Indiana Finance Authority to take over IEDC’s innovation district water study
The Indiana Finance Authority (IFA) will assume oversight of a water supply study connected to development of a massive — and controversial — high-tech park, Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office announced Monday.
The news comes as several communities have pushed back against a proposed pipeline from Tippecanoe County to Boone County. One sticking point: that the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) paid for a study to support its own project.
Holcomb also asked the IFA to start a broader study of north-central Indiana’s water supply sooner, and bring in more water monitoring devices.
“I am confident that these new efforts led by IFA will provide the necessary data to gain a greater understanding of the amount of excess water that is truly available to support all the surrounding region’s growth prior to any action being taken that could inadvertently jeopardize this needed resource,” Holcomb said in a news release.
But the decision didn’t appear to ease skepticism — even within his own party.
Controversial since the start
The quasi-public IEDC originally commissioned and oversaw the study.
The agency hopes to pipe 100 million gallons of water daily 35 miles from the Wabash Alluvial Aquifer in Tippecanoe County to the LEAP Lebanon Innovation District in Boone County.
Initial results in the multi-phase study — by Texas-based environmental consulting firm INTERA — showed “abundant” water availability.
But it drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike over the study’s independence. Some of those lawmakers also plan to bring legislation regulating large withdrawals of water — which the state currently lacks — according to the Indianapolis Business Journal.
The IEDC’s leader, Commerce Secretary David Rosenberg, said in a statement that he supported Holcomb’s decision.
“I’m proud of the work the IEDC team has done to identify and begin the study on what has shown to be one of the most productive water assets in the state,” Rosenberg said. “The IFA has been a partner from the very beginning, and as we move into the execution phase, they are the right experts to continue the INTERA water supply study and incorporate its findings into their comprehensive regional water study.”
“This work helps keep Indiana’s foot on the gas as we continue the historic economic momentum of the last two years with a focus on growing Indiana’s population and attracting industries of the future,” Rosenberg added.
But Holcomb didn’t go as far as some members of his own party desired.
Sen. Spencer Deery, a Republican from West Lafayette, called the measures “helpful” but noted, “You typically study before you act.”
“This action to direct the Indiana Finance Authority to have oversight of the completion of the INTERA water study feels like two steps forward when we need three,” Deery continued.
Deery called for a pause in “any action or contract that would push the state even further down the path of this pipeline proposal” until an independent study was done and state lawmakers could consider pipeline costs, regulations on water withdrawal and even reforming the IEDC.
Sen. Ron Alting, a Republican from Lafayette, said he supported the IFA takeover — but said, “I continue to have concerns for the overall project.”
Alting said he plans to work with other lawmakers from the region to “ensure all Hoosiers have access to the water supply they need.”
New study manager
IFA manages the state’s wastewater and drinking water revolving fund loan programs. It often completes regional water supply studies; the study Holcomb instructed IFA to accelerate will be its fourth since 2017.
The regional study will integrate the INTERA study’s findings. The news release said it would “provide a complete picture of in-depth data needed to properly determine the amount of water that can responsibly be used to support all projected growth needs in the region and throughout the state.”
It will include Tippecanoe County and at least 12 others, but more could be invited into the study, according to Holcomb’s office. The study will take population changes and economic growth into account.
Holcomb additionally asked IFA to add new water monitoring devices in the area to track real-time supply and support the larger study.
“No entity is better suited to lead this overall pursuit than the IFA, which will approach this study in the same methodical, collaborative, and transparent manner the organization has conducted in the past,” Holcomb said.
He called the move the “next natural next step to the data collection” and said it would allow Indiana to “fully understand the region’s resource in order to continue our state’s unprecedented momentum in attracting employers that create high-wage careers.”