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Published: Thursday, 12/1/2011

Better Great Lakes bill

The Ohio General Assembly could be headed for an imperfect, but workable, compromise on the contentious issue of Great Lakes water withdrawals. These days, that passes for progress.

Last summer, Gov. John Kasich properly vetoed a bad bill that would have allowed businesses and utilities to take as much as 5 million gallons a day from Lake Erie without a permit. A proposal the governor is preparing to introduce would cut that withdrawal rate in half. Currently, there are no clear state limits on withdrawal from Ohio waterways.

Enough details of the administration's plan have trickled out to put some key industry and environmental lobbyists at ease. They are understandably withholding final judgment until they see the proposed legislation, and they are wary of changes lawmakers might make.

They also are at odds about how the measure should define unacceptable effects on rivers and streams, yet say they are optimistic the issue can be resolved.

The governor's plan appears to bring Ohio into compliance with the Great Lakes Compact, an agreement that the eight Great Lakes states made and Congress approved in 2008. Among other things, the compact established regional standards for water withdrawals.

The governor, and especially the legislature's Republican majority, needs to do more to protect Lake Erie, which provides drinking water for millions of people and is the backbone of Ohio's valuable tourism and recreation industry. They should not weaken protection of the lake to appease big-money campaign donors.

Ohio and other Great Lakes states have until 2013 to enact legislation that will put the fundamental concepts of the Great Lakes Compact into effect. That process is not an excuse to reopen the agreement -- more than 10 years in the making -- to industry lobbyists.

Governor Kasich's plan is more restrictive than Indiana's proposal for withdrawals from major water sources, although not as restrictive as those in other Great Lakes states. The fervor behind enacting stronger protections of the water-blessed Great Lakes region in recent years is likely to continue as global demands for water intensify.

The Great Lakes region needs more effective management of its precious water. It's reassuring that Mr. Kasich's plan acknowledges that reality.



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