Ohio lawmakers to hear plans for water quality bond issue

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Maumee Bay
Visitors to Maumee Bay, of Lake Erie

SALEM, Ohio — A group of lawmakers will entertain two proposals next week that will ask Ohio voters to approve a bond issue to improve all of the state’s waters.

The Lake Erie Legislative Caucus will hold a forum at the statehouse Oct. 27, to hear about the creation of a state trust, funded by the sale of state bonds and private money, that could be used for a wide variety of water quality improvements.

Projects could include upgrades to failing infrastructure, like water and sewer lines; dams; farm manure storage; and more education and research about improving Ohio’s water quality.

Gathering input

Ohio Sen. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, and a co-chairman of the caucus, said the meeting will be held to gather input on a proposed clean water bond that could appear before voters in March, or November 2016.

“I think at a minimum, a billion-dollar clean water issue is in order for Ohio,” said Gardner.

If the funding is secured through the sale of bonds, it would be generated over a period of years, making the annual target closer to $100 million.

Two proposals

Lawmakers specifically intend to hear about the Healthy Water Ohio report, a 36-page report released in September that summarizes the importance of clean water to Ohio, the current issues, and an action plan that includes creating a state trust.

They’ll also hear from state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, who has put together a statewide bond proposal known as Senate Joint Resolution 3, to authorize sewer and water capital improvements.

Schiavoni said his proposal does not include funding for farmers’ manure storage improvements, but he would be open to opening the bond to agriculture. He said he doesn’t care whose proposal it is, as long as it takes care of the issue.

“I would be open to making changes in order to benefit the farm community,” he said. “I just put out the resolution to be a starting point.”

He supports the same size bond as Gardner, which would continue over 10 years.

“I think it’s a fiscally responsible way to deal with a huge problem,” Schiavoni said.

Diverse group

The Healthy Water Ohio report was put together by conservation and environmental groups, businesses and universities, farmers and municipalities — with major insight by the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

Steve Hirsch, president of Ohio Farm Bureau, said the water quality issue is diverse — affecting most of the state, from agriculture to municipalities — and needs a concerted effort to be fixed.

The goal of the report, he said, is to take a long-term look at “what should everybody be trying to do, together, for quality water.”

He said the state has an abundant supply of quality water, but needs to act to ensure the abundance is continued.

Another goal of the report, and the coalition of people who put it together, is to fund additional research and education about Ohio water quality issues.

The coalition’s steering committee includes Bruce McPheron, dean of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences; conservation partners like the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, as well as The Nature Conservancy; and additional partners from municipal, public health, recreation and business sectors.

Raising funds

Hirsch said many of the details are still being decided, but said the goal would be to raise about $250 million a year, from bonds and from private money.

He said the Healthy Water Ohio group is looking at something similar to the Clean Ohio Fund, a voter-approved fund that has helped with farmland preservation, improvements to brownfields, green space conservation, and recreational trails.

Hirsch said he thinks the issue will get voter support, as long as the public knows what’s at stake, and what is being done.

“I think once they understand it, it’s something they’ll want to support,” he said.

Related Coverage:

Kasich signs Ohio’s ag nutrient bill (June 5)

Commentary: Water quality is a muddy issue (June 4)

Ohio legislature approves new nutrient bill (March 25)

Ohio Senate passes water quality bill (Feb. 19)

Governor’s budget includes water quality plans.

Senate moving ahead with water quality regulation.

House Ag Committee holds hearings on water quality bill.

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