Monday, September 26, 2016

BLOG: Protecting Groundwater Through Personal Contact and Best Management Practices

by Chris Barnett, Executive Director, Lawrence Community Development Corporation, Lawrence, Indiana

Indianapolis-Marion County, Indiana has been a Groundwater Guardian Community since 1998.  We recognized the value of The Groundwater Foundation’s programs even before that:  in the early 1990s, when the original team was helping to write our first Wellfield Protection Zoning Ordinance, the Foundation was able to provide us with examples of ordinances and regulations from other communities.

Our team is an all-volunteer board, which is legally structured as a 501c3 not-for-profit “supporting organization” to city-county government.  We contract with an environmental consulting firm to take care of two main responsibilities:  keeping a registry of the “potential contaminant sources” (commercial locations that use and store potential contaminants) in our seven wellfield protection areas, and working with those businesses to employ best practices and minimize risks to the water supply.  Our third main responsibility, which the board undertakes in cooperation with our consultant, is providing speakers and task force members to advise citizens and city-county government on a wide range of topics around groundwater protection.  Our association with The Groundwater Foundation and our long-time Groundwater Guardian recognition adds credibility to our message.  We highlight our Guardian status in presentations, reports, our website, and the printed materials we distribute to businesses.

Our universe is large.  Marion County is an urbanized county of approximately 400 square miles with an estimated population of 939,000.  The vast majority of residences and commercial establishments are served by the municipal water systems of Citizens Water, Lawrence Utilities, and Speedway Water Works.  The rest utilize private wells.  The City of Lawrence and its 47,000 residents are 100% groundwater-dependent.  The Town of Speedway, home to about 13,000 residents and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, switches from part-surface to all-groundwater in winter when its surface water source becomes unreliable.  About 20-25% of Citizens Water production is groundwater, and that figure is growing with population and new connections.

Our program is voluntary and advisory, as local zoning ordinances can impose design and construction requirements but not operating requirements on businesses.  So our audience is generally limited to commercial/industrial property owners and operators, as well as city government and public health officials.   We stress personal contact and utilizing best management practices to reduce groundwater contamination risk within our wellfield protection districts.

The wellfield districts are set by ordinance as the 5-year time of travel zones around the public water supply wells in the county.  The wellfields encompass about 15% of the county’s land area.  On the map above, the 5-year TOT boundary is the white area; the dark gray area is the 1-year TOT.  Within these areas, there are 2,645 non-residential sites.  About half of the sites are judged to pose little or no risk to groundwater; 696 properties are regulated (or formerly-regulated) sites, and 681 more are unregulated but have commercial operations that could potentially pose a threat to groundwater.  Tracking the commercial uses and maintaining the registry database is a large undertaking, as is the effort to establish face-to-face communication with those businesses.

MCWEC consultant John Mundell addresses the
Riverside Area Superfund informational meeting.
Earlier in 2016, MCWEC directors and consultants mobilized to help organize and present information in a community meeting to address a proposed Superfund site in the midst of a high-production wellfield area.  Historic contamination suspected to be from commercial or industrial uses has been detected in raw water samples at production wells of Citizens Water.  The Indiana Department of Environmental Management worked with USEPA to study the issue, and the result was a proposed Superfund NPL designation.  Such designation in a drinking water protection area overlaid with a combination of residences and businesses carries both advantages and disadvantages.  We believe that the information presented by MCWEC helped community members who were present to better understand how they might respond to the proposed designation.


Chris Barnett is the Executive Director of the Lawrence Community Development Corporation, as well as the team leader for the Indianapolis-Marion County Groundwater Guardian Team, the Marion County Wellfield Education Corporation. Chris also serves on The Groundwater Foundation's board of directors. Reach Chris at

The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the view of The Groundwater Foundation, its board of directors, or individual members.

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