Indiana group warns drainage bill puts wetlands at risk

MARY SCHUERMANN KUHLMAN

INDIANAPOLIS – As the 2020 Indiana legislative session moves towards ending, environmental groups are closely watching a bill about deregulating wetlands.

After passing in the Senate, SB 229 is in the hands of the House Committee on Local Government. The measure would exempt drain reconstruction from Indiana’s wetland regulation.

Indra Frank, director of environmental health and water policy with the Hoosier Environmental Council, says that means county surveyors could adjust the size, depth or route of regulated drains without permits or state oversight.

“Proponents, they’ve been arguing that it might make the job of our drainage boards and county surveyors easier,” says Frank. “The current law doesn’t block reconstruction of regulated drains. It just requires them to get a wetlands permit.”

According to the bill text, more than two thousand permits have been processed for the more than one thousand regulated drains in the state since 2015.

Frank says the measure could result in the loss of wetlands that are needed to purify water, prevent flooding and provide habitat for wildlife.

Frank notes that more than 85% of the state’s original wetlands have already been lost.

“Indiana was actually a very wet state originally,” says Frank. “Approximately 24% of the state acres were wetlands. And a lot of that needed to be drained if it was going to be farmed or built on. But it became evident that we need also wetlands, for purifying water or absorbing excess water.”

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is also opposed to the bill for its possible impacts on water control.