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‘Abundant’ water in Wabash aquifer for LEAP District, say early IEDC findings

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‘Abundant’ water in Wabash aquifer for LEAP District, say early IEDC findings

Sep 21, 2023 | 5:15 pm ET
By Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
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‘Abundant’ water in Wabash aquifer for LEAP District, say early IEDC findings
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The Wabash River off U.S. Highway 231 through West Lafayette. (Screenshot from Google Maps)

Initial results in a multi-phase water study show “abundant water availability” in the Wabash Alluvial Aquifer, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. (IEDC) announced Thursday.

Officials hope to pipe 100 million gallons of water daily 35 miles from the aquifer to a massive — and controversial — high-tech park planned in Boone County: the LEAP Lebanon Innovation District. Wabash-reliant residents fear the proposal could jeopardize their water supply.

‘Abundant’ water in Wabash aquifer for LEAP District, say early IEDC findings
David Rosenberg (Provided by IEDC)

“The IEDC is investing in this effort to support the growth of Indiana as a whole,” Indiana Commerce Secretary and IEDC CEO David Rosenberg said in a news release.

Based on preliminary results from phase one of the study, the work being done is expected to benefit Lafayette, central Indiana, LEAP, and cities and towns along the proposed water pipeline,” Rosenberg continued. “This is an investment for Hoosiers and will have a transformational return for generations to come.”

The analysis found that the Wabash River’s average flow rate is 2 billion gallons of water daily, and that the aquifer is both deeper and wider than indicated in previous studies, according to the release.

These factors, along with initial modeling, indicate that the aquifer will be able to support central Indiana demand without impacting” the river or aquifer, the release said.

Texas-based environmental consulting firm INTERA is conducting the study. The IEDC made an executive summary of the initial results available Thursday, but not a full report.

Drilling down

The analysis focused on a 70-acre parcel of land on the Wabash River’s south bank, about six miles downstream from West Lafayette.

Investigators drilled 17 exploratory boreholes — all finished as monitoring wells — along with two test wells to conduct two aquifer tests. They also ran a geophysical survey to fill any gaps in earlier well data.

INTERA found that, at that site, water moves “easily” between the river and aquifer, and back — potentially alleviating concerns that the project would dwarf the aquifer’s capacity.

Billions of gallons of water could be diverted to Boone County project site via new pipeline

Two collector wells drilled at the site, it said, could “sustainably produce” upwards of 30 million gallons of water daily — and some scenarios studied suggested the wells could sustain “much higher” pumping rates.

“But until more detailed design modeling is performed, the upper bound is not yet defined,” the summary read.

The study also found that such pumping rates wouldn’t impact the wells of nearby homeowners because they’re largely fed by the river rather than the aquifer.

“Any homeowner impacts can be mitigated with a pre-construction survey of homeowner wells near the site,” the summary added.

INTERA cautioned that these results only apply to this particular site, but said current mapping suggests that other sites will show “similar results.”

“Indiana has an incredible network of rivers and aquifers, with abundant water throughout the state,” INTERA Vice President and Principal Water Resources Hydrologist Jack Wittman said. “With the rising demand for water in central Indiana, we are confident that this is a viable water solution that will give cities and towns the needed access to a new water supply source while protecting those already connected to it and ensuring long-term viability.”

The IEDC is planning for testing at two more sites sometime between October and the end of the year, and will get “independent experts” to vet the results for accuracy.

The water study and vetting are expected to be complete by the end of the year, according to the news release. The IEDC said that, from there, it would partner with stakeholders to “advance the project.”