Sunday, May 27, 2018
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Political heat halts business move to drain Lake Erie

Staying hydrated in this current heat wave is not only a good idea, it is critical to maintaining good health. And keeping Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes "hydrated" and healthy is something Ohio lawmakers need to heed as well.

Fortunately, Gov. John Kasich has stood up to his fellow Republicans in the Legislature, which like a posse of reckless cowboys tried to force an irresponsible water-use bill down Ohioans' throats. His veto came thanks in no little part to the interventions of two former Republican Ohio governors, Bob Taft and George Voinovich, a former Ohio Department of Natural Resources director, Sam Speck, who served under Taft, and the intercessions of Michigan's Gov. Rick Snyder, also a Republican, and New York's Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

In short, there was plenty of political heat from high places to stop the freewheeling plan for Ohio to help itself to Lake Erie and the hell with the rest of the world. As long as it makes someone some money, it must be good, eh?

Forget the fact that Great Lakes water, and it is all one collective body, hydrologically, is an international resource shared among all its watershed constituents.

Forget that it constitutes 20 percent of the world's supply of freshwater supply and 95 percent of North America's.

"Hey, just look at Lake Erie," the simple-minded thinking goes. "There's plenty of water out there. Let's just take all we want. It's good for business." The vetoed House Bill 231 would have allowed the most liberal water-withdrawals, this from so-called conservative politicians, of any offered so far among the Great Lakes states.

Note that all these states are signatories to a federal law governing the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact.

Each state has until 2013-- there will be a legally binding review -- to come up with its water withdrawal, consumption, and conservation plan. A companion agreement is in process on the Canadian side of the lakes. Quebec just signed on and Ontario is expected to complete the deal within months.

Under HB 231, Ohio would have allowed power plants, steel mills, major manufacturers, farms, and municipal water supplies among others to withdraw up to 5 million gallons a day if taken straight from the lake, 2 million gallons a day if taken from ground or other inland sources elsewhere within the watershed, and 300,000 gallons a day for streams designated as high quality.

In stark contrast Michigan, which has more miles of Great Lakes shorelines than any other state, and borders four of the five lakes, has set a new daily water withdrawal limit of just 2 million gallons a day. Yes, Indiana takes 5 million gallons from Lake Michigan, but its thresholds for groundwater and streams are lower than Ohio's proposal and Indiana does not have much growing room on its short stretch of Lake Michigan.

Think of the Maumee River now in high summer; you can see its bare bones -- the bedrock -- exposed everywhere above the lower river pool above Maumee-Perrysburg. How much drier will it get, how scrawny the skeleton, how low the flow, if we heedlessly suck ever more water from it in coming years? It is part of the Great Lakes, waterwise. Such a consideration is just one of many that need to be taken into account in addressing water-use from Lake Erie and all the Great Lakes.

What about the underground aquifers that supply water to rural communities? They are part of this, too. What happens when an industry wants to tap those aquifers; who pays for the villages to sink deeper wells for their towns' supplies because an industry's consumption has dropped the water table? How much water is down there, anyway? These issues takes lots of thought, debate, and planning, not shooting from the hip.

In effect HB 231 would not have set a ceiling, but a floor for a water-withdrawal free-for-all. If Ohio can do it, why not anybody? Which is exactly why the Compact was painstakingly crafted across five years in the first place, and why it stresses throughout its text water conservation and stewardship in any future water uses. You can Google a link to the Compact and read all 27 pages of it at Might make some thoughtful summer reading for our state lawmakers, inasmuch as they seemed to ignore its spirit with their freewheeling business-uber-alles fast-tracking. Government is supposed to be about tending to the public good, not special interests.

Speaking of business, just whose businesses were these guys thinking about when they slapped together HB 231?

Certainly not Great Lakes and overseas shipping interests or recreational boating and fishing interests. The Great Lakes levels cycle up and down on 150-year and 30-year cycles, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Even the Corps cannot alter that. When water levels are high, no one will quibble about water-taking. But when they are low, when freighters have to lighten their cargoes and lower profits to negotiate channels, when marinas have to add lower their docks for boater access -- it happened not so many years ago -- what then?

Fish spawning (walleye, yellow perch, smallmouth bass) generally is not as good in low-water cycles. There will be a price to pay about water-taking, especially if Ohio sets itself up as purely self-absorbed. And Lake Erie, the shallowest of the lakes in volume, is the most susceptible with its relatively rapid swings in water levels.

It is true that the Great Lakes gain and lose far more water in their natural ebb and flow than we humans currently consume. But this region, once scoffed at as the Rust Belt for its declining industry and population flight, one day will become known as the Water Belt.

The West and Southwest increasingly are drying out and it is pure folly to think we can pipe water out there; it is technologically feasible but not economically or politically so.

Climate change is happening, no matter whether its cause is man-abetted or mostly natural, and only ideological fools think otherwise.

Ninety-seven percent of scientists worldwide familiar with the issue agree with that position. So the world will be casting an envious eye on all this water, trying to scheme ways to get at it. Which is the why and the importance of the aforementioned Compact.

Some State House observers think it unlikely that GOP lawmakers will try to snub the Gov and override his veto, but like ole Yogi Berra was wont to say, "it ain't over 'til it's over."

So there will be a do-over on the water-use bill when lawmakers get back from summer vacation, if not immediately then soon enough. Kasich warned lawmakers with his veto that their slap-dash approach lacked "clear standards for conservation and withdrawals and does not allow for sufficient evaluation and monitoring of withdrawals or usage."

Which is polite politicalese for wise up, go slow, and get it right.

Contact Steve Pollick at: or 419-724-6068.

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