Monday, Jul 25, 2016
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Revised bill halves amount of lake water for withdrawal

Panel weighs 2nd attempt to win Kasich's OK

COLUMBUS -- Gov. John Kasich's administration appears to be generally on board with a new bill rewriting standards for water withdrawals from the Lake Erie watershed.

But as Rep. Terry Boose (R., Norwalk) pointed out Tuesday, lawmakers thought the governor was on board with the last bill right up to the point when he vetoed it last July. That business-backed bill would have given Ohio the highest overall thresholds for unregulated water withdrawals of any Great Lakes state and was ultimately opposed by other states, two former Ohio governors, members of Congress, and environmental organizations.

The new bill generally sets thresholds at which power plants, steel mills, manufacturers, farms, recreational facilities, water companies, and other big users must seek state permits to withdraw water directly from the lake or elsewhere within the watershed at roughly half of what was proposed in the bill the Republican governor vetoed.

The committee is considering House Bill 473, a second attempt by Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon) to win Mr. Kasich's signature. It writes between the lines of the unprecedented Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact approved by eight states and Congress.

"This bill fairly balances business and environmental interests, and in my view is compliant with the requirements set forth in the Great Lakes Compact," Craig Butler, Mr. Kasich's executive assistant for energy, environment, and agriculture, told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

The bill would let a user withdraw up to 2.5 million gallons of water a day directly from Lake Erie, 1 million from groundwater and other inland sources, and 100,000 from streams determined to be of high quality. The daily use levels would be averaged over a 90-day period.

By comparison, the current limit is 2 million gallons of net water usage, the amount of water withdrawn and not returned to the watershed.

The reduced thresholds would bring Ohio more in line with standards adopted by other states. For instance, Michigan's top threshold is 2 million gallons a day. Indiana still has the highest threshold for direct withdrawals from Lake Michigan at 5 million, but its standards for other inland sources are in line with what Ohio is now proposing.

Should Ohio fail to enact standards by late 2013, a default threshold of 100,000 gallons from any water source would kick in under terms of the Great Lakes Compact.

Once a user reaches Ohio's proposed thresholds, it would have to seek a state permit to withdraw more. The thresholds are not withdrawal limits.

Rep. Dennis Murray (D, Sandusky) suggested that a proposed advisory group to help the state develop standards as to when proposed withdrawals would have an adverse individual or cumulative impact on streams or the lake is too heavily weighted in favor of business.

"The area that I represent is very dependent on commercial fishermen, sportsmen, and tourism," he said. "None of those folks are represented on this committee. This is very industry-dependent. It's 5-2 by my count."

Brian Barger represents the Coalition for Sustainable Water Management consisting of business groups such as the Ohio and Toledo Regional Chambers of Commerce, large farms, and the oil, chemical, soft drink, and mining industries.

"When you hear the wild stories that large withdrawals will cause rivers to run backwards or cause Lake Erie to dry up, be mindful that only a small portion of a large withdrawal is typically being consumed," he said. He noted that the city of Toledo, for instance, draws 200 million gallons per day from Lake Erie but returns 85 percent of that to the lake.

Despite voicing support for the bill, Mr. Butler raised concerns about applying the 90-day averaging method to high-quality streams.

"It would be our strong preference to remove this language from only the high-quality stream provision to avoid potential acute and chronic impacts to our high quality streams," he said.

That move is opposed by the business-backed coalition.

"Efforts to remove an averaging period for withdrawals from all high-quality streams will result in numerous one-time users being drawn into a regulatory program that accomplishes little in protecting our water resources," Mr. Barger said.

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

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