The best that can be said for a bill approved last week by the Ohio House, ostensibly to protect Lake Erie and carry out the Great Lakes regional water compact, is that it is better than a dreadful measure Gov. John Kasich vetoed last year. That's not good enough: If the state Senate doesn't improve the bill, the governor should use his veto pen again.
The new bill does not permit excessive water withdrawals from the Lake Erie watershed, as last year's measure did. But it fails to protect adequately the groundwater and tributaries that replenish the lake, by allowing too much leeway for withdrawals from streams.
It also would allow only property owners with "direct" economic interests to appeal water-use permits. That provision effectively removes boaters, sportsmen, and environmentalists from the process.
As they did last year, former Ohio Republican governors Bob Taft and George Voinovich -- who helped forge the Great Lakes compact -- warn that the bill's enactment could invite lawsuits by other states. A former director of the state Department of Natural Resources and a former head of its water division also have expressed concerns about the House bill, as have two of Ohio's best-known Great Lakes scientists.
The governor and state lawmakers should defer to experts, heed the warnings about litigation, and adopt legislation that offers protection beyond Lake Erie's shoreline. The new bill would put the Maumee River -- which supports Toledo-area shipping and is the most important spawning habitat for the Great Lakes region's $7 billion fishery industry -- in a precarious position.
The state does not classify the river as "high-quality" because of its industrial uses. The Kasich administration said it can protect the Maumee adequately through water-use permits issued by the Ohio DNR. But such bureaucratic action does not ensure permanent protection.
Mr. Kasich properly persuaded lawmakers to tighten a provision in the new bill that would have issued water-use permits based on average withdrawals over 90 days. Instead, a tiered approach that allows for a 45-day averaging period would apply in many instances.
But this compromise won't guard against short-term spikes in water use caused by some industrial processes, such as the use of hydraulic fracturing to drill for oil or natural gas. A state official says some industries could "draw some of our tributaries dry in one day and not even need a permit to do it."
Senators need to improve the House bill or reject it. If they do neither, Mr. Kasich -- despite tentative support he has expressed for the bill -- should veto it.
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