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Tippecanoe County commissioners plan ordinance aimed at pausing regional water withdrawals

Tippecanoe County commissioner Tom Murtaugh is part of an effort to pause water withdrawals from the region (FILE PHOTO: WBAA/Ben Thorp)
Tippecanoe County commissioner Tom Murtaugh is part of an effort to pause water withdrawals from the region (FILE PHOTO: WBAA/Ben Thorp)

Tippecanoe County commissioners are expected to introduce an ordinance blocking large water withdrawals from the county.

The move comes as the state considers the construction of a pipeline to move millions of gallons of water from the county to an industrial district in Lebanon.

The ordinance would block water withdrawals of more than five million gallons for a nine-month period starting after its passage.

Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tom Murtaugh said local officials want to pause any progress on a pipeline until after the state legislature can pass water protections.

“If the state does not act on this issue or if it’s not deemed adequate, we’ll look at an extension of that moratorium,” he said.

State Sen. Spencer Deery (R-West Lafayette) is part of a group of lawmakers working on protective water legislation. He said he doesn’t think there will be any efforts from the legislature to override Tippecanoe County officials.

“My hunch is that there would not be votes to do that,” he said.

Earlier this week, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced a new state agency would oversee an ongoing water supply study in Tippecanoe County. The move included an additional, more comprehensive water supply study for the region and new water monitoring devices.

Deery said the move wasn’t enough.

“Those are positive steps but typically you put study before you take action,” he said. “These steps should have preceded the decision to locate LEAP where it is and put millions of dollars into that project – or the potential of a billion-dollar pipeline project. For me, the next logical step is to put on hold or to announce any kind of pause to take us further down that path until these studies can occur.”

Before Holcomb announced the study would be changing hands, local officials including Murtaugh signed on to a letter outlining concerns about the Lebanon project -- including calling for the state to pause any contracts or commitments regarding “water infrastructure development.”

“While we seek a cooperative agreement with the IEDC Board to achieve this pause to allow for thoughtful and independent reviews of all concerns raised by the proposal, we must consider all the remedies available to us to achieve a resolution, including without limitation [to] local ordinances, state legislation, and federal regulatory review,” the letter said.

Murtaugh said he thinks the governor’s move was a wise one but it still falls short of the halt he’d like to see for the pipeline.

“Our ultimate hope is that the governor will officially pause the project until that study is done, but in case that does not happen we are going to give this ordinance a first reading,” he said.

The Indiana Finance Authority, which is now overseeing the state’s water study, did not respond to a request for comment.

The county’s ordinance is expected to be introduced for the first reading next week.