The State of Our Waters: The White River's Impact on Our Local Economy

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As we turn our attention to the importance of the White River to our region, it's important that we don't neglect water's impact on our economy. Regional water planning is paramount to ensuring that our state continues to have the natural resources needed to keep our communities safe and support our state’s economy, which is what we aim to do through the inaugural Indiana Water Summit.

Indiana ranked first in the country in the percentage of the economy that depends on water, according to Innovating for the Blue Economy, a report commissioned by the University Research Center in Michigan. The report also found that more than 23 percent of the current economy depends on Indiana’s waters. As a fraction of Indiana’s gross domestic product, this translates into a staggering $70 billion for total economic impact.

The report stated that Indiana leads the nation for citizens employed in water-related industries, with over 23 percent of Indiana’s total private sector employment in industries affected by water supply and quality. Water is a critical component to maintaining today’s economy, and it will only grow in importance as we continue to use more in the future. Because of this, it is crucial for the public to be informed on proper water management actions.

The White River Alliance, a leading voice for water resource protection in Indiana, recognizes Indiana’s need for comprehensive regional water planning.  In order to facilitate these plans, the Alliance is bringing together dynamic speakers, national experts and interactive elements for the first Indiana Water Summit, a forum series slated to occur every year that examines the complex issues facing our state’s diverse water resources. One of the national experts who will serve as a keynote speaker at the summit includes Charles Fishman, author of “The Big Thirst: the Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water,” the best-selling water book in a generation.

This year’s inaugural summit will be held on Aug. 12-13 in downtown Indianapolis, and the topics selected are meant to inform water policy discussions in Indiana. A few of the topics to be discussed at the summit include regional water planning and coordination, the challenges and needs facing various water sectors and the state of our waters today.

In regards to the current state of our waters, it may seem like Hoosiers have an unlimited supply. This is simply not the case. In fact, according to a 2014 Indiana Chamber of Commerce report, Indiana will face water shortages in the future unless government focuses their efforts on better water management around the state.

The report revealed an increase in agricultural irrigation in Northern and Central Indiana, where large amounts of corn and soybeans are produced. Furthermore, Central Indiana’s growing population is projected to require an additional 50 million gallons of water per day by 2050. It is important for local policy makers, public officials and public works departments to inform the public on how extremely valuable our water is, and educate citizens on best practices for water planning and protection efforts. This education and collective understanding among citizens and stakeholders is a main goal for the upcoming summit.

The importance of Indiana’s waters on our local economy is apparent, and we need to be ready to respond to our changing relationship with water and create a greater sense of urgency around our need to care for it. The Indiana Water Summit is a step in the right direction to facilitate a broader discussion about water across sectors, users and levels of government, so that we might work towards awareness and planning to protect the state’s economic viability, along with the environmental integrity of our water resources.

Jill Hoffman is the executive director of the White River Alliance.

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