Fort Wayne resident Rick Phillips is board chair of the Indiana Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
The President Benjamin Harrison Conservation Trust and Clean Water Indiana: two state conservation programs created to protect and improve our natural or “green” infrastructure. Infrastructure is top of mind for appropriators in this session of the General Assembly. We fully agree on the importance of ensuring the quality and safety of our transportation system.
As legislators consider infrastructure investment, we want to encourage them to strike some balance between those investments in our gray infrastructure with dedicated investments in protecting and improving our natural “green” infrastructure. Nature provides valuable services to us every day, beyond its obvious beauty, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and rich soil for food production. A healthy green infrastructure can also improve our water and air quality and regulate the amount of water moving in our rivers and streams, as well as reducing pollutants and sediments flowing into them. Healthy green infrastructure can save us money.
For instance, the cleaner the water flowing into our drinking water treatment plants, the fewer chemicals and processes required in the treatment process. The slower the water moves into our rivers and streams, the less likelihood of flooding and subsequent damage to property and levees. The healthier our soil, the less it erodes and the more productive it becomes, with the added benefit of less sediments and fertilizers moving into our rivers and streams.
Locally, state funding with multiple agencies and many local investors has allowed the Little Rivers Wetland Project to acquire Eagle Marsh. Eagle Marsh is the largest non-coastal, urban wetland restoration in the country. Our community reaps the benefits of this green infrastructure project as it provides storage of more than a billion gallons of water during floods. This provides significant flood reduction in downtown Fort Wayne and other communities. Not only does Eagle Marsh provide flood storage, it also had more than 14,000 visitors last year, most of whom attended a free education program. Eagle Marsh is a destination along the close to 100 miles of multiuse trails that connect our communities in our county.
There are many other services nature provides, and we take many of them for granted. We must be purposeful in protecting these lands, waters and soils because, once developed, lost or degraded, people and wildlife lose those benefits we value and services we depend upon.
As the legislature continues its work to develop the state's next biennial budget, The Nature Conservancy and its conservation partners are advocating for a dedicated fund for the Harrison Trust and Clean Water Indiana. Hoosiers deserve a stable and sufficient source of funding to ensure ongoing protection of available lands important for wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation and the quality of life for Indiana families, as well as employment of best management practices to protect our soil and our agricultural economy. Natural infrastructure is not a luxury. Without purposeful investment, those lost services will contribute to more demands on the far more expensive gray infrastructure.