Environmental organizations in Ohio last week were applauding the delivery of recommendations for implementing the Great Lakes Basin Compact to Gov. Ted Strickland and the state legislature but were calling it only a “critical first step” that lacks significant guidance on how to implement a water management program.
The Compact, which went into effect two years ago and requires each Great Lakes state to develop conservation and water management programs, contains broad guidelines, leaving the states to fill in the details for implementation.
An advisory board of environmental groups, utility companies, manufacturers, farming interests, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, negotiated for months to compile recommendations for Ohio lawmakers.
Kristy Meyer, director of agricultural and clean water programs for the Ohio Environmental Council and a participant in the board’s negotiations, said many critical issues remain unresolved and will require a lot of work in the legislature next year.
One issue left unresolved is the amount of water withdrawn from Lake Erie tributaries.
“All streams should be awarded protections based on size, quality, and sound science,” Meyer said. “They provide local jobs from recreation and tourism, home for wildlife, and enhance the local quality of life.”
She said The Nature Conservancy and Midwest Biodiversity Institute developed a mechanism that would enable the state to determine the impact of a specific water withdrawal on a nearby river or stream. The mechanism is based on U.S. Geological Service flow data and about 20 years of data compiled by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency that links the amount of water withdrawn to a percentage of flow-sensitive species lost within a particular river watershed.
Representatives of industry and environmental organizations, however, couldn’t reach agreement on threshold levels for water withdrawals.
“The Ohio Stream Withdrawal Evaluation Tool would provide business and industry with the certainty they seek when siting a new facility or looking to expand their use of water within a particular watershed,” Meyer said.
Marc Smith, senior policy manager with the National Wildlife Federation, called the recommendations “…only the first step towards fulfilling Ohio’s commitment to implementing the Great Lakes Compact.”
Before Compact provisions can be implemented in Ohio, the General Assembly must pass legislation.
Other Compact member states are Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Fearing the Compact has a loophole, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland) in July introduced a bill to prevent water from the Great Lakes being diverted or exported outside the lakes basin unless approved by the governor of each of the Great Lakes states.
The bill would amend the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 to authorize federal, state, or local governments or citizen or organization whose property or interests are adversely affected to file a civil suit.
The bill has been referred to the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.
The loophole, Kucinich said in a video announcing introduction of the bill, allows the removal of water in containers of 5.7 gallons or less.
Large-scale diversions that pre-date the Compact, such as that in the Chicago area where water is piped out of the basin to suburbs, are grand-fathered into the agreement.