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Ohio putting dredged material to use on its own terms

On July 7, in a move seen as favorable by both environmental activists and industry leaders alike, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a bill into law giving Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) the ability to regulate “beneficial uses” of dredging sediment. This essentially means that the Ohio EPA can dictate how sediment produced from dredging operations from Ohio waters can be put to use. Without this bill, the decision would fall to the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), who retain jurisdiction over the waters of the United States per the Clean Water Act. This bill follows the passage of a similar bill into law during Ohio’s previous legislative session, which granted the Ohio EPA “the same authority as [USACE] to revoke licenses issued to groups putting dredged material back into Ohio waters,” according to Bloomberg Law.

USACE and Ohio have previously fought over how dredged material removed from Lake Erie is to be used, with USACE requiring the material to be redeposited back into the lake. Under the new law, Ohio could put the material to a use better suited to state needs, whether environmental or industrial; Bloomberg suggests that “[s]uch uses could include creating new wetlands to aid water purification or selling the sediment to agriculture for farming.” However, there remains the question of exactly what standard Ohio will use to determine a “beneficial use.” In EPA’s Beneficial Use Planning Manual, EPA notes that when USACE has jurisdiction over a project, dredged material must be put to beneficial use under what is known as the “Federal Standard,” or “base plan:”

The Federal Standard is defined as the least costly dredged material disposal or placement alternative (or alternatives) consistent with sound engineering practices and meeting applicable federal environmental requirements, including those established by Section 404 of the CWA and Section 103 of the MPRSA.

While the Ohio law does not describe such a specific standard (only that the Ohio EPA Administrator will adopt a standard), it does note that whatever standard it adopts must not be less stringent than federal standards such as RCRA, TSCA, CERCLA, and the SDWA.

In addition to the dredging requirements and additional landfill regulations, the new law also establishes new drinking water rules which appear to promote better water security. The law requires state public water systems to establish and report to the state an “asset management program” by 2018. The report must include an inventory of all assets, emergency preparedness programs, capacity projections, and other requirements aimed at ensuring Ohio water utilities have a plan for the future. In doing so, the program steps in a positive direction for Ohio’s water security by ensuring that water utilities retain concrete plans for water access and availability.

Although the actual effects of both changes remain to be seen in the coming years, support of the law from both environmental and industry leaders alike is a strong sign that water security is a universal need that will hopefully be better served through this legislation.

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