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Published: Sunday, 5/18/2008

Ohio lags behind in Great Lakes pact

With Michigan and Wisconsin ratifying the proposed Great Lakes water compact Wednesday, the next moves by Ohio Sen. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland) will be all the more intriguing.

Ohio, once the leader on this ever-important issue, is now the laggard. Though Ohio and Pennsylvania are the final two holdouts, the Buckeye State - with its 262 miles of Lake Erie shoreline - has the most to lose.

Here's the nut graph, as we call it in the news business, i.e. the reason you should care: Water's our future, especially with the world's population expanding and its climate warming. One of every six people on Earth doesn't have access to clean drinking water. The ratio is getting worse. We've got what the world needs.

The proposed compact, while not perfect, would unite the eight Great Lakes states on a regional plan to limit withdrawals, enticing businesses to locate here.

Right or wrong, Mr. Grendell's been perceived as the Grinch in these negotiations. Protecting water is a Mom-and-apple-pie issue. Who doesn't want that?

He said he supports the concept. What he fears is a loss of control for private landowners who claim ownership of the groundwater beneath their land, as well as their privately owned streams, ditches or ponds.

"If Michigan and Wisconsin want to put their private water rights at risk, that's their business," Mr. Grendell, who has the support of the Senate leadership, told me Thursday. "There's no reason why we have to make the same mistake."

The same day those two states were ratifying the compact, Mr. Grendell was testifying before an Ohio Senate committee about his plan to break Ohio's stalemate with an amendment to the state constitution.

Mr. Grendell said he'll vote for the compact if voters pass the amendment Nov. 4 as insurance against illegal government taking of privately held water.

U.S. Rep. Matt Dolan (R., Novelty), who sponsored the Ohio House bill that was ratified, said in a May 6 letter in The Blade that property rights to water are protected under the compact and that statements to the contrary are "simply misleading and incomplete."

Speaking of the lakes: U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.) and U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio) introduced legislation Thursday to limit the national use of phosphates in automatic dish detergents, an underrated source of algae-growing pollution in the Great Lakes and other bodies of water.

If approved, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would require detergent manufacturers to limit the amount of phosphorus in their products to 0.5 percent starting in 2010. Michigan, Ohio, and 11 other states, as well as the District of Columbia, have either passed or are considering similar legislation.

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1972 established limits for phosphorus releases from sewage plants and other so-called point sources. Phosphorus is in anything from fertilizer to human excrement.

The battle continues with nonpoint sources, such as farms and golf courses. Phosphorus has been on the rise in western Lake Erie since 1997 after a 25-year decline and, no coincidence, so have the harmful algal blooms. Being the warmest and shallowest part of the lakes, western Lake Erie is especially prone to algae outbreaks.

Jeff Reutter, director of Ohio Sea Grant and Ohio State University's Stone Laboratory, has said western Lake Erie's annual phosphorus load could be reduced by as much as 13 percent if phosphates in automatic dish detergents are removed. Apparently, the popularity of automatic dishwashers today wasn't anticipated in the 1970s.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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