Coalition Seeks Plan to Manage Water Resources

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- A newly formed coalition that represents a wide range of interests intends to develop a long-term strategy to protect Ohio's water resources and address the challenges confronting it.

Healthy Water Ohio -- an amalgam of business and industry, conservation, agriculture, academia and water suppliers based in Columbus -- announced Monday the formation of a 16-member steering committee intended to guide the group.

"Ohioans use 11 billion gallons of water each day," reported Steve Hirsch, president of the Ohio Farm Bureau. "It's a resource that's often taken for granted."

Plus, the state boasts 125,000 lakes, reservoirs and ponds and more than 60,000 miles of rivers, streams and lake shoreline. Water-related tourism, recreation and business use account for more than $40 billion in economic impact each year.

Hirsch was one on a panel of stakeholders in Columbus who announced the initiative during a conference call with reporters across the state.

Over the last several years, Hirsch says, the state has addressed some of the issues and challenges water resources face but lacks a comprehensive, long-term strategy. "Healthy Water Ohio is a proactive initiative to develop recommendations about water quality challenges and opportunities for the future of all Ohioans," he said.

The food and beverage industry, energy industry, municipal water districts, transportation, public health and research institutions -- all have a huge stake in preserving the state's water resources, he said.

Hirsch says that Healthy water, guided by its steering committee, intends to take a comprehensive approach and have a plan developed by next summer. The plan would include a strategy of between 20 and 30 years.

The risks to Ohio's future water supply are diverse, he said. Among them are changing climate patterns, the growth of water-dependent industries such as energy, manufacturing and food, and urban and rural development.

Larry Fletcher, of Lake Erie Shore & Islands Visitors Bureau, said the group will focus on matters related to the supply of water and its quality.

Future water levels could very well be affected by increased use, including consumption by oil and gas companies exploring the Utica shale in eastern Ohio.

Energy companies require millions of gallons of water to hydraulically fracture a well once it's drilled. Often, these companies pull their water from streams, rivers or water districts to frack a well.

"The availability of water is something that's come up in discussions,” Fletcher adds, “and might be more of a timing issue as to when that water is withdrawn and used.”

At 8.9 billion gallons each day, the electrical generation industry consumes the most water of any industry.

"We'll also be looking at economic impact," Fletcher said. Tourism alone brought $38 billion to the state economy last year, $11.8 billion of that figure from the eight counties that border Lake Erie.

Healthy Water began its work late last year when it announced it would conduct a statewide poll to survey public opinion on how to achieve its goals.

The poll data would be included in the group's report next year.

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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