While acknowledging it’s an improvement over the bill he vetoed last year, environmental organizations said they were disappointed with House Bill 473 that Gov. John Kasich signed last week to implement rules for putting Ohio in compliance with the Great Lakes River Basin Water Resources Compact.
A statement by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources called the bill a “common sense approach to protecting Lake Erie” that addresses all of the tenets of the compact. However, others contend it still leaves the lake and tributaries vulnerable to industrial interests.
“Unfortunately, mining, drilling, and bottling companies have undermined the interests of millions of anglers and boaters and the countless fish and wildlife that depend on a healthy Lake Erie,” said Kristy Meyer, director of agricultural and clean water programs at the Ohio Environmental Council.
The Great Lakes Compact was adopted by Congress after being approved by the eight Great Lakes states. Its primary purpose is to manage water within the Great Lakes basin as well as set limits for water leaving the basin. State legislatures have until 2013 to adopt regulations to implement water management provisions of the compact.
The bill signed by Gov. Kasich sets limits for withdrawing water before a permit from the ODNR would be required:
• From Lake Erie, withdrawals of 2.5-million gallons per day averaged over 90 days would be allowed before a permit is needed.
• Withdrawals from streams and surface water would be limited to 1 million gallons a day averaged over 90 days before a permit is required.
The bill also sets withdrawal limits for what are called high-quality streams with drainage areas of less than 100 square miles before requiring a permit:
• Withdrawals of 100,000 gallons per day averaged over 90 days would be allowed in watersheds greater than 100 square miles.
• Withdrawals of 100,000 gallons per day averaged over 45 days would be allowed in 50 to 100-square-mile watersheds.
The bill requires a permit before 100,000 gallons per day are withdrawn from streams in watersheds of less than 50 square miles.
Supporters of the bill say it establishes a process to review withdrawals from the lake and its tributaries and whether they’ve had an adverse impact and determine if withdrawals are reasonable.
The withdrawal limits in HB 473 are considerably lower than the bill Gov. Kasich vetoed, which would have allowed withdrawals from the lake of 5 million gallons a day and 2 million gallons a day from rivers and streams that aren’t tributaries of the lake before requiring a permit. The withdrawal rates were to be based on 90 day averages.
Conservationists are unhappy the new bill restricts them from challenging conditions of a water use permit and say some industrial users, including oil and gas drillers, could withdraw 3 million gallons over a few days without a permit.
They point to drilling near the Grand River, a high quality stream with low water levels, and the damage from hydrological fracturing as an example for the need for more stringent permits.
“Ohio anglers are required to be licensed and are only allowed to keep five bass a day,” said Bob Townsend, Conservation Director at the Ohio BASS Federation Nation. “We realize that licenses, permits, and daily catch limits are put in place to protect the fishery for all Ohio citizens. Large water users, therefore, should be required to measure their water use on a per day basis to protect the resources of Lake Erie for all Ohioans, not just large industries.”
State Representative Lynn Wachtmann (R – Napoleon) was the primary sponsor of the bill and his biography on his House website says he is the president of Maumee Valley Bottling, Inc. and a partner in Culligan Water Conditioning.