COLUMBUS — It took two tries, but Gov. John Kasich signed a law today that supporters contend successfully straddles the interests of protecting Lake Erie and ensuring its lifeblood waters keep flowing for Ohio industry.
Even opponents of the law concede that it is an improvement over what Mr. Kasich vetoed last year, a bill that would have allowed daily water withdrawals doubling what was ultimately contained in the bill he signed.
But they would have preferred that he use his veto pen a second time so they could have gotten a third shot at affecting how the bill treats the rivers and streams that feed the shallowest and most life-abundant of the Great Lakes.
“It reinforces what the Great Lakes compact does,’’ said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lynn Wachtmann (R., Napoleon). “It protects the assets of Lake Erie for the people of Ohio and other users of natural resources. Secondly, that resource is available for what will hopefully be future job growth.’’
The bill writes between the lines of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin compact approved by eight states and Congress and agreed to in principle by two Canadian provinces.
The primary goal of the compact was to unite Great Lakes states against attempts to pipe the lakes’ freshwater resource to drier areas like the nation’s southwest or carry it by tanker to other parts of the world.
The fight in Ohio was over how much that, within that framework, power plants, manufacturing plants, water companies, farms, amusement parks, golf courses, mining operations, and others could take on a daily basis from the lake, groundwater, rivers, and streams within the watershed before having to ask the state for a permit.
The first attempt that reached Mr. Kasich’s desk in the spring of 2011 drew the ire of other states, congressmen, and even two of Mr. Kasich’s Republican gubernatorial predecessors who feared it violated the intent, if not the rule of law, of the compact.
The first version contained the highest thresholds of water withdrawals of any law passed by the seven other Great Lakes states, rivaled only by Indiana when it came to withdrawing water from Lake Michigan.
Mr. Kasich exercised the only veto of a bill of his administration, angering fellow Republicans as well as the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and other business interests who supported his election. It was clear early on that the governor wanted to be able to sign this one.
The end result, House Bill 473, roughly halves the limits contained its predecessor. Before a permit requirement would be triggered, it would allow the withdrawal of up to:
—2.5 million gallons a day if taken directly from the lake with the amount averaged over a 90-day period.
—1 million gallons a day if taken from most groundwater, river, stream, inland lake, or other watershed source, also averaged over 90 days.
—100,000 gallons a day for high-quality rivers and streams that have watersheds of their own covering 50 to 100 square miles, as averaged over 45 days.
—100,000 gallons a day for smaller high-quality tributaries. There would be no averaging, so that a single daily withdrawal exceeding that limit would require a permit.
The overall thresholds now put Ohio largely in the middle of the pack when compared to other states.
“It is much better, but it still falls short of fully protecting Lake Erie and its rivers,’’ said Kristy Meyer, of the Ohio Environmental Council. “Unfortunately, the General Assembly has chosen to elevate mining, and bottling companies over millions of anglers and boaters and countless wildlife dependent on a healthy Lake Erie.’’
The bill will take effect in 90 days. That would trigger an 18-month process for an advisory council to make recommendations to lawmakers on how adverse impacts on Lake Erie would be judged under the law.
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