COLUMBUS -- Despite protests from two former Republican governors, the Ohio Senate Tuesday rubber-stamped a business-backed bill allowing factories, power plants, and other entities to draw substantially more water from Lake Erie before facing regulation.
Two southern Ohio Democrats joined the chamber's Republicans in a 25-8 vote to send Gov. John Kasich a bill that writes between the lines of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact ratified by eight states, two Canadian provinces, and Congress.
"The thresholds currently in House Bill 231 are higher than in any other state, which pose a detrimental economic and environmental impact to Lake Erie," Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo) said.
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Former Gov. Bob Taft, who was chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors when the pact was negotiated, recently told lawmakers he believes House Bill 231 violates the compact and invites litigation by partner states.
U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, a former governor who introduced the compact legislation in Congress, sent the committee a letter urging a delay in a vote on the bill.
"House Bill 231 prevents [the Ohio Department of Natural Resources] from relying on science to determine adverse impacts of a withdrawal or consumptive use application, and instead … establishes an arbitrary threshold for withdrawals and consumptive uses that will be presumed to not cause adverse impacts," he wrote.
Sen. Cliff Hite (R., Findlay), chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, said he's confident the bill strikes the right balance.
"This has been vetted since the Great Lakes Compact was originally passed two years ago," he said. "There has been a lot of concern, but this is going to balance the economic, social, and ecological aspects of the entire basin, and I think it's been done in a way that will help Ohio. I think it's fully in line with what the Great Lakes Compact language has asked us to do. It gave each state leeway to come up with its own plan."
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon), would allow water users to withdraw up to 5 million gallons a day from Lake Erie, 2 million from ground and other inland water sources, and 300,000 for streams on record as high quality.
Current law sets the threshold at 2 million gallons for water consumption, total withdrawals minus the water later returned to the watershed.
Supporters of the bill say there's been no evidence that current withdrawals have had a detrimental impact on the watershed.
Only Indiana, when it comes to Lake Michigan, has adopted thresholds that rival Ohio's.
But the Hoosier State's thresholds are lower when it comes to rivers, streams, and inland water supplies that feed the lake.
Michigan's threshold for direct lake withdrawals is 2 million gallons a day, but its thresholds for taking water from inland water sources varies based on the rate that the lakes replenish themselves.