Editorial: Protect Ohio’s wetlands

A recent editorial by the Toledo Blade:

In recent years Ohio has done great work at restoring the Lake Erie shore’s wetland areas. And the region has reaped environmental, economic, and quality-of-life benefits from these efforts.

Now, that progress is in jeopardy thanks to yet another backward idea floated in the General Assembly.

House Bill 175, sponsored by Ohio Rep. Brett Hudson Hillyer (R., Uhrichsville), would eliminate Clean Water Act protections for certain ephemeral features of wetlands and waterways. In this case, ephemeral refers to the features that are only water-filled during some portions of the year, such as after spring rains.

The measure echoes a Trump administration rewrite of the controversial Waters of the United States rule, which eliminated these impermanent features from Clean Water Act protection.

In northwest Ohio in particular, this would be disastrous and opponents include everyone from environmental groups to Gov. Mike DeWine’s own Ohio Environmental Protection Agency director.

As Director Laurie Stevenson wrote in testimony about the proposal, removing environmental protections from these ephemeral streams would significantly degrade the state’s waterways, potentially affecting drinking water.

Ms. Stevenson noted that almost one-third of Ohio’s headwater streams are ephemeral streams.

Watershed restoration and protection has been a cornerstone of environmental efforts along Lake Erie’s shoreland, and it is a key element of Governor DeWine’s own H2Ohio program. While much attention has been paid to incentives for more responsible agricultural practices, most of the H2Ohio money so far has gone into western Lake Erie wetland construction and expansion.

And that comes on the heels of decades of other wetland restoration projects that have, among other things, returned many coastal acres to their original function — helping to filter harmful materials out of water before it reaches Lake Erie.

Along with improving the quality of Lake Erie water, which is the source of drinking water for 500,000 Toledo-area water customers among others, wetlands provide essential habitat for migratory birds and other creatures.

And restoring them, notably at sites such as Magee Marsh, has contributed to northwest Ohio’s tourism industry with events such as the Biggest Week in American Birding.

Now is not the time to backslide on the environmental protections that help preserve these fragile habitats. Ohio has seen the benefits — environmental, economic, and otherwise — of protecting wetlands and we should not jeopardize these gains.

Lawmakers in Columbus must reject any measure that threatens these protections.

— Toledo Blade, Oct. 7