INDIANAPOLIS — Many parts of the Midwest are experiencing drought conditions, and the lack of rain is having an impact on everything from crops to trees as well as lake and reservoir levels.
In Indiana, much of our state is experiencing abnormally dry conditions—you can see it here on this map in yellow.
Some water utilities in Central Indiana have water restrictions in place, limiting how often you can water your grass.
However, WRTV Investigates uncovered most utilities will not reveal who is guzzling the most water.
“Your tap always turns on, and that’s a luxury,” said Jill Hoffman, executive director at the White River Alliance.
Water is precious, but for many people who live in Indiana, having a green lawn is also a top priority.
“It’s a little bit crazy,” said Hoffman. “We fertilize, make it grow so we can cut it.”
Fortville has water conservation measures in place
The Bluffs at Flat Fork is a new neighborhood located off of Connecticut Avenue, northwest of downtown Fortville.
Several of the Town of Fortville’s Top 10 water users live in the Bluffs of Flat Fork, according to a list WRTV Investigates obtained through a public records request.
Records show a home on Burnt Rock Lane used 150,600 gallons of water in one month — from June 15 to July 15.
That’s 40 times the amount consumed by the average Fortville homeowner, which is 4,000 gallons of water a month.
Down the street, Cindy Stanley’s house on Burnt Rock Lane used 150,000 gallons of water during the same time period, according to records provided by the Town of Fortville.
Stanley had no idea she was on the top 10 water user list.
“I’m kinda sort of surprised. I see everybody’s sprinklers going,” said Stanley. “We are because we've had a new yard put in and we're having to get it started. So that's why we've used so much."
Stanley said they just moved in to their home back in May and they’re just trying to protect their investment.
“We sodded from the street all the way to the back,” said Stanley.
The Town of Fortville has watering conservation measures in place, in part, because of aggressive lawn watering.
Homeowners can only water twice a week on specific days and during set hours in the evening or overnight.
There’s no fines or punishments for not following the water restrictions, but the rules say a homeowner can water new sod or lawns for the first 30 days, but after that they can only water from midnight to 6 am or 6 pm to midnight.
“I don’t think I was ever told that,” said Stanley. “Not since we’ve moved here.”
Despite the watering restrictions, we found sprinklers going during the heat of the day, with much of the water not making it onto the grass.
Homeowner Melha Khalid also told us she didn’t know about the water restrictions.
“We did not know that, and we were not aware,” said Khalid.
Khalid’s sprinklers were running in violation of the watering restrictions, but she said they moved into the neighborhood recently.
“We did not even have time to change the settings yet,” said Khalid. “Thanks for the information.”
Cindy Stanley said some of her water bills have been in the $300-$400 range.
She does not plan on making the top 10 list again.
"We won't continue using that much water once we get through this first period of getting the yard settled,” said Stanley. “We will probably just water every 3 days or so for 15 minutes or whatever."
Most utilities tight lipped on who guzzles the most water
WRTV Investigates filed records requests with two dozen water utilities throughout Central Indiana asking for a list of top 10 water users, both homes and businesses.
Only a third of water utilities provided WRTV with a list of top commercial water users.
And only two, or 8%, of water utilities would tell WRTV which homeowners use the most water.
Water utilities denied our requests with a variety of reasons including they don’t share customer information, or they don’t have to comply with public records laws.
The City of Lafayette provided a list of top commercial water users, but a city spokesperson said, “there is no way to provide the top residential users.”
Community Utilities of Indiana, Inc. told WRTV, “we make it a practice to not share customer information.”
Joe Loughmiller, a spokesperson for Indiana American Water, said they provide “aggregated billed water services volume data for all its regulated utility subsidiaries on an annual and quarterly, company-wide basis”, however, they do not break down water usage by user.
According to annual reports obtained by WRTV, investor-owned Indiana American Water sold 33 billion gallons of water to customers in 2021.
Citizens Energy sold 37 billion gallons of water to its users last year, records show.
Citizens Energy also denied our request for top 10 water users, both business and residential.
A spokesperson for Citizens Energy said, “customer usage information - that can be considered a trade secret - and therefore must be withheld from disclosure.”
“That should be accessible,” said Kerwin Olson, executive director at the Citizens Action Coalition, a nonprofit utility watchdog group. “There should be some transparency. We really live in a state where the utilities are calling the shots."
Olson points out Indiana has many different types of water utilities.
Many water utilities have little oversight and are not regulated by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.
“Only 45 percent of ratepayers are served by a regulated water utility,” said Olson. "You have conservancy districts, municipal utilities, not for profit utilities, one public charitable trust, one investor- owned utility. Some are regulated, most are not, so getting information can be exceptionally challenging."
The City of Martinsville and the Town of Fortville were the only two water utilities who did provide us with their top water users, both businesses and homeowners.
Fortville Town Manager Joe Renner said transparency is important.
“If we get the word out and we let the people know what they're doing is affecting the whole community, we are hoping it will make a difference,” said Renner.
The Fortville water tower in the middle of town holds 300,000 gallons of water.
The average Top 10 water on Fortville’s list user consumers half of that volume in just one month.
“That’s excessive,” said Renner. “The top 10 averaged 147,000 gallons of water in a month’s time each. That’s 1.4 million gallons for 10 people. That’s enough to service 370 homes/residential homes on a normal 4,000-gallon consumption use.”
While Indianapolis gets most of its drinking water from the White River, Fortville’s water comes from underground aquifers, as does much of the state.
Renner emphasizes that high demand that comes from grass watering stresses their system and impacts all homeowners’ bills regardless of how much they water.
“That means we have to engineer and develop larger infrastructure to handle those days,” said Renner. “That goes out to all of our ratepayers. They're going to all pay the price for that."
Fortville limits when homeowners can water so the town will have enough water for emergencies like a big fire or a water main break.
“We are spoiled in this area, because we’ve got the water and it’s there, but we don’t always know it’s going to be there,” said Renner.
Indiana yet to experience a water crisis
WRTV found most water utilities in Indiana let you use as much water as you want.
“Historically we've been a water rich state, so there's a perception that we have plenty and I don’t need to conserve it,” said Jill Hoffman, executive director at the White River Alliance. “I also think our communities want to meet their customers' needs. So they don't really want to tell them that they don't have enough."
“If we have a lot of heavy rains in the spring we can’t get in the fields early, and if by later summer the fields are dry, and then we shorten our productive agricultural season so that’s a challenge,” said Hoffman.
Indiana also has other threats to its water supply including pollution and chemicals.
Meanwhile, Indiana homeowners love to water their lawns.
“When we look at water use in the summertime, more than 70% of the demand is coming from lawn watering,” said Hoffman. “We have to keep building more supply to meet that demand which drives our rates up for infrastructure and that kind of thing. I honestly wish everyone would reconsider it a little bit."
Hoffman said people should still aim to conserve water.
“Nothing works like a good emergency, but we don’t really need to be there, and we don’t want to be there,” said Hoffman. “We need to help people understand water is connected to more than what comes out of your tap. It’s needed for jobs, economic growth. We should be conserving so we can do other things with that supply.”
If you’re concerned about a utility in Indiana, here’s what you can do:
- Contact the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC)
- Contact the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor (OUCC)
- Contact your state lawmakers
Steps you can take to conserve water and save money:
- Turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth.
- Only run the washing machine and dishwasher when you have a full load.
- Use a low flow shower head and faucet aerators.
- Fix leaks.
- Don't overwater your lawn or water during peak periods.
- Monitor water usage on your water bill
- Ask your local government or utility about a home water audit.