A promising start: DeWine’s H2Ohio initiative


The specifics of Gov. Mike DeWine’s H2Ohio plan, unveiled recently, reflect a highly laudable effort to clean up, and keep clean, Ohio’s critical freshwater resources, especially its greatest water resource, Lake Erie.

The plan is constructive, aims at cooperation, not confrontation, and looks to Ohio’s future.

Top of the to-do list: helping the Ohio Agriculture Department promote best practices among farmers to reduce the agricultural runoff that feeds toxic algal blooms in western Lake Erie. That includes assistance to farmers to buy needed equipment and pay for soil tests.

H2Ohio money will also be used to bolster anti-pollution efforts along the state’s waterways and to help the Ohio Department of Natural Resources protect and create wetlands – nature’s water filters — in the coastal and upland wetlands of Lake Erie’s imperiled western basin, as well as statewide.

Most Ohioans surely are, and will remain, supportive of what DeWine aims to do. That is, public support shouldn’t be a challenge.

But keeping the General Assembly’s noses to the grindstone may be.

H2Ohio recognizes that agricultural runoff is the No. 1 water-quality threat Ohio faces. But Statehouse buckling in the face of factory farm lobbying has got to stop. Now.

The legislature needs to be reminded that what Mike DeWine wants for Lake Erie, and for all Ohio’s water resources, is what most Ohioans want, too.

DeWine also wants to improve wastewater collection and treatment; replace failing septic systems; and prevent lead contamination in “high-risk day care centers and schools.”

The goals of H2Ohio are critical — to protect the state’s irreplaceable freshwater resources.

But H2Ohio also is ambitious, and ambitious programs can be pricey. Yet the long-term funding is uncertain.

The two-year state budget signed into law last July provided the new H2Ohio Fund with $172 million from surplus General Revenue Fund revenue on hand last June 30. For this fiscal year, which will end next June 30, legislators specifically earmarked a combined $85.2 million.

For next fiscal year, which will begin July 1, the budget earmarked 50 percent of any surplus General Revenue Fund revenue on hand next June 30, but the dollar amount won’t be known until next July.

Given the scope of the tasks that H2Ohio is being asked to undertake, it’s a fair question whether DeWine and/or legislators should devise a more predictable or at least a more consistent funding plan for H2Ohio.

The Ohio Constitution forbids the legislature from making any appropriation for more than two years at a time. But H2Ohio’s mission is big, and its horizon long-term.

Whether by voter-approved bond issue or some other set-up, budgeting for H2Ohio needs some predictability. Legislators and other Statehouse officials come and go – but H2Ohio’s to-do list will take years to complete. And history teaches that relying on the General Assembly’s stated commitments can be a bad bet for Ohioans.

Online: https://bit.ly/357bjN8

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