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7/13/2017 7:17:00 PM
New Hoosier law could help prevent water wars between Southern Indiana, Louisville

Scott L. Miley, News and Tribune CNHI Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS — One of the selling points for a business center in Clark County is an available water supply.

To date, River Ridge Commerce Center near the Ohio River boasts 7,200 jobs and $1.7 billion in economic input from companies, including an Amazon distribution center.

But the water supply beneath the center is part of aquifers that cross into Kentucky.

For seven years, Rep. Steven Stemler, D-Jeffersonville, has worked to avoid clashes over water rights between the states.

His House Enrolled Act 1211 establishes the Transborder Water Resources Authority, which is to monitor ownership rights of water resources, such as an aquifer, that are shared by Indiana and other states. The panel can also look at whether interstate compacts should be set up.

The legislation received unanimous support in the House and Senate.

"It's good for the state," Stemler said Wednesday. "It's a nonpartisan initiative, a good piece of legislation that is really for future generations."

Of more than 200 interstate compacts involving Indiana, none involve water rights, Stemler said. The new authority can examine areas in surrounding states, excluding those covered by a federal Great Lakes compact.

On Wednesday, he attended a ceremonial signing of the act by Gov. Eric Holcomb who congratulated Stemler on his persistence in addressing the issue.

The authority is to be comprised of four legislators, four state agency employees and four members appointed by the governor.

Currently, the state of Mississippi is embroiled in a federal lawsuit against the city of Memphis, Tenn., and its Light, Gas and Water Division saying the city pumped hundreds of millions of gallons of water from an aquifer that lies beneath the boundaries of Mississippi. In its last filings in 2015, Mississippi was seeking $600 million in damages.

The lawsuit Is believed to be the first filed over a shared aquifer dispute, something backers say the new Indiana law could avoid.

“This bill puts in place the mechanism for discussions to start with our neighboring states where we have shared resources, to start the dialog of how we are going to preserve this resource that we share jointly and not enter into a water war, if you will,” Stemler said in presenting his bill during the recent session of the Indiana General Assembly.

"It's important for us to engage in these type of discussions on an advocacy basis," said Wendy Dant Chesser, president and CEO of One Southern Indiana, which serves as a chamber of commerce for Clark and Floyd counties.

"When we look at the long-term sustainability of our economic vitality we want to make sure all of our resources are protected," she said. "The concern that Rep. Stemler helped address is the future of regional groundwater."

She said the Louisville chamber of commerce supports the plan. The next move, she added, is to encourage Kentucky to form a similar commission.

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