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Environment


New Lake Erie legislation still under fire
Ohio lawmakers are considering the latest version of a bill that sets limits on how much water can be drained from Lake Erie by a company before it needs a permit to do so
by WKSU's KABIR BHATIA


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Kabir Bhatia
 
In The Region:
Ohio lawmakers are considering the latest version of a bill that sets limits on how much water can be drained from Lake Erie by a company before it needs a permit to do so.  And as WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia reports, the bill could affect everything from wildlife to energy development to relations with neighboring states.
New Lake Erie legislation still under fire

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Gov. John Kasich vetoed the first version of this legislation last July after environmental groups, neighboring states and even former GOP governors George Voinovich and Bob Taft protested. They said it would allow companies to pump too much water out of Lake Erie and its tributaries without a permit, averaged over a 90-day period. 

The new version cuts the thresholds for water use by half or more.  But Kristy Meyer of the Ohio Environmental Council says the bill does not adequately protect tributaries and groundwater that drain into the lake.

“It’s kind of like a heart; you can’t cut off the capillaries to your heart, and expect the heart to continue to pump, right?  If we are just protecting Lake Erie as a whole, then essentially we could start seeing some more, or larger, harmful algal blooms.”

Toxic algae blooms can be dangerous to humans and kill off fish, and Ohio has been struggling with massive outbreaks in Lake Erie and inland lakes and reservoirs for the last two years.

But that’s not the only concern. Meyer also says the bill’s definition of – quote – “adverse impact” to the lake could limit who can appeal a permit.

Meyer has also been critical of the 90-day averaging period, similar to what Indiana and Pennsylvania have adopted.  She says fracking companies could draw huge amounts of water for a short period of time and harm the lake, but still be below the average threshold.

“It’s kind of like, we could say, we withdrew all the air from within the room that we are in, for 15 minutes.  Then after that we pumped it back in.  And over that 24-hour period we averaged how much air there was available over that 24-hour period.  Now if we look at that, we should all be alive.  But because we withdrew the air for 15 minutes, we’re all dead.  Fish and other wildlife do not live in averages.”

The Kasich administration has asked for the removal of the 90-day average for some streams since it could leave them vulnerable during drier months.

Both bills were sponsored by State Rep. Lynn Wachtmann, who could not be reached for comment.  In a letter to the Plain Dealer, the Republican from Northwest Ohio says the proposed legislation is in line with the Great Lakes Compact of 2008 – a multistate agreement meant to protect the Great Lakes basin.
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