One of the authors of the Great Lakes Compact is asking Ohio lawmakers to put the brakes on a fast-moving bill that fails to meet the letter and spirit of the Compact and would undermine the international effort to protect Lake Erie and its tributaries.
Sam Speck, Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources from 1999 to 2006, chaired the Commission representing the U.S. Great Lakes states and Canadian provinces that developed the historic international agreement aimed at protecting the Great Lakes from unsustainable water use.
“I am concerned that Substitute House Bill 231 will undermine the resource protections that the Commission worked so hard to establish in the Compact,” Speck said, in a letter released to the news media on Monday by The Nature Conservancy. “Should the General Assembly pass the bill as currently written… Ohio will adopt legislation that violates the Great Lakes Compact. What’s more, Ohio will adopt the weakest water supply protections of all of the Great Lakes states.”
An addendum to the letter supporting Speck’s position was signed by Christopher Jones, the Director of the Ohio EPA from 1999-2005, and by Joseph Sommer, the Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resource during the administration of former Gov. Richard Celeste, a Democrat. Speck and Jones were appointed by former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican.
“The legitimate concerns of the diverse stakeholders representing the various economic and natural resource conservation interests necessitate that Ohio adopt water supply controls that are economically fair, physically sustainable, and scientifically defensible,” Jones and Sommer wrote in their addendum. “This is the very balance that the provisions of the Great Lakes Compact strive to assure for each Great Lakes State.”
The letter is addressed to Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus, Minority Leader Capri Cafaro, and to senators Cliff Hite and Jason Wilson, who serve on the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. The committee, which is chaired by Hite, is expected to vote on the bill Tuesday.
The Compact is designed to prohibit water diversions outside of the Great Lakes watershed, as well as to ensure that the waters are used sustainably within the watershed. The Compact became law in 2008, but states have until December 2013 to pass implementing legislation. Speck, Jones, and Sommer say lawmakers have plenty of time to develop legislation that will fully comply with the Compact, while at the same time ensuring the sustainable use of Ohio’s portion of the Lake Erie watershed.
The three former Cabinet members add their voices to a chorus of critics of HB 231, including a host of environmental and outdoor recreation groups and former Governor Taft, who testified against the bill last week. The Natural Resources Defense Council, in a June 23 report comparing implementation laws, says the proposed legislation “jeopardize(s) the very foundations of the Compact.”
Speck’s letter draws attention to the high stakes in Lake Erie, which is the most productive of the Great Lakes, supporting a $800 million sport and commercial fishing industry and contributing to a $10 billion travel and tourism industry for Ohio. But as the smallest and most shallow of the Great Lakes, it is also the most biologically sensitive.
He cites six ways in which the provisions of Senate Bill 231 violate the requirements of the Compact, such as failing to protect high-quality tributaries to the lake and the absence of any scientifically measurable way to determine whether a water withdrawal will harm the lake.
Read the full text of the letter to Ohio lawmakers
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.