A Greener Indiana

Everybody can do something to make a greener Indiana

More seasons of fun in the sun at any one of Indiana's bountiful number of lakes could be in peril, at any time. Peril not just for the lucky few that  own lakefront property, but also for the ones that are considered the public, and have limited access to many public waters. I have noticed the impending peril for a long time, it  took this latest catastrophe  for me to look into it in more depth.

Recently a lakefront home burned, on Tippecanoe Lake. Now this is not just some small humble 900 square foot lakefront property, but at 15,000 square feet it is pretty substantial.  It took 50 firefighters, 8 departments, more than 15 hours to get the fire under control, only to have it flare up several more times over the weekend, all the while the owners were in Florida. The property managers had to bring out the blueprints to the  seasonal home for the fire crews. They also own another 9,000 square foot 'cottage' on the other side of this small public lake.



 The environmental impact from these large modern ‘cottages’ being built on lake shorefronts, in this case the   run off   from  a catastrophic fire like this,  on the water quality, on the shoreline,   should make everyone take another  look at our public lakes, and ordinances to  guide development, and ensure that our natural resources are present for future generations  The ordinances address matters that are often forgotten in many local codes, including aquatic buffers, , erosion and sediment control, open space development, storm water control operation and maintenance, illicit discharges, and post construction controls.  Several Indiana communities are revolutionary in protecting natural resources. These include Porter County’s unified development ordinance, Kosciusko County Lakes Development ordinance, and Lake Monroe unified development ordinance.


Our public waters:

State owns all of the lakes in public trust, 

Drinking water, swimming and boating are protected for citizens.

Ironically, land use planning has provided state and local governments with a process for ensuring that some of the privately owned farms and forests remain as open space for purpetuity; but lake shores  have no process for deciding how much of the publicly owned shore should remain in its natural condition, or even in public hands.

I would like to see regulations such as this:


Work  done within the protected shoreland  requires a formal permit from the indiana  Shoreland Division (there are a few exceptions)   This should be highly enforced.


all land within the protected shoreland  subject to impervious surface limits  coverage subject to varying levels of environmental protections and stormwater management 


all land within 50 ft of the reference line  subject to tree cutting and groundcover impact restrictions based upon a 50 ft x 50 ft grid system and  called the "Waterfront Buffer"...


all land in the "Woodland Buffer" (150 ft of the reference line)  subject to a restriction on disturbance - 50% of the area outside the impervious area limits should be maintained in an "unaltered state" including temporary impacts 

 STATEWIDE 50 ft or more SETBACK

all new primary structures  set back at least 50 ft from the reference line statewide (towns and cities cannot set lower limits, but may enact greater


I cut my teeth on Indiana waters, be it learning to swim, fish, ski, boat, paddle a canoe. I have camped, rented cottages, gone to church retreats at many  Indiana lakes. Indiana lakes used to be surrounded by…. well, cottages, mostly modest, weekend, summer, retreats at the lakes for the majority, along with the few  larger retreats scattered here, and there.  The shore lines were still naturally intact, but a trend was started many years ago, and has escalated over the past 30 years or more. That trend has been to bring the ’city’ to the lake, literally. More humble cottages have been bulldozed, rebuilt into 5,000 square foot, and even more behemoths, with lawns, that to me  emulate city homes.  My parents bought their dream cottage on Big Otter, a sweet small A-frame chateau on lakefront with another ½ lot untouched woods......but, alas they sold  the property in the early eighties, due the very fact that 5,000 + square foot 'cottages' started springing up more, and more, as well as the trend towards 'funneling' onto the lake.  Indiana has no system in place to prevent ‘shoreline abuse’ according to Indiana Clean Lakes program, and Bill Jones.  Bill Jones growing up in Wisconsin knows what makes a good lakefront:      marshy shores lined with forests and tall grasses; some aquatic plants, perhaps a log fallen in the water, providing hiding places for the fish and tadpoles and turtles he loved to catch.

Now a clinical professor in the School of Public and

Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington,

he’s concerned about their disappearance, especially in Indiana.

The removal of native shoreline plants and trees, and their replacement with bulkhead seawalls and other modern development  structures made of impervious materials, is nothing less than an assault on the lake’s wildlife and the very life of the water itself.  

Jones points out that lakefront problems are worse in Indiana than in other nearby states such as Wisconsin, where a natural resource ethic holds sway. The Hoosier state, he says, is defined by a strong notion of property rights   He notes that the Indiana Lakes Preservation Act, passed in 1947 and designed to protect the “natural resources and the natural scenic beauty” of Indiana’s freshwater lakes,is very difficult to enforce. Other issues are peer pressure, fear factor, lack of awareness, or education about eco- systems.

“People are attracted to the natural beauty of lakes and  they may be there because of the joy of watching birds  and the turtles or the thrill of catching fish in their own backyard,” Jones says , or to have a place where their grandchildren love to come to hunt frogs. The greatest irony is, the features that attract people to lakeshores are being destroyed by the actions those people take.”  Broaching these issues to lakefront property owners is like opening a can of worms. This can be observed in the comment thread of same wane news post about the recent massive lakefront home fire.



One newer area of research Jones is pursuing is assessing the economic value of Indiana lakes. It may seem obvious that bad water quality in a lake would negatively affect the lake’s appeal, but Jones says lakefront dwellers often don’t connect the economic dots. “In some counties, the vast majority of property tax revenue comes from lake homes and the sales taxes of people going to use those lakes,” he explains. “But as a lake’s water quality degrades, property values degrade. And as those values degrade, the tax base starts to degrade. So there’s a substantial argument to be made about economic value of lakes.'






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Tags: Indiana, environment, lake, shores


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Comment by MartyL on May 2, 2012 at 6:17pm

It's a big issue, lakes are the crown jewels of northern Indiana. People love them, and in some cases may be loving them to death. Too many power boats for one thing. Not enough natural shoreline. Too many dollars, not enough sense. Many of these issues are dealt with at the local level, and getting involved there could make a big difference. For example, many of Indiana's lakes were first developed for cottages in the late 19th and early 20th century. The plats of these developments often include common areas, dedicated public spaces, along the waterfront. Nowadays, landowners often attempt to seize these, by aggressively excluding others. It requires civic minded people to be vigilant to preserve these spaces for the future. One lake at a time.

Comment by Eric Stallsmith on April 9, 2012 at 11:57am

That is a really cool link and a really nice site.  Thanks for pointing that out.

Comment by Ellen on April 8, 2012 at 7:05pm

ELPC intends to demonstrate Indiana’s water pollution problems, and the impact on the state, through the stories of Indiana residents and water experts.  This information, along with photos and videos, is available on the project website www.INourwater


Comment by Ellen on January 30, 2012 at 9:20am

The most recent news.......Last updated: January 29, 2012 11:23 a.m.

Indiana moving slowly on lake phosphorus rules

MUNCIE — A state effort to address phosphorous pollution that has fouled Indiana's waterways is moving forward slowly, but environmental groups' hopes for help from lawmakers is likely to be dashed this year.   Tick....tick....tick





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