Guest editorial– Why Reservoirs are the Wrong Solution for Increasing Central Indiana’s Water Supply in a Changing Climate

The proposed Mounds Lake Reservoir has been touted as necessary for securing a reliable water supply for continued growth in central Indiana. A growing body of evidence, however, shows that the likely changes to precipitation patterns that will result from climate change point toward ground water aquifers as a much more reliable water source. Among these are changes are an increase in short term summer droughts, an increase in summer evapotranspiration, and an increase in total dormant season precipitation.

As climate change continues, summers are forecast to be up to 9 % drier according to research cited by the Union of Concerned Scientists in their publication Confronting Climate Change in the U.S. Midwest. The summers of both 2010 and 2011 were characterized by heat waves that corresponded with late summer droughts. These occurrences result from a strong ridge of hot high pressure that anchors itself over the central United States, forcing storm systems to ride over the ridge, often north of the border with Canada. The sinking air associated with these high pressure systems suppresses convection, preventing the formation of summer thunderstorms. As a result, several weeks of dry weather combined with high heat and evapotranspiration levels result in a rapid loss of soil moisture and low levels in stream and rivers. Although deleterious to surface water supplies, these short term droughts that only last a couple of months have little effect on ground water levels. While longer droughts like the one in 2012 may have a more measurable effect on ground water, it is still much less than the devastating effects they have on surface water flows.

In contrast, again according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, winter and spring precipitation is forecast to increase by up to 30% by the end of this century.  Since most ground water recharge occurs during the dormant season when evapo-transpiration rates are low, the near surface aquifers characteristic of the glacial till plain of central Indiana are expected to continue to see adequate direct surface recharge in spite of the drier summers. Further, the increase in dormant season precipitation is expected to lower the chance of long duration droughts that last more than 2 years. These long duration droughts are ones more likely to affect groundwater.The Indianapolis Metropolitan Area has already experienced minor water capacity shortages during the aforementioned droughts due to its reliance on surface water from White River and the existing reservoirs for the vast majority of its supply. In view of the shifts in precipitation patterns likely with climate change, Citizens Energy would be wise to look to ground water to diversify its water supply portfolio.

Kevin Tungesvick

 

Two important questions to always be able to answer re proposed projects

    ​Once in a while, employees within governmental  (i.e. political) administrations can be valuable public allies by challenging their colleagues to better serve the public interest.  Over my years of exposure to city and state governance, I’ve known a few, but precious few such folks– especially those who have been willing to take a stand, questioning or even challenging the prescribed political course.
    I recall a while ago, one agency staffer would often say to his colleagues and administrators that there are two questions which must be answered in a way that is both publicly known and publicly acceptable:  1)  “Why do you want to do this project?”, and  2)  Why do you really want to do this project?”
    The answer to question No. 1 is the kind of answer that a Public Information Officer might spoon-feed to the citizenry or to the media.  We’ve all heard them on TV or seen them in print in our favorite hometown daily newspaper— projects justified in one way or another based on vague rationales of increased quality of life, growth and prosperity, economic development for the community, etc.
    However, officials are rarely forced to disclose the answer to the second question, which indicates that there are often underlying reasons which would not be prudent, politically speaking, to reveal to the general citizenry.  Perhaps the project is a political favor to a loyal party supporter or campaign contributor. If the official cannot tell the public that politics, personal friendship, mutual back-scratching, or even personal financial interest is the real reason for the project, then it should not proceed.
    Of course, many times such disclosures pertinent to the second question never come. They’re not offered, and they’re rarely demanded by the gullible yet increasingly disempowered citizenry or by the local media.
    In the case of the planned dam, the proponents have claimed, at different times, that a need exists for increased economic development, lifestyle enhancement and community image, then flood control, recreation, and, most recently, additional public water supply for central Indiana.
    We continue to suspect that there are other underlying motivations, such as personal financial gain, via real estate development and corporate business expansion, personal political power, etc., which are really (actually) driving this project. Perhaps some of  these will become known as time goes by.