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County supply varies from north to south

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During the severe drought of 2012, some local residents got a taste of the hardships of living without enough water.

Center Grove area residents were told not to water lawns and conserve water at home when the Bargersville Utilities plant couldn’t produce enough water. White River Township Fire Department arranged for other departments to bring in tankers in the event of a large fire because water towers were running near empty. And residents in rural parts of Hensley Township were forced to drive to water plants to fill up plastic drums because their wells were dry.

Johnson County sits along a dividing line in the state, between the northern half, which has plentiful water, and the southern half, where water is more scarce. Across the county, water supplies vary widely. For example, around Edinburgh, water wells can pull upward of 600 gallons per minute out of the ground. Travel a few miles west toward Trafalgar, however, and you’ll find spots where getting 10 gallons per minute is a challenge.

Underground water supplies aren’t infinite, which is why the Indiana Chamber of Commerce is helping launch a statewide plan on how to manage water so that homes, businesses and industries all have water flowing out of their faucets whenever they turn on the tap. In central Indiana, water use is expected to rise by another  50 million gallons over the next 35 years.

“We want to bring jobs here and want to keep jobs here and want to grow jobs here. Without an adequate, affordable supply of water, that’s not going to happen,” Indiana Chamber vice president of environment and energy policy Vince Griffin said.

Businesses ask about local water resources when they consider a new location, Franklin Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

When city officials meet with a prospective industry, questions about how much water a company needs daily and what kind of pipes are in the area to supply the business always come up, McGuinness said.

Water shortages are a major issue in places like California and Texas. That’s not the case in Indiana, but it could be if the state doesn’t know where its water supply is the best and worst and doesn’t have a plan to grow responsibly, Griffin said.

For example, the new Interstate 69 in southern Indiana likely will attract new factories and warehouses, but most of the area between Indianapolis and Evansville has poor water availability, which potentially limits the opportunity for an industry that uses a lot of water every day, he said.

Planning, conservation and responsible growth will help Indiana make the most of its water in the future and prevent extreme shortages, Griffin said. That’s why the Indiana Chamber is talking about the issue with legislators now, before the state faces serious problems like California. That type of planning requires coordination among the more than 800 water utilities in the state because aquifers and watersheds can stretch across multiple counties, he said.

“(Shortages) are going to happen more and more as we grow and our water resources get more and more stretched. The good news here is we’re not in a water crisis,” Griffin said.

In Johnson County, water is more plentiful in the eastern half of the county, which makes it easier for water utilities to keep

up with growth along the Interstate 65 corridor in Greenwood and Franklin. Indiana American Water, which serves most of the areas on the east side of the county, already has enough facilities to produce about twice as much water than the average amount used every day in the county, company spokesman Joe Loughmiller said.

Indiana American Water updates its long-range plans every couple of years to estimate growth and water needs. In 2009, the company opened a new treatment plant off Rocklane Road to help provide more water to Greenwood and the Shelbyville area, Loughmiller said. Bargersville opened a new water plant at the beginning of 2013 to provide more supply to about 10,000 residents who had struggled through dry seasons.

As the area grows, Indiana American Water could continue to tap aquifers around the Johnson and Shelby county lines that have a large capacity, he said.

About 80 percent of water used in Johnson County is for public sources, which includes homes, businesses and public uses such as firefighting, but if several large water-intensive manufacturers opened, that could affect everyone’s supply in a drought, Loughmiller said.

While the average family might use about 400 gallons of water per day, manufacturers can run through thousands of gallons each day.

At Electro-Spec in Franklin, water is critical to the plating process the company does daily. Precious metals are put into water to make solutions for the plating process, and then rinses are needed to remove residue after a part is plated, said Ben McKnight, environmental health and safety director.

The company discharges about 9,000 gallons of water per day, which is much less than is actually used each day because the plant recycles about 100 gallons per minute, McKnight said.

That saved more than 25,000 gallons of water last year, and the company is working to get new equipment to recycle even more wastewater, he said. Electro-Spec has never had to ration water during a drought, and more conservation will help reduce the amount the plant needs to draw daily, he said.

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