Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

January 16, 2013

Who owns the underground water?

Debbie Blank
The Herald-Tribune

BATESVILLE — One of Franklin County’s greatest assets is hidden underground.

The Whitewater River Basin aquifer roughly follows the river’s path, encompassing 1,330 square miles in 10 southeastern Indiana counties and 145 square miles in Ohio, Greg Dole, Hoosier Hills Regional Water District president, said Jan. 9.

The aquifer is about 100 feet deep and hundreds of feet wide, with water flowing from north to south at the rate of one meter per hour.

The water source extends from Fayette, Union and Wayne counties through Franklin and into Dearborn and Ohio counties, where it mixes with the Great Miami River aquifer.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates that the aquifer contains between 50-90 million gallons of unused water daily. The engineers determined in a study years ago that the water layer “can continuously regenerate itself, even during drought,” he explained.

“It’s a fairly large aquifer with a lot of people drawing off of it.”

In Franklin County, four rural water companies – Franklin County, Tri-Township, North Dearborn and HHRWD – pump a maximum of around 3-4 million gallons daily in the summer from the aquifer. Some of the water travels through lines for use outside of the county by the last three.

The president said his district, a nonprofit corporation founded in 1965 that receives no government funding, is owned by members from Franklin, Ripley and Dearborn counties. In Franklin County, “we supply Metamora all the way back to Penntown.” Outside of the county, the district’s only other water comes from a small groundwater source that provides the resource to the Dillsboro area.

Dole noted that rural water districts do not operate within county boundaries. “Parts of Franklin County are being covered with Ripley County water.” For instance, the Napoleon Rural Water Corp. takes care of Hamburg users and Batesville Water and Gas Utility provides water to Oldenburg residents. “It’s kind of a trade-off. It’s more of a regional thing. We don’t compete with each other. We have territories and stay in our territories.”

The current practice doesn’t sit well with Franklin County Commissioners, who are scrambling to find other revenue sources. “The commissioners’ thoughts are to put some type of a user fee on water coming out of wells and leaving the county,” reported Commissioner Tom Linkel after a Dec. 10 meeting on the subject.

“There will probably be a legislative battle,” he predicted. “Maybe some (state) laws will have to be changed.” They want an answer to this basic question: “Who does the water belong to? ... As far as we know, we may be the first that’s trying this.”

Linkel doesn’t believe it’s fair the water districts don’t pay for the water they are exporting, He said, “We need more money for our roads and bridges.”

Dole thinks the commissioners are facing an uphill battle. If, however, Franklin County does start collecting water users’ fees, his district would pass costs on “to every customer. I don’t think there’s a legal precedent for it. I think they’d be the first in the nation.

“I understand their plight, but they’d be taxing their own people.”