What happens behind the scenes in the Indiana General Assembly? Plenty. Part of the secret to understanding what comes out of that place is understanding how it works. Politics are definitely at play, especially late in the session.
Justin Schneider, a lawyer with Indiana Farm Bureau, Inc., says that definitely was the case before the legislature adjourned in late April, at the latest date allowed by statute. He had been watching and promoting a bill to begin voluntary sampling of water usage in Indiana all session. Planning for it began last year. Other groups besides Indiana Farm Bureau were involved. Representative Ed Charbonneau championed the bill during the session.
What the revised version of an earlier bill that was introduced does is allow the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to work with USGS to collect data to determine the amount of water available in Indiana aquifers, which are natural water supplies below ground.
"In Indiana there is either plenty of water or water is hard to find," Schneider says. "There doesn't appear to be a middle ground. It's important to know how much water we have where in the state."
This is all about quantity, not quality of water, he adds. It's basically setting a baseline of existing water supplied for future comparisons.
The bill seemed to be sailing along with a 50 to 0 vote in favor in the Indiana Senate, and a 10-0 vote in the Natural Resources Committee in the Indiana House. However, because money was involved, it needed to go to the Ways and Means Committee in the House. That's when the wheels fell off. The bill didn't get a hearing because of budget concerns.
Political wrangling at the last days of the legislature got it passed. There is $200,000 in the budget each year to help DNR get it going, Schneider says. He believes it's doable because USGS already has a framework for water monitoring, and there are more than 30 known wells that can be added quickly to the network.