FOR the sake of protecting what is arguably Ohio's greatest natural resource - Lake Erie - the General Assembly should not end its session and leave Columbus tomorrow without ratifying the state's participation in the Great Lakes Basin Water Compact.
The compact, a multi-state effort which is essential to preventing massive water diversions from the lakes to other parts of the country, was approved by a wide margin in the House of Representatives last week. But it is being threatened in the Senate by what we believe are specious claims that it represents a threat to private-property rights.
Backers of the agreement point out that it specifically prohibits any such invasion of private-property rights, that Ohio would not be giving up any state sovereignty under the pact, and that sufficient safeguards, including unanimous approval, are required on important issues.
Moreover, they say, getting the compact up and running is crucial so that Ohio and seven other states that border the lakes don't leave the door open to a takeover of water diversion rules by Congress.
This, we believe, is the best argument for putting the agreement into operation as soon as possible. The Great Lakes hold 95 percent of this nation's surface fresh water, and the last thing Ohioans want is for politicians in Washington to begin siphoning off this precious resource to far-flung states.
Another persuasive argument for action now by the legislature is that Ohio already has obtained key concessions on policies to be carried out by the compact, and delay could mean that the process would have to be negotiated all over again. Work on the compact already has spanned seven years, and industrial interests have signed off on the legislation, House Bill 574.
If the Senate acts this week, Ohio would be among the first to ratify the compact, which also includes Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New York. The pact would then have to be approved by Congress, which advised the states in 2000 to get busy on such an agreement or face federal action.
The importance of conserving Great Lakes water cannot be overemphasized. Among other benefits, they provide drinking water to some 35 million people, including hundreds of thousands in Toledo, northwest Ohio, and southeast Michigan.
That fact alone should motivate the Ohio Senate to do the responsible thing and vote to ratify the water compact before lawmakers head home for the year.
It's time to get on with it.