Fisher tries to put water sale furor back in bottle

SANDUSKY Erie County Commissioner Bill Monaghan wasn't looking to launch a political brouhaha when he took a golf vacation in
Tom Jackson
May 24, 2010



Erie County Commissioner Bill Monaghan wasn't looking to launch a political brouhaha when he took a golf vacation in Arizona last week.

But when Monaghan returned to Ohio and innocently asked Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher about selling water to Arizona and other states, he set off a firestorm that Fisher and Gov. Ted Strickland have spent days trying to douse.

When he was in Arizona, Monaghan said Thursday, he met a local official who mentioned there had been talk in the past about selling Great Lakes water to the American Southwest.

Intrigued, Monaghan brought the matter up when Fisher metwith local elected officials on Monday in Oregon, Ohio.

According to the Toledo Blade, Fisher replied it was something officials had to talk about.

"I think it's fair to say that we're going to see in the next decade states and other countries looking for ways to get access to our fresh water supply, and we're going to have to make some tough decisions about whether we want that to happen and, if so, how," Fisher said.

Monaghan realized he'd raised a sensitive topic when reporters immediately jumped on Fisher's remarks. The next day, to Monaghan's surprise, there was a big front-page story in the Blade about Fisher's comments.

Reaction from Ohio politicians has been uniformly negative.

Gov. Ted Strickland said almost immediately he isn't interested in selling Lake Erie water. The governor repeated this week he wants the Ohio General Assembly to approve the proposed Great Lakes Compact forged by eight Great Lakes states to help block such sales, said his spokeswoman, Amanda Wurst.

Sandusky City Commissioner Dave Waddington Thursday said he'd lead the fight against water sales.

"Never, never, never, I would never support that," Waddington said. "I was furious that he said that."

Commissioner Nancy McKeen, who heard Fisher's remarks, said the lieutenant governor didn't actually say he wants to sell Lake Erie water.

McKeen said she totally opposes such water sales.

"Hell, they're built on deserts," she said, referring to cities in the American Southwest. "They're going to drain us dry."

City commissioner Dennis Murray Jr. said he was "flabbergasted" when he read about Fisher's comments and was pleased the lieutenant governor soon corrected the record.

"All this does is highlight the importance of passing the Great Lakes water compact," Murray said.

Fisher phoned the Register on Thursday to make it clear he does not want to sell Lake Erie water.

"I clearly never said we would want to sell water or divert water," he said. "I did misspeak by even leaving a crack in the door open about the remote possibility."

Fisher said he and his family have vacationed in Sandusky many times.

"I have a very personal appreciation of the value of Lake Erie," he said.

A recent history of Great Lakes water controversies, "The Great Lakes Water Wars" by Peter Annin, explains that water diversions from the lakes have been controversial for decades.

The book describes occasions in which Great Lakes politicians have set off explosions of controversy merely by raising the issue.

"Sounds like I should read that book," Fisher said.