More Staff Needed To Protect Indiana's Drinking Water Says Environmental Group

Feb 28, 2019

An environmental group says the state needs more staff to oversee drinking water protections in Indiana.  The Hoosier Environmental Council says the Indiana Department of Environmental Management has suffered a decade of budget cuts. 

Now only 48 employees oversee the state’s more than 4,000 public water systems. Indra Frank, HEC Director of Environmental Health and Water Policy, says many of those are rural drinking water wells that serve places like churches and small schools. 

“Where they don’t have a big staff that can keep track of those regulations and stay up to date,” she says.

Frank says 48 employees is not enough to make sure all water suppliers test for things like bacteria, harmful nitrates, and lead — and IDEM's workload is only getting bigger.

“EPA has actually added to the drinking water rules as more science has developed about different drinking water contaminants,” she says. 

As a result, drinking water violations are up by more than 60 percent since 2014. Frank says the HEC has also received complaints from some water suppliers that IDEM takes longer to provide assistance or has delayed paperwork. 

The Hoosier Environmental Council proposed the state give IDEM a funding increase of less than one percent to add 12 staff members. Though that amendment failed, the group hopes to propose something similar in the state Senate.

Frank says the HEC has advocated for increasing IDEM’s budget before, but it hasn’t worked. She says the group hopes that focusing specifically on a high-priority item like drinking water and asking for a more modest increase, would be more successful.

IDEM says Gov. Eric Holcomb’s proposed budget meets the needs of the agency.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.