Protect Erie's tributaries


One of the best things John Kasich has done as Ohio's governor was veto a bad bill last year that would have allowed excessive water withdrawals from Lake Erie and its tributaries. The governor now must be equally vigilant about new legislative threats to the letter and spirit of the Great Lakes Compact.

The compact among eight states, with the cooperation of two Canadian provinces, safeguards all of the Great Lakes. A new bill before the General Assembly is more reasonable on issues of overall water volume, but raises troubling questions about protection of tributaries that could lead to compact violations.

Two former Republican Ohio governors, Bob Taft and George Voinovich, warn that the bill sponsored by state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon) takes a "less-than-rigorous" position on tributaries and has a "potential to invite litigation" by other compact states.

Including Lake Erie's tributaries in the bill's definition of a watershed source would ensure adequate protection for high-quality tributaries such as the Maumee and Sandusky rivers. But the governor's office seems to disagree.

In recent testimony, Mr. Kasich's environmental adviser said the bill would comply with the compact. At least the administration agrees that the bill's proposal to average water-withdrawal permit thresholds over 90 days is excessive. Critics, including the two former GOP governors, advocate a 30-day period.

Mr. Wachtmann is president of a bottling company. His bill has the support of business lobbies in Toledo and across the state. Brian Barger, a Toledo lawyer who represents some of these interests, argues that the Great Lakes Compact was "never intended to be a stream protection act." He says opponents have concocted "wild stories that large withdrawals will cause rivers to run backwards or cause Lake Erie to dry up."

But the bill's skeptics are hardly radicals. Mr. Taft chaired the Council of Great Lakes Governors during the four years governors took to develop an agreement about the compact that they took to their legislatures in 2005. He knows what the governors intended the compact to be.

Lake Erie's tributaries need protection. Anglers fear excessive water withdrawals will hurt recreational fishing, harm critical habitat, and lead to greater pollution by toxic algae.

Ohio's failure to protect tributaries would jeopardize a good agreement that the Great Lakes states have spent years negotiating to protect their most valuable natural resource. If it unravels, the consequences could be grim.