Gavarone wants stable funding for lake cleanup

By Roger LaPointe -

A drop of $52 million in spending on the cleanup of the Lake Erie watershed is another result of the coronavirus pandemic and a new bill from State Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, is designed to reinvigorate and secure those funds.

When Gov. Mike DeWine instituted the H2Ohio plan on July 1, 2019, for cleaning up the Lake Erie pollution due to the algal bloom, funding was to be $172 million, over two years, or $86 million per year. Because of the pandemic, that didn’t happen.

“Now we’re 21 months into that biennium and a lot less than that has happened. Actually about $120 million has been spent. We got into this pandemic and less was spent, which comes to about $60 million per year,” Gavarone said.

DeWine’s new budget attempts to rectify the situation, with increased funding. Gavarone considers it too risky.

The budget in front of legislators now, to be instituted by June 30, would increase funding to $240 million, or $120 million per year. It is still being negotiated, so the actual funding approved by the legislature could be lower.

“In the governor’s proposed budget, the administration is kind of catching up with money that wasn’t spent in the first budget,” Gavarone said. “We don’t know if that will stay the same in future budgets. This certainly highlights why I want a dedicated fund, so it could not be used for other purposes. It really would be a commitment to water quality projects for the next 10 years.”

Her legislation, introduced with State Sen. Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, is commonly being called the Resolution Prioritizing Healthy and Safe Water in Lake Erie, otherwise known as Senate Joint Resolution 2.

The resolution would increase funding to $100 million per year as part of a $1 billion bond to be disbursed over 10 years, exclusively for water quality improvement projects throughout Ohio.

“I don’t want, in any way, shape or form, to think that I’m decreasing funding, for H2Ohio, because that’s not the case. I want to make sure that there is a dedicated funding source. It is a sizable funding increase from where we are right now,” Gavarone said.

Gavarone said that money would not be tied to any specific plan, but to the use of the funds. The idea is that a future administration that may want to defund the H2Ohio bill, or simply change the name and number of the legislation, would then still have the money to fund other clean water bills.

“As an early advocate of the H2Ohio program, I am proud of its massive success in cleaning up our waterways. However, the reality is this funding could disappear at any time,” Gavarone said. “We need a bipartisan, long-term funding plan solely focused on water quality improvement projects in Lake Erie and other bodies of water across the state, and Senate Joint Resolution 2 will help make that happen.”

After passing the Senate and the House, it does not need to be signed by Gov. Mike DeWine. The bill would instead have to be approved by Ohio voters on the November 2022 ballot.

The money would be used toward the improvements of:

• water treatment and wastewater treatment systems

• water quality research

• reducing open lake disposal of dredged material into Lake Erie and other bodies of water

• agricultural best management practices, including water resource management

• watershed restoration, and soil and water conservation

• other sewer and water capital improvements

By Roger LaPointe