Protect Indiana Waters Campaign

Protect Indiana Waters Campaign

By Elizabeth A. Callicoat

In December of 1999, one of the most devastating water pollution events in recent Indiana history transpired. For 50 miles along White River, from the town of Anderson to Indianapolis, 117 tons of fish were killed following a discharge of thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals over a10-day period. Allegedly, the source of the discharge was Guide Corporation, an automotive parts manufacturer in Anderson, Indiana.

The White River flows through the heart of Indiana and passes by many of our historic landmarks. It serves many recreational purposes for Indiana citizens and is the primary source of drinking water for Indianapolis.

Prior to the fish kill, numerous species of fish inhabited White River, including small mouth bass, bluegill, crappies, perch, sunfish, shad, and catfish. According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, it will require years to fully restore the most devastated areas of the White River. The State of Indiana filed suit on April 27, 2000 (State of Indiana v. Guide Corporation and Crowneg, Incorporated).

Soon after the White River Fish Kill, the Hoosier Chapter of the Sierra Club (with the support of the Midwest Office) decided to use the public awareness generated by the event as a catalyst to launch an effort called Protect Indiana Waters Campaign. The goal of the campaign is to focus on courses of action to improve the quality of Indiana waters by working out compromises between stakeholders. This means bringing together farmers, environmentalists, big business, political leaders, citizen action groups, and other interested parties. The Campaign is based on the assumption that there are issues that everyone can agree on, regardless of their trade or profession.

On May 20th, the Hoosier Chapter of the Sierra Club held a retreat to work out the direction and goals of the campaign. Twenty-five people from several geographic locations attended. Tom Anderson represented Save the Dunes Conservation Fund and was pleased with the progress made. At this point the effort is still under construction, but the group did identify five preliminary universal problem areas for the Campaign to focus on:

1.   Agricultural run-off and non-point source remediation

2.   Urban run-off and combined sewage overflow remediation

3.   Failing septic systems and sewage package plants in rural areas

4.   The absence of a statewide integrated water quality database

5.   The need to use a watershed approach to treat water quality problems.

The Campaign intends to use the upcoming fall elections – during which the governor, 100 representatives, and 25 senators will be up for election – to further its goals. By the end of July, a pledge stating the goals of the Protect Indiana Waters Campaign will be distributed to every candidate requesting endorsement. A list of all who have endorsed or rejected the pledge will be published for voters to view. Once there are supporters in office, Protect Indiana Waters Campaign will work with them on addressing the problem areas and will have a signed document to facilitate action.

Part of the momentum for this Campaign is the frustration over lack of coordination on environmental issues, even between environmental groups. Therefore, success rests on being able to bring all interests together as one force and not to point fingers at any one group. Once the decision is finalized on which universal problem areas to include in the pledge, a steering committee will put together a “white paper” identifying each problem, the best solution, the frame so legislature can address it, cost, and a cost-benefit analysis.

The future of this Campaign is still under discussion and there is room for many more participants. The goal is not to solve all problems, but to make steps in the right direction. A steering committee has been formed, but membership is still open. The organizers of the Campaign hope to bring people from all parts and all interests of Indiana together. For more information on how you or your organization can get involved please contact Ed Paynter at (317) 259-4417 or


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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.