In Ohio, "A Shared Duty"

Next week, the Ohio Senate will consider legislation to implement the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact (Compact).  The bill, introduced by Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, ignores Compact protections for tributaries and opens the door to unregulated large water withdrawals, threatening wildlife and fish habitat.  The legislation also eliminates the rights of individual Ohioans’ to protect their ability to fish, swim, and otherwise enjoy Ohio’s public waters and related natural areas.

If this sounds familiar, it is.  Rep. Wachtmann introduced legislation last year that Governor Kasich ultimately vetoed.  And, while this year's version is improved, it still has serious flaws.

I testified about NRDC’s concerns with this legislation on April 24; those concerns are shared by sportsmen, environmental and tourism organizations across Ohio, as well as former elected officials including Governors Taft and Voinovich.   They are:

  • Source Watershed Definition: the legislation repeals existing Ohio law requiring that both Lake Erie and its tributaries are protected from large water uses.  Instead, the bill extends protections only if the entire Lake Erie basin is threatened by a proposed water withdrawal-but not if individual tributaries or groundwater sources may suffer a significant negative impact.
  • Aggrieved Person: the legislation limits the right to appeal decisions to only someone who can show “a direct economic or property interest that is or will be adversely affected.”  This is an unprecedented elimination of the rights of individual Ohioans’ to protect their ability to fish, swim, and otherwise enjoy Ohio’s public waters and related natural areas.  
  • 90-Day Averaging of Water Withdrawals: the legislation measures water withdrawals and consumptive uses based on a 90-day average. This could seriously impact wildlife and recreational users if vast amounts of water were withdrawn from a river, stream or other water source without triggering the threshold for a permit.
  • Experimental Permit:  the legislation allows water users to apply for “experimental permits,” but it is not clear how many times a user can apply for such a permit and how those permit users comply with Compact requirements.

The Compact is a legal agreement between the eight Great Lakes states and the federal government.  But it’s also a moral one, reiterating the “…shared duty to protect, conserve, restore, improve and manage the renewable but finite Waters of the Basin for the use, benefit and enjoyment of all their citizens, including generations yet to come."

It’s up to the Ohio Senate and Governor Kasich to make sure Ohio doesn’t shirk its duty.

About the Authors

Karen Hobbs

Senior Policy Analyst, Water program

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