Commentary

Hoosier wetlands need us this week

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Hoosiers have an urgent issue ahead of them this week and next, but brace yourselves because it may sound droll: we have to call our representatives, write an email or send a letter to the governor in defense of a friend who is about to lose protection. We have to do this as soon as we finish reading this column. Call or write to tell them you don’t support HB389/SB 389 because it repeals the remaining protections for Hoosier wetlands.

Wetlands, honestly, fulfill many of the characteristics of a good friend. Friends are fun. They defend you, help you and protect you. It’s in the nature of friendship.

Wetlands too provide recreation. If you are outdoorsy, love to canoe, fish, hunt, hike and birdwatch, you have probably tripped around joyously in Indiana’s wetlands.

Wetlands protect and defend because they are nature’s sponge. The EPA says that one acre of wetlands can absorb as much as 1 million gallons of water at a time, which prevents flooding. Earthshare reports that wetlands are more effective flood prevention than constructed floodwalls. Wetlands absorb energy and water along streams and rivers. Their unique vegetation binds soils on banks to prevent downstream erosion and soil subsidence.

Their ability to mitigate flooding saves Hoosiers on flood insurance. Flooding has increasingly troubled homeowners. In February 2020, NPR reported that FEMA will need to increase flood insurance rates 18% a year due to losses in flood protection programs. Wetlands naturally reduce flooding and mitigate those costs. Pocketsense encourages home owners with isolated wetlands — the kind at risk of losing protection if SB 389 becomes law — to find out if they are eligible for property tax breaks due to the restrictions in building that come with protecting wetlands.

Wetlands filter Hoosier groundwater which provides drinking water to two-thirds of Indiana’s communities reports the South Bend Tribune. Wetlands recycle the water, purifying and decontaminating it.

Furthermore, wetlands provide a habitat for unique species, support rich ecosystems, and hold carbon, another clever trick of nature’s for pollution filtration.

Hoosier wetlands — wet meadows, inland marshes, bogs, swamps, estuaries — have decreased by 4.7 million acres since the late 1980’s according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. They cover only 4% of Indiana now, whereas they covered 25% in the 1700’s. Our friends, the wetlands, are being suffocated out of existence.

The building industry has lobbied for SB 389, which passed out of the Indiana Senate on Feb. 1 and could be voted on in the House any day now. It points to “isolated wetlands,” which are smaller “kidneys of the land” that builders would fill in to develop land. Under current protections, they must apply for a permit, have the type of wetland determined, and “mitigate” its loss by paying for a wetland of equal quality to be developed elsewhere. (Unfortunately, constructing wetlands is land-intensive and often fails to produce comparable benefits, as Sciencing Magazine reported in 2019.) The cost of constructing wetlands caused the building industry to lobby for SB 389. The mitigation costs are sometimes more than dollar for dollar; developers can pay up to four times more for mitigation, depending on the value and quality of the wetland they’d like to destroy and develop elsewhere (see Indianapolis Star Feb. 8).

The Friends of Sugar Creek wrote a letter in February calling for opposition to SB 389 and strong support for wetlands. The League of Women Voters joins this call. Since the 1960’s the League’s goal has been to prevent degradation and reduce and control pollutants. Until this bill, Indiana was one of eight states with strong wetlands protection allowing wetlands to protect us. Now the risk to us all is real, imminent and requires action from us. Contact Committee Chair Doug Gutwein. Send messages to Legislative Assistant Jake Carrico at 317-234-9139 or h16@iga.in.gov and reach out to State Sen. Phil Boots at 800-382-9467 or 317-232-9400 or email Senator.Boots@iga.in.gov; ora reach out to State Rep. Tim Brown at 317-232-9651 or 800-382-9841.

 

The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.

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