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Indiana Natural Resources Commission

NRC > Department of Natural Resources > Lakes Floodplains & Water Management Lakes Floodplains & Water Management


The Department of Natural Resources is the state agency primarily responsible by statute for regulating activities related to "water quantity."

Water quantity can be:
too much water-as during a flood.
too little water-as during a drought.

The governing statutes also consider adverse affects to public health, public safety, or the environment that can result from construction along rivers, streams, and lakes. Together, DNR's responsibilities are described as the regulation of lakes, flood plains, and water management.

In determining licensing and enforcement questions, professional and technical expertise is usually required. Principles of engineering, geology, hydro-dynamics, biology, navigation safety, and historic preservation may be considered. DNR's responsibilities are sometimes closely related to those of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for water quality, and of the Department of Homeland Security for storm-related emergencies.

With the complex nature of these responsibilities and their broad public significance, it is probably to be expected that disputes would be common. The greatest share of cases litigated by the Natural Resources Commission, and reported in CADDNAR, arise from DNR regulation of lakes, flood plains, and water management.

Responsibilities for the regulation of lakes, flood plains, and water management are assigned by the Indiana General Assembly in statutes and implemented largely through rules. The Natural Resources Commission adopts permanent rules, and the DNR Director adopts temporary (or emergency) rules. Rules have the force and effect of law.

Permanent Rules (and Associated Statutes)

Indiana statutes have created several programs for lakes, flood plains, and water management. In most instances, the DNR's Division of Water is the lead division for the programs, often with the support of other DNR divisions. Rules and nonrule policy documents help refine the implementation of some programs.

Flood Hazard Areas: There are two related regulatory programs for (1) construction within the floodway of a river or stream; and, (2) construction within a flood plain but outside the floodway (sometimes called the fringe). The DNR is the licensing agency for floodway construction. IC 14-28-1 and 312 IAC 10. Construction activities in the floodway fringe are regulated at the local level, with minimum standards set by NRC rules. IC 14-28-3 and 312 IAC 10.

Lakes Preservation Act: The best-known statute protecting Indiana's inland lakes is sometimes called the "Lake Preservation Act" and is supplemented by rules. IC 14-26-2 and 312 IAC 11-1 through 312 IAC 11-5.

Several other statutes offer protection to lakes and associated streams. These are set forth by statute in IC 14-26-3 through IC 14-26-8. There currently are no rules directly applicable to these statutes.

Lake Michigan and Other Navigable Waters: Provides a discussion of programs directed to navigable waters.  The most notable statutes are IC 14-29-1 and IC 14-19-1-1(9).  Rules are provided at 312 IAC 6.

Dams and Dam Safety: The DNR is the state agency primarily responsible for dam safety.  IC 14-27-7, IC 14-27-1, and IC 28-1.  In 2007, rules were adopted at 312 IAC 10.5 to assist with implementation of the responsibility.

Water Wells and Groundwater Rights: A cluster of related statutes and rules supplement and modify the common law that determines groundwater rights.

IC 14-25-4 provides the legislative structure for emergency relief to small domestic well owners. Minimum well construction standards to qualify new wells for that protection are provided by rule at 312 IAC 12. For wells constructed from 1986 through 1991, those standards had been set forth in Recommended Guidelines for the Construction of Wells.

Water well drilling contractors: The statutes governing water well drilling contractors and the proper plugging of abandoned water wells are set forth at IC 25-39. Well drilling and plugging standards are found at 312 IAC 13.

The common law of groundwater rights is supplemented and modified by IC 14-25-3. No rules are directly applicable to this legislation.

Surface Water Rights: Multiple statutes and rules also modify the common law of riparian rights.

IC 14-25-5 provides the legislative structure for emergency relief where a freshwater lake suffers harm because lake levels are lowered by the activities of a "significant water withdrawal facility." Rules to help implement this statute are set forth at 312 IAC 11-6.

IC 14-25-1 considers surface water rights.  Within this statutory chapter, IC 14-25-1-11 addresses water diversions from the portion of Indiana located within the Great Lakes Basin.  In 2005, rudimentary procedural rules were adopted at 312 IAC 6.2 to assist with Great Lakes Basin Water Management.

IC 14-25-2 considers minimum stream flow and water sale contracts. There currently are no rules directly applicable to these statutes.

Significant Water Withdrawal Facilities: Facilities with the capacity to withdraw 100,000 gallons a day must be registered under IC 14-25-7. The Commission has approved Registration of Significant Water Withdrawal Facilities to assist with this responsibility.

Conservancy Districts: A conservancy district may be developed for local resource management of any combination of nine different purposes. Prominent among these are flood control, water supply, sewage collection and treatment, and water erosion control. Both the Natural Resources Commission and DNR's Division of Water play important roles relative to conservancy districts. The governing statutes are included in IC 14-33. The Natural Resources Commission has approved a Conservancy District Policy to assist in the administration of these statutes.

Other Resources

DNR's Division of Water

The DNR's Division of Water maintains a substantial website dedicated to its regulatory responsibilities, as well as its engineering and planning functions. The text of several key statutes is also included.