Large water use bill now in governor’s hands
Columbus — Ohio is a step closer to setting new rules on how much water farms and factories in Ohio can draw from Lake Erie despite objections that the rules will hurt the environment.
The state Senate approved the new rules May 22.
Gov. John Kasich has indicated he’ll sign the bill into law that establishes regulations for large-scale withdrawals from Lake Erie and its tributaries.
Environmentalists are most upset about language involving the protection of rivers from huge water withdrawals.
Two former governors, environmental groups, and anglers say the bill doesn't do enough to protect the lake. Supporters say it both protects the environment and helps businesses.
The head of the Ohio Sportsman’s League has said there’s a good chance his group will file a lawsuit if the rules are adopted.
HB 473 is legislation that would implement the Great Lakes Compact.
Environmentalists, particularly the Ohio Environmental Council, is upset that the bill was passed out of both chambers.
“The bill rewards big businesses at the expense of recreational users, residents, wildlife, and the waters of Lake Erie,” said Kristy Meyer, director of agricultural and clean water programs at the OEC. “It is now up to the governor to ensure Ohio adopts a more balanced approach for Lake Erie and the wildlife, residents, and businesses that depend upon it.”
In 2008, Ohio joined with seven other states in adopting the Great Lakes Compact – an unprecedented joint agreement providing protections against diversions of water outside of the Great Lakes basin and unwise water use within the basin. Following the passage in each individual state, the Compact was adopted by the U.S. Congress.
Ohio’s General Assembly was then required to pass legislation to implement water management and conservation programs under the Compact. Kasich vetoed the first version passed by the legislature last year, saying it fell short of providing the necessary protection for Lake Erie and its vital tributaries.
While the new legislation is improved, it still falls short in the some of the same major areas that are needed to protect Lake Erie and its vital tributaries, opponents say.
“Lake Erie and its rivers and streams provide world class steelhead and walleye fishing. Unfortunately, this bill fails to protect these special resources,” said Marc Smith, senior policy manager with
National Wildlife Federation. “Hopefully, Gov. Kasich recognizes the importance of Lake Erie to Ohio’s economy and our way of life by vetoing this bill.”
In addition, environmentalists say, House Bill 473 impairs the rights of hunters, anglers, and the public to challenge decisions that would threaten their ability to enjoy and recreate in Ohio’s Lake Erie Basin.
“Gov. Kasich did the right thing by vetoing the initial version of Great Lakes Compact legislation,” said Rick Unger, President of the Lake Erie Charter Boat Association. “While we appreciate his engagement in the issue and his concern over the protection of the Lake Erie Basin, we urge him to consider throwing this one back as well.”
During the consideration of the legislation, former Govs. Bob Taft and George Voinovich raised concerns in a letter to lawmakers, urging them to amend HB 473 to protect recreational users’ rights to appeal a water use permit, as well as protect Lake Erie and its rivers. Former Ohio DNR Director Sam Speck, who negotiated the Compact agreement amongst the Great Lakes states, stressed the importance of striking a fair balance between industry’s access to water and maintaining sustainable water supplies in the Lake Erie drainage basin in testimony before the House.
Among others, the legislature also heard concerns voiced from a wide variety of sporting and boating groups, including the Izaak Walton League of America, Ohio Division; the League of Ohio
Sportsmen; Ducks Unlimited; the Bull Moose Sportsmen Alliance; Central Ohio Anglers and Hunters; Lake Erie Charter Board Association; Ohio B.A.S.S. Federation Nation; Grand River Sailing Club; and the Greater Cleveland Boating Association.