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DeWine weighs on whether or not to ease how Ohio ephemeral streams are regulated

Posted at 4:36 PM, Apr 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-13 19:57:34-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Governor Mike DeWine (R-OH) has a decision on his hands whether to sign into law or veto a bill approved by the Legislature last week that would ease the way Ohio's ephemeral streams are regulated. Ephemeral streams are not the ones where there is a constant water flow but rather streams that develop generally after a heavy rain or snow melt. The Ohio EPA estimates there are more than 36,000 miles of them in Ohio and send water into larger streams.

These streams were under the oversight of the Federal Clean Water Act until the EPA of the Trump Administration excluded them from protection, something the Biden Administration is now reconsidering. But after they were removed the Ohio EPA created a permitting system for development projects looking to dredge or fill them.

The sponsor of the bill to ease the restrictions, Rep. Brett Hillyer (R-Uhrichsville) said at a hearing last fall that in many cases people with large tracks of land may not know they even existed or that a permit was needed.

"You go to develop the property, you go to fill the ephemeral stream or re-work your property and now you find yourself in violation of the general permit for not having received one and you have to now pay penalties, the cost of the permit and cost of mitigation credits," he said. Costs for some he argued that have come in over $100,000.

Opponents like Jennifer Fish of Franklin Soil and Water Conservancy of Ohio argued last month that removing the streams from protection may provide cost savings to businesses in the short term "but in the long term, businesses, governments and residents will pay the price with increased drinking water costs loss of recreation revenue from nutrient runoff and algae blooms, increased property loss due to flooding as well as ongoing impacts to fish and wildlife."

In northern Ohio ephemeral streams filter the stormwater runoff that eventually makes it's way into Lake Erie. Environmentalists argue the legislature's move flies in the face of project H2Ohio, the $172 million state program to clean up Lake Erie as well as the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District's Project Clean Lake. That's the 25-year, $3 billion entirely rate payer funded project to dramatically reduce the amount of combined sewage overflow the makes it's way into Lake Erie in a heavy storm. The project is creating seven massive storage tunnels under greater Cleveland that will hold millions of gallons of stormwater runoff and sewage that can be pumped out and treated after a storm before being released into the lake.

A spokesperson for DeWine told News 5 the measure is still under review with no timeline for a decision on whether it will be signed into law or vetoed.

Pete Bucher, Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund Program Director is urging the governor to reject it.

“Dirty water legislation is dangerously close to becoming law in Ohio as HB 175 now heads to Governor DeWine’s desk. We urge Governor DeWine to act in accordance with his strong stance of protecting Ohio waterways and veto this bill," Bucher said in a statement.

“Not only does HB 175 fail to protect the important ecological qualities of Ohio’s ephemeral streams, it also fails to protect the drinking water of millions of Ohioans who rely on water resources fed by these streams."