Examining State Ballot Issues: Issue 3

‘I’ve received numerous emails over the last two weeks asking my views on a number of statewide issues on the November 4 ballot — Issues 1, 3 and 5. For what it’s worth, below is the second of my humble assessments of these three ballot measures seen through the lens of corporate power/democracy. The questions that are important to me in examining each Issue are:
Will passage of the Issue provide business corporations more or less rights, rules and/or powers to do what they want, when they want, where they want?
Relatedly, will passage of the Issue make it more or less difficult for citizens to govern themselves?
With these two questions in mind, below is my assessment of state Issue 3. A critique of Issue 1 can be found at

Issue 3

No state issue over the last several years has yielded so many questions that Issue 3. I’ve received nearly 20 inquiries. Those who’ve expressed their leanings are almost evenly split.

The Ohio Water Compact Constitutional Amendment was placed on the ballot by the state legislature as a compromise for their support of the Great Lakes Water Compact. The amendment, sponsored by State Senator Tim Grendell (R, Cleveland area) seeks to protect the “reasonable use” rights of landowners to water under or running through their property.

Supporters content the Great Lakes Water Compact will threaten existing property rights of Ohioans by defining ground water as publicly owned — trumping the rights of Ohio property owners to the water on and under their land. The measure would make explicit in the Ohio constitution the property right of a private property owner in the reasonable use of the ground water underlying the property owner’s land. However, property rights described under the proposed amendment are subject to the public welfare.

Opponents assert Issue 3 is not needed. The rights of property owners to water under current Ohio laws already exist and are clear. Some also fear that the amendment would create a section of the Ohio Constitution in which property rights are held above most other sections of Ohio’s governing document.

Issue 3 has flown under the radar of many, if not most, Ohioans. This is unfortunate.

At first glance it would seem like a pretty innocuous Issue. Even if it’s overkill, what harm can their be in imbedding “reasonable use” of water in the state constitution?

But there are two troubling aspects to Issue 3 in my humble opinion.

First, the measure stipulates “reasonable use” of water by property owners — which includes corporate owners of property. “Reasonable use” of a corporation, especially if that corporation happens to be, say, a water corporation, may be a wee bit larger than reasonable use by you or me.

Many contend a major loophole of the Great Lakes Water Compact allow corporations to sell bottled Great Lakes water. The little skeptical voice in me says the rush to pass Issue 3 coinciding with passage of the Compact sets the table for a major export of Great Lakes water in bottled form. Maybe this is extreme paranoia.

On the other hand, the vagueness of the exact wording of Issue 3 coupled with the fact that it is a constitutional amendment result in both wide interpretation (in the favor of corporate use and abuse) and difficulty in altering it down the road (constitutions are not easy to change). The exact same conditions spelled out as a law, by contrast, can be amended by simple vote of a majority of the state legislature with support of the governor.

The second troubling notion about Issue 3 goes beyond “reasonable use” — be it by the public (i.e. state), residents, or corporations. It has to do with the direction Issue 3 is headed.

Water is not simply a “resource” for human consumption. It’s not a commodity to be bought, sold or owned. Nor is it ultimately about “management,” be it good or bad.

The fundamental question is not what rights people have to water as much as does water itself have rights? Before you fall out of your chair, consider that Ecuador recently chose a different path when thinking about water and constitutions.

Citizens in that South American nation in September overwhelmingly approved a new national constitution that is the first in the world to recognize legally enforceable Rights of Nature, or ecosystem rights. The new Ecuadorian constitution proclaims nature the “right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.” The constitution forces the government to take, “precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles.” This includes water.

Issue 3 with its increased constitutional protection of private property rights over water is headed in exactly the opposite direction that the prophetic people of Equator have steered.

The question ultimately may not be what rights people have to water as what rights water and all of nature has to its very existence, persistence, and regeneration.

I voted no on Issue 3.

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