MARBLEHEAD, Ohio - Ohio politicians celebrated the state's passage of an international water agreement to protect the Great Lakes watershed yesterday, and began turning to their next water fight - in Congress.
Gov. Ted Strickland ceremonially signed the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact that bans diversions of water outside the watershed. He officially signed the agreement last month after it was passed by the General Assembly.
"The Great Lakes Compact keeps management decisions over the water within the Great Lakes states, rather than with the federal government, whose broader interests may not match the region's interests," Mr. Strickland said.
He said the compact allows for the states to assure "sustainable use" of Great Lakes water, along with a "predictable permit system to industry."
Addressing the issue that delayed passage for months, Mr. Strickland said the compact would not interfere with the "reasonable use" of water that flows along or beneath private property.
At his side, and also flourishing a signing pen, more than a year and a half after leaving office, was former Gov. Bob Taft, credited by Mr. Strickland with launching Ohio's involvement with seven other Great Lakes states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec to protect the regional resource.
Mr. Taft, a Republican, and Mr. Strickland, a Democrat, chatted before the ceremony on the lawn of the Marblehead Lighthouse State Park and each spoke warmly about the other.
"None has worked harder or more effectively than" Mr. Taft, Mr. Strickland said, in bringing about the water compact. Mr. Taft said he appreciated Mr. Strickland's "thoughtfulness" in inviting him to the event and his support of the compact.
Mr. Taft is a distinguished research associate working full-time for the private University of Dayton. He said he focuses mainly on education policy issues and raising scholarship funds. He said he lives in the Dayton area and has no intention of seeking elective office again. "Thirty years was long enough to be in elective office," Mr. Taft said.
All eight Great Lakes states and the two Canadian provinces have approved the agreement, which heads next to Congress for approval. The governors of Michigan and Pennsylvania have are expected to sign the legislation soon.
U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), whose district includes Marblehead in Ottawa County, said states in the South and Southwest may be looking thirstily to the abundant water of the Great Lakes.
"This agreement is the beginning of a long road," Miss Kaptur said.
She said many legal issues relating to water rights remain to be determined, including whether water is a commodity or a resource under the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.
"As one can move natural gas from the panhandle up, other commodities can be moved south. Other players on this continent may have different goals than we do," she said.
U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, a Democrat, of the adjacent congressional district that includes the city of Lorain, Ohio, is a member of the House Judiciary Committee that will take up the bill. She said, "We have our work cut out [for] us," on the question of whether parched states out West or in the South would attempt to block the compact out of hopes of eventually tapping into Great Lakes water.
Ms. Sutton noted that U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) is the chairman of the judiciary committee.
"I'm looking forward to working with all of you to make sure that we do not carelessly divert our resource and that we protect it for all that it's worth," Ms. Sutton said.
The issue also could go to the House's Transportation Infrastructure subcommittee, of which U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) is a member. Mr. Latta called approval of the compact by Congress "the No. 1 issue."
"Ohio has done its part and Congress has got to do its part," he said.
In addition to the three members of Congress, the signing ceremony drew about a dozen members of the Ohio General Assembly. Among them was state Sen. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland), who temporarily held up the bill while insisting on language aimed at protecting private water rights, something critics claimed was not threatened anyway.
The compact brings together Ontario and Quebec with Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, New York, and Minnesota. The five Great Lakes together account for one-fifth of the world's surface drinking water.
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