Sierran Masthead

Current Problems and Past Success Lead Chapter to Renew Clean-Water Crusade

Encouraged by progress made through the Hoosier Chapter’s first clean-water campaign and outraged by the White River chemical spill, members decided to renew, reinvigorate, and expand the chapter’s water-quality campaign at the recent planning retreat.

Approximately 30 Sierra Club members from around the state attended the intensive, two-day event at Fort Harrison State Park in Indianapolis.

Carl Zichella, director of the Sierra Club Midwest Office in Madison, Wisconsin, helped to lead the retreat and focused attendees on creating a worthwhile, winnable conservation campaign. The campaign, once again called “Protect Indiana’s Waters for Our Families, for Our Futures,” has a number of goals.

One-year goals include the following:

  • Make clean water a main issue in the 2000 statewide elections, including the governor’s race.
  • Build awareness and public support for addressing several of the state’s most pressing water-quality problems.
  • Educate the public about Indiana’s water-quality and water-protection problems.
  • Obtain preelection campaign pledges to act on water-quality problems from a substantial number of gubernatorial and legislative candidates.
  • Build a statewide clean-water coalition that includes many mainstream, nonenvironmental groups.
  • Intensify efforts statewide and locally to accelerate resolution of the combined sewer overflow (CSO) problems facing Indiana communities.

Among the longer-term, more specific goals are tightening permit laws on discharges into Indiana’s waters, reducing the number of people drinking unsafe water, and acquiring funding for the Grand Kankakee Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.

With the White River chemical spill fresh in citizens’ minds, the chapter has a head start in gaining attention, momentum, and support for an effective clean-water campaign. Heartlands Group member Les Zwirn was named chairman of the clean-water campaign steering committee.

The committee will be developing a “Clean Water Accountability Pledge 2000” initiative. Legislators and public officials will be asked to pledge their support for concrete action that addresses clean-water problems.

The chapter will publicize the names of those who do and do not sign the pledge. Heartlands Group member Ed Paynter will take the lead in creating a statewide clean-water coalition that will include both environmental and nonenvironmental groups.

It is envisioned that the coalition’s campaign will dovetail with the Sierra Club’s efforts and that both are essential for the initiative to be successful.

Indiana environmental groups will be urged to support the pledge and to become part of the statewide coalition that will work toward putting water-quality issues high on the state government’s agenda.

Other organizations, such as civic and neighborhood groups, health organizations, churches, and unions, will also be asked to join the coalition.

This alliance will unite for strong water-quality legislation and for reform in state agencies charged with protecting Indiana’s waters.

This new statewide coalition builds on the positive experience of central Indiana environmental groups that united in response to the White River chemical spill in December.

“I am optimistic that the Clean Water Accountability Pledge 2000 initiative represents a unique opportunity to not only strengthen and energize the Sierra Club, but also to build lasting alliances with many mainstream, influential groups in the fight to protect Indiana’s waters,” Zwirn said.

“The campaign has the potential to turn the mostly minimalist and reactive responses to the White River Ôfish kill’ (that is, tougher penalties and restocking of fish) into much more proactive statewide programs and policies that raise the standards and expectations for clean water,” said Zwirn.

“If successful, the campaign can be the vehicle that dramatically increases the Sierra Club’s ability to influence state environmental policy,” Zwirn said.

At the planning retreat, members developed timelines and strategies for creating and accomplishing the campaign.

Help is needed with many aspects of the campaign, and all members and citizens are encouraged to join the fight for clean water in Indiana.

Zichella also helped chapter members with the campaign-creation process over two years ago, when the chapter first chose clean water as the target of its advocacy. The Sierra Club can take credit for making progress on clean-water issues in Indiana since then.

The Heartlands Group, for example, helped to bring the CSO issue to the front pages and to the forefront of Indianapolis’s mayoral race. The group also sponsored a highly visible and successful “Ride the River” event in 1998, highlighting the sewage discharges into the White River.

In addition, the Grand Kankakee Marsh National Wildlife Refuge was approved last year, thanks in part to the chapter’s efforts. Refuge funding is currently being blocked by Rep. Steven Buyer (R-5).

Copyright © 2007 Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, all rights reserved.[10/8/02]efp

Spring 2000