FILE - OH John Patterson

Ohio state Rep. John Patterson speaks on the floor of the Ohio House of Representatives.

The state Senate will soon consider a bill that creates a fund designed to protect and improve the state’s water.

The House voted 90-3 in favor of House Bill 7 to create the H2Ohio Trust Fund, which state Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson, indicated could be the first of its kind in the country.

While the fund aims to support the preservation and restoration of Ohio’s lakes and rivers, the bill also establishes the H2Ohio Advisory Council to support research, oversee water quality initiatives and manage grant and loan programs.

“The nearly unanimous floor vote for priority House Bill 7 underscores the importance of a strong bipartisan commitment to the protection, preservation, and restoration of Ohio’s fresh water lakes and rivers,” state Rep. Haraz Ghanbari, R-Perrysburg, said in a statement.

The state plans to finance the fund several ways, including through excess revenues from the General Revenue Fund (GRF). It also allows the state treasurer to issue revenue bonds to generate money for the fund.

The House-passed version of the state’s budget includes $86 million for the first two years of the H2Ohio program, while the Senate’s version includes up to $172 million over two years for the initiative. The House and Senate are set to begin reconciling their versions of the budget this week.

“HB 7 is a small but important step to address the challenges of water quality across our entire state,” Patterson said in a statement. “The problem will not be solved in the life of this General Assembly nor even in the life of this administration. This is precisely why the H2Ohio Program will be permanent – not just a ten year endeavor, but one that will require ongoing effort.”

Last month, Democratic Leader Emilia Strong Sykes, D-Akron, and Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, gave HB 7 priority status.

“We are delighted to see the Ohio House of Representatives recognize the critical importance of keeping our lakes, rivers and streams cleaner and our drinking water safer,” Bill Stanley, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Ohio, said in a statement. “House Bill 7 sets up the H2Ohio Trust – a perpetual trust fund that will be used to address the ever-increasing problem of harmful algae blooms in Lake Erie, the Ohio River and our inland lakes.

“It is vital that we have a sustained, dedicated fund for the protection and restoration of our abundant and irreplaceable freshwater resources – now and for future generations,” Stanley added. “We urge the Senate to quickly hold hearings on House Bill 7 and to move forward a strong, stable funding mechanism for H2Ohio.”