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Is Ohio Willfully Violating the Great Lakes Compact?

When President Bush signed the Great Lakes Compact into law in 2008, it cemented a commitment by eight states to the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem. It was as bold in symbolism as in its establishment of regulations, a clear message that no longer would these states tolerate pollution or the excessive diversion of water from the Great Lakes basin.

(Has Ohio failed to comply with the Great Lakes Compact? Take the poll!)

The problem is, all it takes is one bad egg to ruin a good thing, and water conservationists say a bill signed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich last month essentially ignores the compact. “The Great Lakes Compact Implementing Bill” allows businesses to withdraw over a 90-day period an average of up to 2.5 million gallons of water per day from Lake Erie. The businesses can also draw an average of up to 1 million gallons per day from rivers and streams that would eventually reach the lake. To put those numbers in perspective, that rate is 25 times higher than what Pennsylvania, Michigan and New York allow.

According to the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC), Ohio’s bill fails to comply with the compact in two ways:

  • It restricts who can appeal the conditions of a business’ water-use permit. The bill allows only those with a direct economic or property interest to do so. Therefore if a concerned fisherman wants to appeal a permit, he would have to go directly to the courts. That is time consuming, highly expensive and an impossibility for the average citizen. In other words, according to water conservationists, the foxes are now guarding the hen house.
  • It rolls back protections for tributaries. Under the compact, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources must prohibit significant adverse impacts to Lake Erie and the rivers from which the water withdraws occur (withdraws can have serious ecological consequences). Under the new law, there is only a prohibition on adversely affecting Lake Erie, not necessarily its tributaries.

Why would Ohio pass such regulations, including a high water withdrawal ceiling? According to Kristy Meyer, director of agricultural and clean water programs for the OEC, those who supported the measure “voted for big business” over the health of the Great Lakes.

What do you think? Is Ohio in violation of the Great Lakes compact? Or is it simply helping businesses succeed in a tough economy by meeting their water needs?

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