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Great Lakes Article:

Lawmakers work to protect lake
By Jim Siegel
News-Messenger
12/03/03



COLUMBUS -- Ohio is urging officials from states surrounding the Great Lakes to take a stand against possible overuse of the world's largest source of freshwater.

The Ohio House Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution applauding the International Joint Commission for its efforts to protect the waters of the Great Lakes and urge completion of a 2001 non-binding agreement to regulate removal and distribution of that freshwater.

The Senate approved the measure in June.

Rep. Jeff Wagner, R-Sycamore, said while studies show that a major water diversion from the Great Lakes basin is improbable in the near future, the resolution is still an important step to protecting the region, particularly Lake Erie.

"The value of Lake Erie and the Great Lakes basin cannot be overstated in terms of the benefits brought not only to northern Ohio, but for the entire state," Wagner told his colleagues.

The resolution was sponsored by Sen. Larry Mumper, R-Marion. House Minority Leader Chris Redfern, D-Catawba Island, had introduced an identical version in the House.

The Ohio Environmental Council urged passage of the resolution, saying the state could become the region's standard-bearer for protecting the Great Lakes.

"The Great Lakes are essential not only to the environment and wildlife but to Ohio's economy," said Jack Shaner, spokesman for the council, said during committee testimony earlier this year. "We need to be wise stewards."

The five lakes represent 20 percent of the world's freshwater supply. Only about 1 percent of their total volume is replaced each year, Shaner said.

As recently as 1998, private companies have looked into siphoning millions of gallons from the lakes and selling it as drinking water to places as far away as Asia. Shaner has said without regional enforcement, such plans could become reality.

Gov. Bob Taft currently serves as chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors and Sam Speck, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, is chairman of a committee charged with creating those cooperative standards.

A draft agreement to control Great Lakes water among the adjacent territories should be ready by early 2004, said Michele Willis, ODNR assistant to the director.

The process began when nine governors and two Canadian premiers signed a charter annex in June 2001. The states agreed to develop an interstate compact, setting across-the-board standards for water usage.

Since then, the group has elected five new governors and two new premiers, slowing the process.

"They are still working very well together despite all the changes," Willis said.

States and provinces will hold public hearings on the draft proposal before a final version is sent to legislative bodies for approval.


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