Great Lakes States Pledge to Protect Water Quantity, but Ohio continues to let the Lakes bleed

Great Lakes States Pledge to Protect Water Quantity, but Ohio continues to let the Lakes bleed

By Kristy Meyer, Ohio Environmental Council

No need to imagine – this is the reality of our Great Lakes water supply. The fact is, there are no legallyenforceable, basin-wide water management rules governing the use of Great Lakes water. This leaves the Lakes vulnerable to export outside the basin and to wasteful overuse within the basin.

A balanced, bipartisan solution exists – the Great Lakes Compact. Like a legal contract, the Compact proposes fair and consistent rules to protect against out-of-basin diversions and overuse and uncontrolled withdrawals within the region. But after five years of good-faith negotiations and thoughtful give and take, the Compact remains bogged down in the Ohio Senate. There, a handful of lawmakers are frustrating the wide support that exists for the Compact in Ohio – support evidenced by a landslide, 87-5 vote by the Ohio House last December to ratify the Compact.

Instead, these naysayers are attempting to derail the Compact. They allege that the Compact suffers from inadequate input, violates private property rights, and gives away state sovereignty. Their solution? A mere fourteen “technical changes” to the Compact—anyone of which may topple the delicate balance reached amongst the competing states and various stakeholders.

Let’s cut through the spin. The reality is that the Compact does protect established private property rights – Ohio actually will gain, not lose rights, and that current federal law is not adequate to protect the Lakes. Here’s a closer look:

Private Property Rights
Underwell established case law,landowners in Ohio enjoy the right to make reasonable use of the water flowing along their property (riparian rights)(1)and the groundwater below their property.(2) The Compact explicitly protects private water rights in the use of surface and groundwater while reinforcing the obligation of the state to protect and conserve the resources within its borders.

State Sovereignty
By ratifying the Compact,Ohio actually will gain – not lose – rights. In fact, the Compact guarantees Ohio the right to a secure, consistent set of Great Lakes water use rules that everyone must follow.

Federal Water Resources Development Act
Under the Water Resources Development Act WRDA, a Governor need not give a reason for vetoing a proposed water diversion. Under the Compact, each state has authority over water use within the basin, and is subject to the decision-making standard for diversions to straddling communities or straddling counties. As such, the Compact places objective standards over subjective politics.

Bottom line: the Compact will help us to sustain the Great Lakes – so they can continue to sustain us.

Contact Kristy Meyer, Ohio Environmental Council for more info:
(614) 487-7506 or

(1)See 3 Kent Comm. 439 (3d ed., 1836); see also VI-A Amer. L. of Prop. § 28.55, 1954; City of Canton v. Shock, 66 OS 19, 1902; 1994 Op. Atty Gen. Ohio 30.

(2)McNamara v. Rittman, 107 Ohio St.3d 243 (2006); Cline v.Am.Aggregates Corp., 15 Ohio St.3d 384 (1984).



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