Statement in Opposition to the planned dam and reservoir.

During the ensuing discussion, Citizens officials acknowledged that no one from the Pence administration had contacted Citizens Water to inquire about the feasibility or desirability of a new reservoir as a new source of central Indiana water supply.  (Gov. Pence’s news release announcing the $600,000 grant award noted the supposed nexus to central Indiana’s future water supply).  Also, significantly, Dan Considine (Citizens’ Manager of Corporate Communications) reiterated at the meeting that, on Citizens’ priority list of potential new water supply sources, a new reservoir is near the very bottom of the list.

At this point, one can only speculate why the Pence administration didn’t perform due diligence before it decided, via the Indiana Finance Authority, to dole out $600,000 to fund a “Phase II” feasibility study for the CED’s planned dam.  Did it not matter what the impediments or potential problems might be?   Was it enamored by the CED’s sales pitch about promoting economic development in the Anderson area?  Did it want to make a political gesture to east-central Indiana. (albeit using OPM– Other Peoples’ Money)?

On November 18th, I called the Indiana Finance Authority and left a voice message for its Director of Environmental Programs (Jim McGoff) who, I was told by an IFA staffer, is the appropriate point of contact.  I am hoping to receive information about how or whether the IFA evaluated the request for public funds.  We’ll keep trying to reach him.  If he doesn’t respond, we’ll be forced to file records requests under the Indiana Access to Public Records Act.   (For an informative primer on open government (records and meetings), see Steve Key’s recent presentation to the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations at the following link.  His presentation starts at 24:26 minutes into the video.  Mr. Key is General Counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association.)


Many of the environmental experts with whom I’ve spoken about the planned dam and reservoir are quick to mention the scientific drawbacks to the plan and to new dams in general.  Surely, Gov. Pence’s experts at the Departments of Environmental Management and Natural Resources could also advise him on these questions.  One wonders if Gov. Pence’s staff also decided not to bother to consult their own agency experts at IDEM and DNR.

Tenet No. 17 (of 40) of A Conservationist Manifesto by Scott Russell Sanders

“The integrity we perceive in nature is our own birthright.  We swim in the one and only stream of life. By recognizing that we are part of this vast, subtle, ancient order, we maybe restored to wholeness.  A sense of communion with other organisms, with the energies and patterns of nature is instinctive in children, and it is available to every adult who has ever watched a bird or cloud. A sense of solidarity not only with all things presently alive but also with generations past and to come, may free us from the confines of the private ego.”

John Muir’s Indianapolis experience changed his life

My copy of the Nov-Dec. Sierra magazine arrived recently, and Executive Director Michael Brune’s column about John Muir caught my eye.   This year is Muir’s 175th birthday anniversary. Brune mused, in part, that Muir would, if living now, be a great eco-activist using current-day media and tools.   He opined, in part, that Muir would be a great TED Talk conference speaker.  

“He might have started with the story of how he was temporarily blinded after an accident at the Indianapolis carriage shop he worked in.  When his sight returned weeks later, he saw the world – and humanities’ place in it – differently.  He soon set off on his famous 1,000 mile walk to the Gulf of Mexico….  He ultimately wound up in California, where he first encountered the Sierra Nevada.  After that, he never wavered in his commitment to exploring, appreciating, and defending wilderness.”

It’s intriguing to recall that Muir was indeed here working in Indianapolis, and that his accident played a pert in his future conservation passion and life-long work. 



Tenet No. 16 of A Conservationist Manifesto by Scott Russell Sanders

“16.   Just as all people belong to the same family, regardless of the surface differences that seem to divide us, so all living things are interrelated.   We depend on the integrity and services of Earth’s natural systems, from enzymes in our bellies to currents in the oceans, from bees pollinating fruit trees to ozone-blocking ultraviolet light.”

Announcing: Agreement with CACEF enables tax-deductible contributions to HTR

In early November, Heart of the River and the Citizens Action Coalition Education Fund entered into an agreement which provides a structure whereby HTR can receive contributions which are tax-deductible for the donor.  This is a mechanism whereby a community group, which is not  an IRS-designated 501(c) 3 public welfare organization, can be sponsored by a 501(c) 3 via a Fiscal Agency whereby the sponsoring organization receives the earmarked contributions and holds them on account and disperses the funds as needed by the sponsored group. The sponsored organization must ensure to comply with IRS requirements, i.e. that that none of its activities constitute legislative lobbying or political or religious advocacy.   Heart of the River is grateful to CACEF for providing its Fiscal Agency services.  HTR will use contributions to support its ongoing activities related to educating the community about the multiple benefits and values of a free-flowing White River.

Contributions to Heart of the River Coalition can be made payable to “CACEF”, with Heart of the River” written on the check’s memo line, and mailed to CACEF, 603 E. Washington Street, Suite 502, Indianapolis Indiana 46204.   

The following descriptive information about CACEF is posted on its website– http://www.cacefindiana.org/

CACEF’s Mission

To improve the quality of life of all inhabitants of the State of Indiana, achieved through conducting research, public education and development efforts to conserve natural resources, protect the environment and provide affordable access to essential human services.


Citizens Action Coalition Education Fund (CACEF) is a 501(c)3 organization founded in 1976 to address issues of economic, social and environmental concern. Often CACEF partners with the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana (CAC), a 501(c)4 membership organization that works statewide on consumer, health and environmental issues. Over the last thirty years these organizations have contributed measurably to improving the lives of Hoosiers from all socio-economic spheres.

The sister organization of CACEF is the Citizens Action Coalition, a 501(c)4 organization founded in 1974, which works on many of the same initiatives through a focus on initiating, facilitating and coordinating citizen action and advocacy.