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Tippecanoe County officials want third-party review after state finds “abundant water availability” for water withdrawals to Lebanon

An early report finds abundant water availability for proposed withdrawals to Lebanon (FILE PHOTO: WBAA/Ben Thorp)
An early report finds abundant water availability for proposed withdrawals to Lebanon (FILE PHOTO: WBAA/Ben Thorp)

State officials have released the early findings of a water study that found “abundant water availability” in the Greater Lafayette region.

That supply is essential to the massive industrial park being built in Lebanon — and state officials hope to pipe millions of gallons for the project from Tippecanoe County.

So far, Eli Lilly is the only company to break ground at the park. The Indiana Economic Development Corporation has said there is enough water to support Lilly’s $3.7 billion investment.

However, estimates on how much water the completed industrial district may need have been up to 100 million gallons per day.

Experts hired by the IEDC said initial findings show there is enough water to support growth in both Lebanon and the Lafayette region.

Specifically, the study found that the Wabash River moves roughly two billion gallons of water every day and is connected to an aquifer that is both deeper and wider than previously thought.

But local officials are still cautious about how withdrawals might impact the region.

Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tom Murtaugh said the initial release did not include any specific data. He said regional officials have asked the state to let a third party review any information that is collected.

“I’m just encouraged that they [the state] are still open to us having that third-party review, because like I said I think that’s essential for making our community feel comfortable,” he said.

Additionally, Murtaugh said the IEDC is open to testing some private residential wells both before and after any withdrawals start.

“That is a step in the right direction,” he said.

Murtaugh isn’t the only local official waiting to see more from the IEDC on the proposed pipeline.

Lafayette Mayor Tony Roswarski said there wasn’t much new information in the initial study.

“I think we’re still very early in the process,” Roswarski said.

According to Roswarski, the state has also offered to send data to several universities – including Purdue – for review.

He said it’s important that any pipeline have safeguards to manage the maximum allowable water that other regions can take.

“There’s no assurance in the future – there’s going to be different people in state government, different people at the IEDC – people that might be dealing with this three or four years from now probably won’t be dealing with a lot of the same people that are involved right now,” Roswarski said. “We need long term safeguards in place for the community.”

State lawmakers are also weighing in on the initial study.

Rep. Sheila Klinker (D-Lafayette) also underlined the call for a third-party review, saying that she “needed more answers” after reading the executive summary.

“Caution should always be our first instinct when it comes to natural resources, the well being of our community and its future,” she said.

Rep. Chris Campbell (D-West Lafayette) voiced her concern that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources had neither the funding or regulatory authority to oversee the massive transfer of water out of Tippecanoe County.

“Will Tippecanoe County have to compete with Central Indiana for water usage in our infrastructure, farms and wells in the future?” Campbell asked.

A full study is expected at the end of the year.

IEDC officials say it will be used to determine “the best path forward for continued growth in Lafayette and central Indiana.”