Editorial: Independent study best way to assess proposed pipeline

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Terre Haute Tribune-Star

The concept of drawing up to 100 million gallons of water daily from a Wabash River aquifer near Lafayette and pipelining it to a high-tech industrial park 35 miles away in Boone County has won over at least one group of Hoosiers.

The people behind the project.

As for the rest of Indiana, most residents want more proof that the idea makes sense and will not harm the state’s greatest natural resource — the Wabash.

And that verification needs to come from a completely independent source.

The Indiana Economic Development Corporation has proposed building a pipeline from Lafayette to central Indiana, where the LEAP Research and Innovation District is located. Eli Lilly is building a $3.7-billion research and manufacturing campus there. The IEDC aims to attract “future-focused businesses” to join Lilly in the industrial park in Boone County, one of the affluent counties surrounding Indianapolis.

Water from the more water-abundant Tippecanoe County on the banks of the Wabash will ensure the LEAP park can support future investors there, and addresses an expected future water shortage in central Indiana, according to the IEDC. It will also allow cities and towns along the pipeline’s 35 miles to use the water for housing and economic-development projects those places could not otherwise pursue, the IEDC says.

Also, the IEDC says the process is in the early phases of design and planning, so the cost of the pipeline and who will pay for that cost cannot yet be determined. And, for the same reason, the IEDC says it cannot yet determine where LEAP’s treated wastewater will be discharged.

What the IEDC has determined, though, is that initial tests indicate the Wabash Alluvial Aquifer in Lafayette — “identified by an Indiana Finance Authority study as the most reasonable place for a new water source for central Indiana,” according to the IEDC’s LEAP Lebanon FAQs — will be able to support the targeted demand without negatively affecting the river or its related aquifer. The IEDC announced those results last week.

The testing is being done by a firm hired by the state — INTERA, an environmental and water resource consulting firm from Texas.

More testing by INTERA is planned and a conclusive report will be released to the public by the end of the year, the IEDC says. And, “third party experts” from Purdue, Indiana and Ohio State universities will review the data collected, conceptual models and conclusions.

Those testing plans and third-party reviews are useful, but should be a halfway point.

Communities along the Wabash have legitimate concerns about the impact of the venture on water availability and quality, their wildlife-related outdoor facilities and already endangered wetlands.

The cost of the pipeline’s construction and long-term maintenance is no small issue, either.

Those questions and the pipeline’s overall feasibility should be studied by a fully independent entity. Though many parts of such an independent survey of the project might parallel the findings of the state-hired firm, Hoosiers deserve to know the conclusions are not being influenced by the state.

Indiana does not have a strong record of caring for its natural resources. Its one-party government has dismissed regulations regarding water, air and land uses. Indiana has the most polluted rivers and streams in the nation, according to last year’s Environmental Integrity Project report.

In light of that history, a full study by an entirely independent agency should be sought. If its findings mirror those of the state-hired firm, that will only bolster the IEDC’s plan. If such a study reaches a different conclusion, Hoosiers deserve to know that.