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Published: Wednesday, 5/23/2012

Kasich to sign bill regulating Lake Erie water withdrawals

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS -- For the second time in less than a year, a bill regulating Lake Erie water withdrawals is headed to Gov. John Kasich's desk.

This time he will sign it.

Last year, Mr. Kasich stunned fellow Republicans when he vetoed the bill after facing a barrage of criticism from gubernatorial predecessors and other states that the withdrawal thresholds were the highest of any Great Lakes state.

This year the criticism has been more muted after the thresholds were roughly halved and attention shifted from the lake itself to the rivers and streams that feed it.

"It has been a long road since last July, but we worked out our differences constructively, and Lake Erie is the winner for it," Mr. Kasich said.

The Ohio Senate voted 20-12 Wednesday to send House Bill 473 directly to the governor's desk. Three Republicans broke ranks with the majority to oppose the bill, and a single Democrat broke with her party to support it.

"Our water is not only a natural resource but an economic resource as well … '' said Sen. Capri Cafaro (D., Hubbard), who represents the northeast lakefront corner of the state.

"It is an improvement over what we saw last year that was vetoed and while certainly not a perfect bill -- and I think we could make some improvement -- it on balance does the best we can do right now to both protect our natural resources, our access to water, and our ability to utilize that water for economic development … "

The bill spells out how Ohio would meet its obligations under the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin compact approved by eight states and Congress. The compact was created to prevent Great Lakes water from being diverted to other parched areas of the country and world while preserving the ability of participating states to use the water themselves.

The business-backed bill would allow manufacturers, power plants, water companies, and other users to take up to 2.5 million gallons of water a day on average directly from the lake before having to get a state permit. It would allow up to 1 million gallons to be taken from most groundwater, rivers, streams, smaller lakes, and other inland sources. The withdrawals would be averaged over 90 days.

Rivers and streams designated as high quality and having their own watersheds of 50 to 100 square miles could be subject to removal of up to 100,000 gallons a day, as averaged over 45 days. There would be no averaging of withdrawals for smaller high-quality streams, with a single- day withdrawal of 100,000 gallons triggering the need for a permit.

Sen. Gayle Manning (R., North Ridgeville) supported the bill that Mr. Kasich vetoed last year, but on Tuesday she was one of the three Republicans who opposed a replacement that even she said is a big improvement over its predecessor.

Opponents of the bill held out slim hope Tuesday that Mr. Kasich would surprise them again with a veto.

"Industry is the only proponent of this legislation -- large industry … " said Kristy Meyer of the Ohio Environmental Council. "Not one angling group has supported this. Not one scientist has supported this. Not one tourism group has supported this, and not one environmental-conservation organization has supported this bill."

The dispute over giving those who don't have an economic interest in the lake the ability to challenge permit decisions had delayed passage of the bill for a week.

"It is compelling that we do not allow out-of-state activists to come in, sue to hold up a permit for a new steel plant or something," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon), after the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee sent the bill to full Senate without making any changes.

"If you hold up a permit in the courts or stop it in the courts, a steel mill is going to go somewhere else," he said.



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