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Ohio lawmakers debate the demands of drilling on Lake Erie
Environmentalists say the water drawn for hydraulic fracturing could drain valuable water

Karen Kasler
Rep. David Hall, chairman of the Agriculture Committee, talks about his vote in favor of the Great Lakes compact bill with Larry Mitchell, president of the League of Ohio Sportsmen, who testified against the bill. If passed, the law would bar recreational users from suing over water problems.
Courtesy of KAREN KASLER
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Lawmakers could vote tomorrow on legislation enacting a multi-state agreement that safeguards the Great Lakes from massive withdrawals of water. But Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler reports some environmentalists still have a flood of concerns.

KASLER Debate over Ohio's draws from the Great Lakes Basin

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Lawmakers on the House Agriculture Committee voted strictly along party lines to approve the deal that would put into effect in Ohio the Great Lakes Compact. That’s an agreement signed in 2005 by eight states and two Canadian provinces to try to protect the Great Lakes from massive withdrawals of water.

This is the second time around for the Great Lakes Compact legislation in Ohio.  Gov. John Kasich vetoed the first bill after other states and even two former Ohio Republican governors raised concerns that it allowed too much of a draw with too little oversight.

This bill makes some changes including lowering how much water can be taken. But most supporters who liked the first version of the bill like this one as well.

Larry Antosh from the Ohio Farm Bureau says the bill accomplishes the objectives of the compact and promotes stewardship of Ohio’s water resources. 

“(It) ensur(es) a safe, sustainable supply of water to meet the needs of today’s and future generations, protects existing private property rights associated with surface and ground water, and promotes economic development and job creation by recognizing that abundant fresh water is a highly desirable commodity.”

But what about fracking? 
The bill cuts in half the amount of water that can be taken from Lake Erie to 2.5 million gallons without a permit.

But most environmental activists say the Ohio proposal doesn’t do enough to safeguard the tributaries and streams that run into Lake Erie.  And some are very concerned about provisions allowing for withdrawals to be capped but averaged over as long as 90 days.

 Sam Speck was the director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for eight years under Republican Gov. Bob Taft. 
“Over 90 days is a total of 9 million gallons you could take, and the way it’s currently written, you could do all that in one day. And of course that’s a way in which you could destroy a stream or the fishery in that stream.”

That’s never happened before and is extremely unlikely, says the Republican lawmaker who worked with Gov. Kasich on this compromise,  Rep. Lynn Wachtmann of northwest Ohio. 
“The fact is that in Ohio’s history, we’ve never had a single problem with that. And up until now, there has been no regulation in Ohio except for reporting withdrawal. So the lies being told by some of the environmental groups that we’re repealing safeguards in place is simply that – a lie.”

But Jack Shaner with the Ohio Environmental Council says just because it’s never happened before doesn’t mean it couldn’t now, for one big reason – fracking. 
“We’ve never seen these kinds of withdrawals concentrated – and these are in parts of the state with very low water resources to begin with, over there in eastern Ohio.”

Recreational users have no standing
But ag committee chairman David Hall of Millersburg– near where some fracking activity has been going on – says he’s not worried about drillers pulling millions of gallons of water from vulnerable streams. 

“They’re working with a lot of cities right now – the potential of using city water and using the untreated water first. So I don’t see that being an addressed issue that we need to look at.”

Environmental activists are also very concerned about a provision of the bill that limits who can challenge the state over permits. The bill allows only water users who can prove an economic or property injury related to a withdrawal to appeal permits – not those who use the water for recreation or other activities. Former ODNR director Speck says he thinks if the bill passes, that will end up in court.

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