Will regional water planning be transparent– and objective?

The October 21 edition of The Herald Bulletin reported on a recent candidate forum in which a new reservoir was discussed.  Various opinions were offered.  Bill Walters (R) said “We need a study done on water needs in the future.”  And Rep. Terri Austin (D) said “We need a long-term water use and needs studies statewide.”  And “The process should be transparent to the public.”

Rep. Austin’s comment on needed transparency struck a chord   I’ve been trying for a year and a half to obtain a copy of the study design (i.e. the prospectus) for a regional water supply and demand study which, I understood, was being conducted by the CICEO– Central Indiana Council of Elected Officials.  IN March, 2015, I first requested the study design (scope of work) from Mayor Andy Cook of Westfield who chaired the CICEO’s water committee and had written a letter to the Indianapolis Star indicating the CICEO’s involvement in water supply planning.  I tried him for the third time in May of this year and he referred me to Mayor DeBaun of Shelbyville who is the new chair of the CICEO’s water committee.  Mayor DeBaun replied promptly indicating as follows:   “We’ve not gotten any further on this issue.  We’ve been discussing the potential for the Indy MPO to take the lead on this and they’ve been discussing a proposal to become the lead agency. Once they have made a determination we will begin a sort of negotiations with them regarding next steps.” 

According to Mayor DeBaun, the MPO was approached for the following reason: Primarily it is their ability to manage projects over the metropolitan area as well as their contacts with all the major agencies and municipalities in central Indiana.”  

It appears that the MPO has put the water supply on its discussion agenda.  At its September statewide MPO conference, one breakout session included a presentation titled   Evolving Water Management in Indiana by water expert Dr. Jack Wittman of Enterra, Inc.

Dr. Wittman has made this presentation to a number of audiences.  Here’s a link to his presentation at the MPO conference.

http://indianampo.com/2016-conference/assets/water-policy.pdf

I spoke today with Anna Gremling, the executive director of the Indianapolis area MPO.  She indicated that the MPO Council (and presumably the CICEO) had asked her to prepare a white paper on whether the MPO should conduct water supply planning for the metropolitan region and how that might be done.  She intends to complete this by mid-December.

I gave her a bit of background on the reservoir issue, a pitch for free-flowing rivers, and urged her to read Cynthia Barnett’s book (Blue Revolution— Unmaking America’s Water Crisis).  

It’s pertinent to consider whether an MPO-directed regional water study/plan would be completely objective in its assessments of future regional supply and demand and how future need might be best satisfied.  The MPO’s purpose has historically been to plan short and long term transportation projects— i.e. to provide supply.  It’s directed by the elected officials (mayors) throughout the central Indiana area. Typically, mayors want plenty of water supply but aren’t too interested in conservation/wise use.

Conservation has never been particularly popular—politically speaking.  Most Indiana politicians don’t like the idea of imposing restrictions or asking voters not to consume so much of anything legal.  So we wonder whether any MPO-directed study would adequately consider the important role of education and conservation in reducing water demand.

Of course, utility companies rely on revenues from their water sales, and are thus conflicted re promoting a conservation ethic 

Who actually conducts the planning may be an academic distinction– considering that the CICEO mayors control the MPO, political considerations will certainly exist regardless.  Except that it might be easier for citizens to elicit information from the MPO (the all-important transparency) than from sometimes imperious or defensive elected officials, operating as a CICEO, who might feel threatened or put-off by conservation interests.

Here is the link to the Herald Bulletin’s recent report mentioned above.

http://www.heraldbulletin.com/news/local_news/reservoir-divides-house-candidates/article_d302bd59-e2a6-5981-a136-497b85a93eda.html

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