Water issues bubbling to the surface


In 1996, on a weeklong tour of Washington state agriculture, I heard the word “water” over and over.

The No. 1 issue is water, an official with the Washington Conservation Commission told us.

“This has literally been a war zone for the last 30 years,” observed a member of the Yakima River Water Council.

We’re making progress, he added, one bruise at a time.

As we headed home, one of the members of my group said, “Boy, farming in Ohio doesn’t seem so bad now. At least we don’t have to deal with all that water stuff.”

That was then, this is now.

In the news. I’m hearing and reading the word “water” as frequently in Ohio these days as I did in Washington eight years ago.

Here’s why: Water is power.

If you’ve got water, someone, somewhere wants it.

That’s particularly true along the Great Lakes, which hold about one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water supply and nine-tenths of the U.S. supply.

For example, there are engineering studies on the books that explore moving Great Lakes water to the water-deficit Northeast or even the Southwest.

Water rights. Water-y words are cropping into the news in Ohio and Pennsylvania as industries, municipalities, rural residents and farms scramble to define their groundwater, surface water and watershed rights.

People want to know exactly how much water high-end well owners are using, amid concerns that we’re drawing down water tables and will run out of water.

People want to know that runoff is being controlled and water supplies aren’t polluted.

And people are starting to realize a changing landscape – a paving over of permeable surfaces into parking lots, high schools and shopping malls – affects water flow, flooding and drainage.

‘Reasonable’ use. So who controls Ohio’s water?

Ohio’s riparian water rights stems from “reasonability,” say Ohio Department of Natural Resources experts.

“Competing water uses may all be considered reasonable if the water resource is sufficient to supply them all.”

But, in an overview of Ohio water withdrawal law, the officials admit the law’s “vice is in its unpredictability.”

“… reasonable uses may become unreasonable as the number of users of a water resource increases and the total quantity of water demanded surpasses the supply.”

It’s coming. We recognize the need for water quality protection measures, but the gray area is in the discussion of “water use management.” Who defines how much water use is too much? Who will control our water?

Will farms that use a certain amount of water soon be required to register water use with the state?

Don’t look for this issue to stay underground. It is bubbling to the surface.


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