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Secretary of Commerce on LEAP pipeline: Let me address a few things
An op-ed from David Rosenberg: ‘I know there will still be skepticism,’ but what the IEDC is doing – and what it isn’t – in its study of the Wabash River aquifer and a pipeline leading to Boone County
Editor’s note: This week, the Lafayette City Council joined other communities along the Wabash River in opposing an Indiana Economic Development Corp. study into the possibility of tapping groundwater in Tippecanoe County and building a pipeline to carry tens of millions of gallons a day to the 10,000-acre LEAP district near Lebanon. Today, in this op-ed, Secretary of Commerce David Rosenberg addresses Greater Lafayette concerns and IEDC’s approach on water resources in Indiana.
Op-ed: Finding common ground through shared water can lead to economic growth
By Indiana Secretary of Commerce David Rosenberg
Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels created the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) in 2005 to allow government to move at the speed of business. And thanks to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s leadership, over the past two years, Indiana has been doing that at a historic pace: $33 billion in new committed capital expenditure; unprecedented investments into rural communities via READI, trails and broadband; wages for job commitments exceeding the national average; new industries brought to the state with semiconductors and electric vehicle batteries; winning the federal Microelectronics Commons, Hydrogen Hub and Tech Hub designations. The list goes on.
It's the Hoosier way to seek pole position with every initiative and aim to outpace the competition. But sometimes you can reach the checkered flag without needing to go full throttle. And I have certainly heard that regarding the potential water pipeline that’s been discussed in the Lafayette region.
I know water is an emotional issue, and I understand why. Trust needs to be established, and I acknowledge there is room for improvement in the region – with residents and our legislative partners alike. So, as I step into the role as Secretary of Commerce, I hope you’ll give me the opportunity to address a few critically important things. I know there will still be skepticism, but hopefully this is a positive step in sharing information and informing residents of where things stand.
Much like motorsports, our state’s abundance of rivers, lakes and streams have always held dual roles: enjoyment and recreation; escape and opportunity; power and possibility. We just haven’t explored water the same way garage mechanics discovered an innovation that gave their car its race-day edge.
With our exploration of water availability, think of what’s happening not as an overhaul, but as merely peeking under the hood.
First, hydrologists with deep expertise in examining well-known (but greatly misunderstood) basins like the Wabash River and its aquifers are using state-of-the-art monitoring wells to give us a sense of water capacity and water quality, so we know the depth of its potential for the Lafayette area and for adjacent communities.
Second, let me be clear: there is no contract in place to build a water pipeline. The only contract in place is to study and gather data – data on the water availability in the Wabash Alluvial Aquifer, preliminary information on potential wellhead designs, routes, and water and wastewater treatment. We need to wrap our arms around all of this before any decisions can be made on potential projects. This is known in the industry as a Preliminary Engineering Report. Well testing and monitoring within the aquifer is critical to determine how much water is potentially available should more be needed in Lafayette or elsewhere.
Third, while this testing is a good first step for Indiana’s overall management of water resources, we don’t know for sure that a water pipeline will be built – we don’t know if there is a need for it yet. That’s why we’re gathering data. The LEAP Research and Innovation District currently has all the water needed for the Lilly development and most other projects in the IEDC business development pipeline. Only if Indiana is selected by a company with a large water need would a pipeline be considered – and that’s the only reason the IEDC is currently involved in the conversation. If no major water users choose Indiana to locate and grow, the IEDC has no further role in these conversations.
Equally important to ensuring new businesses that want to locate and grow here have the resources to do so is the security and growth of the Lafayette region. Lafayette’s economic success is absolutely critical to the economic future of Indiana as a whole. The Lafayette region and Purdue University have secured incredible successes, attracting the businesses of the future (Saab, GE Aviation, MediaTek, SkyWater, imec and many more) – all while building one of the most desirable communities in the Midwest, increasing population and creating amenities and quality of life for residents. To support this region’s residents, maintain its economic strength and to continue this growth and success, water availability is vital. There is not a scenario in which wells in the Lafayette region dry up or we inhibit the capacity of Lafayette to grow.
This brings me to another critical point that I want to make very clear: LEAP is not competing with other Indiana communities. The IEDC isn’t working to quickly funnel dozens of projects into LEAP to fill it up, as LEAP will be a multi-year, multi-decade buildout. It’s designed to compete with cities like Nashville, Austin and Scottsdale – not other Indiana cities. LEAP does not inhibit Lafayette’s opportunities for future growth or decrease its competitiveness; in fact, wins at LEAP benefit Lafayette and Purdue, and vice versa. The IEDC has even steered other projects away from LEAP to Lafayette because we believe they’d be a better fit.
Finally, Indiana is one of a few states that does not have a centralized water management process. We are working with legislative partners on protecting this critical resource and ensuring it is utilized appropriately – now and for generations to come. Starting this process by proactively testing, engaging third-party reviews and ensuring robust, continual monitoring, we’ll be able to strategically harness those reservoirs best situated to share, which will help guarantee short-term economic prosperity and long-term generational vibrancy. Smart, effective management of our water resources has the potential to set Indiana apart from other states over the next decade and make Indiana even more desirable for companies to locate.
Former Gov. Daniels set up a great framework in the IEDC, and the successes under Gov. Holcomb speak for themselves. I’m committed to continuing the incredible legacy of the Commerce Secretaries who came before me, pushing forward to meet the speed of industry while ensuring no communities are left behind. Instead, it’s my goal to ensure our communities are supported and have the information needed to feel comfortable partaking in and celebrating our historic, shared economic success.
Rosenberg is Indiana secretary of commerce. Gov. Holcomb named him to that position in August.
Here are some of the Based in Lafayette headlines and coverage of the LEAP pipeline concept.
IEDC study: Tippecanoe Co. water more than enough for LEAP, other state projects. Local officials skeptical of initial study, ponder independent review, as Indiana Economic Development Corp. leans closer to pipeline plan to pull from Wabash River aquifer
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