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Published: Tuesday, 7/8/2014 - Updated: 2 months ago

ENVIRONMENT

State initiative puts emphasis on water

Lake Erie region will be one of the main focuses

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Recognizing the growing value of water, a new statewide initiative called Healthy Water Ohio was announced Monday.

The initiative is a cross-section of interests, many of them privately funded. They represent conservation, business and industry, universities, water suppliers, and agriculture, with the announcement coordinated by the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

Though not exclusively focused on the Lake Erie region, the group, headed by a 16-member steering committee, expects many of its activities to affect that part of the state and its tributaries, such as the Maumee River.

Anything from farming to shipping to drinking water to energy production is at stake with land-use policies.

So are Lake Erie’s eight shoreline counties in Ohio, which generate $11.8 billion a year in tourism — nearly a third of Ohio’s $38 billion from out-of-state visitors.

Larry Fletcher, executive director Lake Erie Shores & Islands, a group that promotes lake-based tourism in Ottawa and Erie counties, told reporters on a conference call that even in this water-blessed part of North America there are myriad of obstacles to water quantity, as well as water quality.

“We can’t take this for granted,” Mr. Fletcher said of water in general.

He and other speakers noted threats from algae, climate change, fracking, sewage overflows, population growth, and other issues.

One of the group’s biggest goals is developing a 20, to 30-year management strategy, a blueprint for future water use in Ohio.

Larry Antosch, Ohio Farm Bureau senior environmental policy director, is to serve as the group’s technical adviser.

He said it’s unclear how strong of an advocacy role the group will develop as opposed to being a more neutral clearinghouse for information.

Healthy Water Ohio’s mission will be similar to that of other partnerships, to unite a diverse group of stakeholders, speakers said.

“We want to take a proactive approach and cooperatively address challenges,” Steve Hirsch, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation president, said.

Healthy Water Ohio plans to poll several residents about what they see as water priorities. Results are to be part of a yearlong report, released in the summer of 2015, which will outline how the state’s water is used, how its water infrastructure could be improved with anything from better levees to better sewerage, and what more can be done to conserve water and use it more wisely.

The steering committee is made up of representatives from Anheuser-Busch, Association of Ohio Health Commissioners, Farm Credit Mid-America, Lake Erie Shores & Islands, Ohio AgriBusiness Association, Ohio Cattlemen’s Association, Ohio Corn Marketing Program, Ohio Dairy Producers Association, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Ohio League of Conservation Voters, Ohio State University, Ohio Soybean Council, Scotts Miracle-Gro, The Nature Conservancy, and the Village of Ottawa.

Ohioans consume more than 11 billion gallons of water each day for personal and business use, the group said.

The state has more than 60,000 miles of rivers, streams, and lake shoreline and more than 125,000 lakes, reservoirs, and ponds.

Healthy Water Ohio said the economic impacts of business, tourism, and other water uses is in the tens of billions of dollars.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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