COLUMBUS - Ohio yesterday became the sixth state to fully join an unprecedented club united in opposition to diversion of Great Lakes water outside the region.
Gov. Ted Strickland's signing of the long-delayed Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact leaves only Pennsylvania and Michigan on the outside looking in.
The water diversion compact had been held up in Ohio over a private property rights dispute. Ultimately, a compromise was struck that will allow voters to decide on Nov. 4 whether to write into the Ohio Constitution private property water rights that have been recognized in court decisions.
"Through the compact, we will have the ability to maintain our precious natural resources and preserve and protect Lake Erie for generations to come,'' said Mr. Strickland. He plans to mark the event with a ceremonial bill-signing with state and federal officials on July 7 at the Marblehead Lighthouse.
It's only a matter of time before Michigan joins the club. Both chambers of its legislature have ratified the agreement, and Gov. Jennifer Granholm is expected to sign it.
But in Pennsylvania, only one chamber of the General Assembly has acted.
The pact, which involves two Canadian provinces, won't become binding until all eight Great Lakes states have signed on and Congress has ratified it.
Jack Shaner, spokesman for the Ohio Environmental Council, applauded the governor's action, but said tougher work lies ahead.
"It was a no-brainer to erect a legal wall against the export of water, but the kicker was the use and conservation of the water within the drainage basin,'' he said. "That's the sleeper, and we've only just seen the first volley in many battles to come.''
Ohio will eventually have to enact a plan on how it would specifically operate within the compact's general framework. For instance, one decision ahead will be whether to increase the amount of water that businesses within the watershed may draw before requiring a permit.
"The minimum threshold is 100,000 gallons or less a day,'' said Rep. Matt Dolan (R., Novelty), sponsor of the compact legislation. "We'll take a look at whether that threshold makes sense. There's a strong argument that it doesn't."
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