Editorial: Water rights
State Sen. Grendell raises issues about the Great Lakes compact, but none that should derail defense of Ohio's greatest natural gift
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Published December 14, 2006
It's a good thing that State Sen. Tim Gren dell has read and parsed every word in House Bill 574, the Great Lakes Saint Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact -- a desperately needed agreement that restricts water sales to parched Asia or Arizona.
But it's also a bad thing that Grendell, a Republican from Chester Township, has read every word of the compact, approved Wednesday by the Ohio House and sent to the Senate.
Gov. Bob Taft, seven other U.S. governors and the leaders of two Canadian provinces approved the compact after seven years of study and discussion. But a few provisions trouble the eccentric Grendell because they touch on property rights and governance issues.
State Rep. Matthew Dolan, a Republican from Russell Township and a key proponent of this pioneering accord, is willing to discuss Grendell's legitimate concerns, but Grendell owes it to the people of Ohio -- and Northeast Ohio specifically -- to do more than take headline-grabbing potshots at the bill.
Grendell fears language in the agreement that says that the Great Lakes and its watersheds are held in public trust. He interprets that to mean that privately owned bodies of water will become public property.
Dolan, also a lawyer sensitive to property-rights concerns, doesn't see it that way. He points out that Article 8 firmly states that nothing in the compact will "affect, limit, diminish or impair" existing rights.
Still, Dolan is willing to amend the bill to say specifically that the compact "does not and shall not in any manner abrogate any private property rights established under the revised code or the common law of this state." That should be clear enough even for Grendell.
Grendell has other problems with the compact, but his bigger point is that the lame-duck legislature should not rush to judgment in its waning days. We agree that H.B. 574 deserves thorough legislative review and debate -- but not to the point of being obstructionist.
The governors have done good work, and the legislature must not rewrite this delicate agreement. Lake Erie, the shallowest lake, gets more than 85 percent of its water from the upper Great Lakes that touch Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and the province of Ontario. Ohio now has no say in the lake's management, no say in water diversions that could affect shipping, tourism or quality of life.
This compact gives the state a voice in Lake Erie's destiny and thus more control over Ohio's future. The General Assembly must not let that power slip away.