Ohio House OKs water compact; Senate to weigh different version

2/20/2008
BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Ohio House yesterday, by a 90-3 vote, passed the proposed Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact as written.

But the real battle is expected to be in the Ohio Senate, where a version introduced Thursday conflicts with a version that four states have approved.

That legislation, as well as plans for a similar bill in the Wisconsin Assembly, yesterday drew the rancor of the Council of Great Lakes Governors in Chicago.

The gubernatorial council urged swift enactment of what governors presented to state legislative bodies in December, 2005, after 4 1/2 years of review.

The council's chairman, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, accused the Ohio Senate and assemblymen in his own state of "misguided efforts to derail this important compact at this critical time."

Gov. Ted Strickland has pledged to sign the Ohio House version if the Senate selects it over the new version. The House version has been ratified by Minnesota, Illinois, New York, and Indiana.

It is similar to what has passed in the Pennsylvania House, and what is under consideration in both of Michigan's legislative chambers. It was presented last week to New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, neither of whom has signed it.

The proposed compact's objective is to unify the region on an interstate agreement that can be used to ward off Great Lakes diversion threats, especially as the Earth's climate warms, its population expands, and water shortages become more acute in the Southwest and other parts of the world.

Sponsored by state Rep. Matthew Dolan (R., Novelty), the Ohio House version would allow some exemptions for Great Lakes water to be used by communities that straddle the basin, while preventing large-scale shipment or pipeline transport of the water to other parts of the country without approval from a regional governing body.

Competing legislation was introduced Thursday by state Sen. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland), who claimed his proposed changes are more sensitive to private water rights and clarify ambiguity. It exempts tributary groundwater and nonnavigable water from regional control.

Mr. Grendell's bill also calls for a simple majority, rather than unanimous consent, when deciding which straddling communities can tap into the lakes.

Whichever version emerges must pass through each state legislative body in the Great Lakes region and be signed by each of its governors before it can be sent to Congress.