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Tippecanoe County Commissioners halt water extraction from Wabash River as tensions over LEAP project rise

The project calls for up to 100 million gallons of water from the Wabash to be pipelined daily to Lebanon
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Posted at 4:32 PM, Nov 20, 2023

TIPPECANOE COUNTY — Large amounts of water are no longer allowed to be extracted from the Wabash River, for now.

It's a move that the Tippecanoe County commissioners hope will allow for more research, science, and legislation to come about.

The 9-month moratorium prevents large scale extractions from Tippecanoe County water sources, and prevents the use of "radial collector" wells. The type of wells commonly used to open an aquifer.

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It's a move that the Tippecanoe County commissioners hope will prevent a pipeline planned from Lafayette to Lebanon.

This comes as plans for the Limitless Exploration Advanced Pace or "LEAP Innovation District" in Boone County call for up to 100 million gallons of water daily to be pipelined from the Wabash River to Lebanon, about 30 miles south.

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The project in Boone County is being touted as the future of Indiana. Eli Lilly is already building a facility there.

The project has been the center of controversy from both Tippecanoe and Boone County residents.

Just last week, the Governor, ordered the Indiana Finance Authority to take over a water study to determine if the pipeline could create difficulties for the future of Tippecanoe County.

It's a concern that dozens of people in attendance for Monday's Tippecanoe County Commissioner meeting voiced.

"Leave! Take your project and go somewhere else," West Lafayette resident Cheryl Kirkpatrick voiced at the podium during public comment.

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"It's no today, tomorrow, next month, next year, whenever. We don't want it," she said.

It's the same sentiments that could be heard from the many people who spoke during the meeting.

Kirkpatrick, like many residents in Tippecanoe County, fear the pipeline will take too much of their water.

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"I am worried about the future of the planet in general. But, this particular, local issue. They say act locally so that's what I am trying to do," West Lafayette resident Tom Eismin said.

The meeting was packed with dozens of people, wearing blue to stand for the water they say will be stolen from them.

"We need to protect our natural resources, it means that we need to stop moving water from one aquifer to another," Eismin said.

Many residents, like Cheryl McCool, say it worries them for the future generations.

"The future of our kids, our grand kids, everybody is at stake," McCool said.

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The commissioners hope the 9-month delay will allow for a legislative process to play out.

"This is the issue that keeps me up at night," Tippecanoe County Commissioner Tom Murtaugh said.

He, like many Tippecanoe residents, are concerned about the project. Citing a lack of knowledge on the longevity of what it could do to the water supply.

"We don't have the science yet. We don't have the data that shows that this aquifer can support that type of draw down on a daily basis. So nobody feels comfortable with this project because it seems like it is being pushed forward before science can document that it can withstand that," Murtaugh said.

Murtaugh said it was an easy decision to place the moratorium because he's never seen an issue more volatile than this.

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"In my 15 years as commissioner I've never had an issue that was so decisive as this is. We are hearing from people on the far left an we are hearing from people on the far right and everybody literally has concerns about this project," he said.

The temporary pause on water extraction from the Wabash River is a move the commissioners passed unanimously.

While many were grateful for the delay, they hope it will allow for time for laws to pass preventing the pipeline from ever happening.

"This is not something that you can compromise on. There can't be any negotiations," Kirkpatrick said.

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The 9-month moratorium will delay extraction until next year's legislative session ends.

Tippecanoe County commissioners say if legislation doesn't come out of the next session preventing the pipeline of water from the river, they will consider extending the moratorium.

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