Impacts of new Indiana wetlands law on Saint Joseph River and local taxpayers

NOW: Impacts of new Indiana wetlands law on Saint Joseph River and local taxpayers

ST. JOSEPH COUNTY, Ind. -- New development could threaten Hoosier wetlands.

A new law that took effect Monday strips protections for Indiana wetlands by loosening regulations and opening up the opportunity for more development.

Critics call it a recipe for flooding because these wetlands are natural protections for communities downstream.

"The wetlands are sort of part of our river and part of our lakes, and without them, the river and the lakes don't look like we expect them to look like," says Matt Meersman, the Director of the Saint Joseph River Basin Commission.

Meersman says it's inevitable the Saint Joseph River and Lake Michigan will change in the coming years.

He says water quality will decrease and water flow will increase, all because House Bill 1838 went into effect Monday, bringing lasting effects on local bodies of water.

"The water and the land are connected in a way that most of us don't think about, and wetlands are the biggest example of confusion, we think of them as land, so most people ask 'Why can't we drain them and turn them into something else?'" explains Meersman.

The long-term loss of wetlands to development though, will leave communities like South Bend with more excess water.

"If you have a community that has a cluster or a complex say of 10 acres of wetlands upstream from that community, and those wetlands lose that protection and get developed, now essentially you have 10 million gallons of water that you need to figure out what to do with," explains the Freshwater Policy Director with Audubon Great Lakes, Brian Vigue.

That is what causes flooding, which in turn, will ultimately cost taxpayers because new infrastructure will need to replace what once was a wetland's job of capturing that excess water.

"When you look at the taxes, you're going to pay at some level to manage this water, to take care of this water that you hadn't before, that's going to have an impact on folks," Vigue explains.

It's up to organizations like the Audubon Society and the County River Basin Commission to find out how to preserve the wetlands we have now, as the new law leaves no room to make up for what will be lost.

"The key to having regulations is not to all-out prevent someone from building or draining a wetland, but to understand that when we do that, we have to make up for it somewhere," says Meersman. "There needs to be a mitigation that occurs, and without regulation, that doesn't happen."

Wetlands are also a natural water filter.

They warn that over time, our creeks, rivers, and lakes will start to see more contaminated water that the wetlands would have filtered out naturally.

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