All wet

Crain’s editorial: All wet

4:30 am, June 18, 2012
It may not take an invasion of Asian carp into the Great Lakes to kill Lake Erie. Republican lawmakers in Ohio just might do the job instead with the bill the Legislature passed last month that puts a high ceiling on the amount of water that businesses can withdraw from Lake Erie and the waters that feed it.

Gov. John Kasich became a party to this bit of recklessness in signing the bill, which is far more liberal than measures passed in Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania to limit water withdrawal rates from the Great Lakes. The governor doesn’t like to read newspapers, but his press office loves to issue press releases in which he comments on the virtues of legislation he signed. There was no such fanfare June 4, when Gov. Kasich put his signature to the water bill without a public ceremony.

Perhaps Gov. Kasich is embarrassed by what members of his majority party devised to comply with the Great Lakes Compact, an agreement among eight states and two Canadian provinces to protect the water resources of the Great Lakes basin. If he isn’t, he should be.

Yes, the governor turned away a previous version of the water use bill that set even higher levels for daily water withdrawals — 5 million gallons from Lake Erie, 2 million gallons from rivers and streams that feed the lake and 300,000 gallons from high-quality streams. But the improvement between what he rejected and what he accepted is the difference between terrible and just plain bad.

The original bill put forth by state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann was a baldface sop to big users of water, of which his business — Maumee Valley Bottlers Inc. — is one. Rep. Wachtmann might not be a fox in the watershed henhouse. But, as a board member of the International Bottled Water Association, the Republican from Napoleon wouldn’t be our first choice for gaining an objective opinion about whether the final version of the bill strikes a balance between the interests of big water users and the parties that are concerned about Lake Erie’s long-term health.

As it stands, the bill allows businesses to withdraw over a 90-day period an average of up to 2.5 million gallons a day from the lake without a permit. That’s a withdrawal rate 25 times higher than the three aforementioned states. Businesses also can withdraw an average of up to 1 million gallons a day from rivers and streams whose waters eventually flow into the lake.

These are big numbers, and they drew a concerned response from Marc Smith, senior policy manager with the National Wildlife Federation, who said the bill the governor signed “does not achieve the balance as required under the (Great Lakes) Compact.”

“As Ohio’s neighbors take steps to implement water protections, Ohio has gone in the other direction,” Mr. Smith said.

Summer recess for the Legislature is here, but it isn’t too late once lawmakers go back into session for them to reconsider what they’ve done. We’d love to see the measure amended in a way that is in keeping with the spirit of the Great Lakes Compact, which is to protect for centuries to come the most precious of our natural resources, the fresh waters of our Great Lakes.

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