With Michigan and Pennsylvania’s passage of the Compact, all of the Great Lake States have now endorsed it. The next step is to go to Congress for ratification. While the press has almost exclusively concentrated on the diversion aspects of the Great Lakes Compact, there are other provisions that could have important ramifications for businesses. Ohio has yet to pass enabling legislation that will grant authority to the Ohio Department of Natural Resource to implement other important aspects of the Compact, most notably regulation of water withdraws.
The driving force behind the Compact was to ban diversions to other States and Countries. But the Compact also requires each of the eight states to establish a regulatory program for new or increased withdraws from the Great Lakes basin. Ohio’s enabling legislation will decide critical issues such as- how much water must be withdrawn before a permit will be required? The Compact sets a default number of 100,000 gallons per day (gpd). Other states have established higher thresholds, such as 1,000,000 gpd.
Another critical question – what type of review is required if a business triggers the need for a withdraw permit? The Compact contains very broad language that requires a review of impacts to the Great Lake basin from which the withdraw takes place. However, the Compact grants the states a tremendous amount of discretion to establish the level of review associated with new withdraws. For example, Ohio could prohibit issuance of a withdraw permit if the proposed project would result in decreased flow in a tributary of Lake Erie. Ohio could also require a detailed review of the impacts to the ecosystem if a withdraw is allowed.
While focus has rightfully been on protecting this tremendous freshwater resource from being diverted elsewhere, there are important policy questions that still remain unanswered. How Ohio and the other Great Lake States regulate withdraws within their states will arguably have a more direct and immediate impact on its constituents.
Ohio already requires all individuals and business to register with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources a withdraw of 100,000 gpd taken anywhere in the State of Ohio. (See, Ohio Revised Code Section1521.16) The requirement has been in place since 1988 and is retroactive. Therefore, it covers all facilities who currently withdraw more than 100,000 gpd.
ODNR has compiled the data it has assembled through these registrations. The withdraw information provides some insight into which sectors of the economy are the largest users of water in the State of Ohio.
It is important to note that withdraw is not equivalent to consumption. For example, the power sector is responsible for the largest amount of water withdraw in the state. The vast majority of these withdraws are for cooling water which gets returned to the receiving stream from which it withdrawn.
National data appears to be pretty consistent with Ohio. Below is a chart from the USGS that shows an assessment of water use from 1950-2000. The most notable differences between the charts is how much water is used for irrigation purposes nationally versus what is used in Ohio.
Note: the ODNR chart has errors. The total number of facilities with withdraws over 100,000 gpd is 1,970 not 1,685 as indicated on the chart.