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Published: Friday, 6/24/2011

Lake Erie bill invites lawsuit, Taft warns

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS -- The former governor who helped negotiate the international compact protecting Great Lakes water said Thursday that pending legislation violates that agreement and invites court challenge by Ohio's partner states.

Former Gov. Bob Taft urged a Senate committee to slow its consideration of a bill that is on the fast-track to reach the desk of Gov. John Kasich, a fellow Republican, by next week.

"This is what it's all about," Mr. Taft said. "It's about the future of states. It's about the children. It's about our grandchildren. It's about protecting one of Ohio's greatest long-term competitive advantages, which is the abundance of water resources that we enjoy here in the state of Ohio."

He said a provision of the House-passed bill that considers only the individual impact of each user on Lake Erie instead of looking at the cumulative effect risks the lake's "death by a thousand straws."

"It's the accumulation of impacts that you want to look at, not just each individual withdrawal, because they add up," he said later. "Together, they can have a very adverse impact on the quality and quantity of the Great Lakes."

The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee is considering House Bill 231, which passed the House Wednesday largely by a party-line vote of 60-37.

The bill is expected to reach the Senate floor next week as lawmakers prepare to recess for the summer.

Ohio's thresholds are higher than those approved or are under consideration by other Great Lakes states. Only Indiana's numbers rival Ohio's.

Ohio's proposal would allow power plants, steel mills, manufacturers, and other water users to withdraw up to 5 million gallons a day from Lake Erie before facing regulation.

The threshold drops to 2 million gallons for ground and other inland water sources within the watershed and 300,000 gallons for streams that have been designated as high quality.

Current law sets the threshold at 2 million gallons for water consumption withdrawals minus the water later returned to the system from anywhere within the watershed.

The bill's supporters argue that there's no evidence that the withdrawals would have an adverse affect on Lake Erie.

"I really believe Mother Nature -- evaporation and snowfall in Minnesota and Canada -- is the great master of the Great Lakes," the bill's sponsor, Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon), told the committee. "By all current standards up to this time of the withdrawals by cities [and] industries, it's very easy to come to the conclusion that the withdrawals are at best insignificant to what Mother Nature does to control these watersheds."

Approximately 3.4 billion gallons of water are withdrawn from Lake Erie every day by roughly 600 Ohio users.

Mr. Taft chaired the Council of Great Lakes Governors during the negotiation of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, which was adopted by Ohio, seven other states, two Canadian provinces, and Congress.

He spoke Thursday as a board member of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, a citizens' organization that has followed implementation of the pact in the partner states.

He said the alliance was planning to weigh in on the bill at some point but was surprised at how rapidly it was moving.

He said the lack of a general water conservation program in the bill violates the compact.

The bill would instead allow each individual user of water to come up with its own "best practices" when it comes to conservation.

"I live in the Maumee watershed…," Mr. Wachtmann said. "It's the cost of doing business. … There are huge economic incentives by nature of our economy for conservation of water and our resources."

Mr. Wachtmann is president of Maumee Valley Bottling Inc. and a partner in Culligan Water Conditioning.

Ohio has until Dec. 8, 2013, the five-year anniversary of the enactment of the compact, to have its rules in place.

If it fails to do so, a default threshold of 100,000 gallons per day would be imposed on the state.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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