Stemler’s transborder groundwater authority bill endorsed by House committee

February 7, 2017 Steven R. Stemler

INDIANAPOLIS – An Indiana House committee today approved legislation authored by State Rep. Steven R. Stemler (D-Jeffersonville) with Ed Clere (R-New Albany) that is aimed at heading off potential disputes over groundwater between Indiana and Kentucky.

House Bill 1211, passed by the Statutory Committee on Interstate and International Cooperation, would establish a transborder groundwater authority. Stemler said he and Clere have been debating the need for the authority for more than five years.

“I believe it is time we start addressing the shared aquifer and look at how both states can benefit from this use,” Stemler said. “This legislation specifically addresses the security, availability, and the future of our subsurface water resources for future generations.”

This legislation establishes the Indiana-Kentucky transborder Groundwater Authority which will study the ownership rights in the groundwater resources shared by the two states and explore the possibility of entering in an interstate compact concerning the use of groundwater.

The authority will include officials from both states who represent counties along the Ohio River. It also provides the means for the group to pursue grants and funding to finance projects.

Speaking in favor of the bill was Wendy Dant Chesser [pictured at left], president and CEO of One Southern Indiana Chamber of Commerce.

“In order to maximize this growth from both sides of the Ohio River we must maintain cooperation with our neighbors to the south,” Chesser said. “This bill, in my opinion, is a great way to look at regional assets that need some ground rules in place before we reach a decision or crisis point.

“I am very much in support of this bill and am looking forward to being a part of the authority if this legislation passes,” Chesser added.

Iris Wilbur [pictured at right], director of government affairs and public policy for Greater Louisville Inc., the Metro Chamber of Commerce in Louisville, Kentucky, added her support, saying, “We have made long strides with our counterparts and whatever we can do to work together on issues of tomorrow rather than react to things is a very important step.”

This bill will strive to alleviate problems that have caused groundwater disputes in other states, one of which made it to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In that case, Tennessee has been pumping water out of the Sparta-Memphis aquifer for over a century and Mississippi argues that such actions are the reason groundwater levels in the aquifer have been lowered. Mississippi claims that this has deprived them of a natural resource and is seeking compensation for damages and converted resources that they claim will add up to $197 million plus interest. Tennessee argues that any migration of water from the Mississippi is a function of natural laws and would occur anyway. This court case is still pending.

House Bill 1211 now advances to the full House for consideration.