Governors to protect Great Lakes
By Nicole Brooks
Sun Times News Group
Published January 7, 2008
With the battle between Florida and Georgia over shared water sources heating up down South, state legislators in the northern U.S. are working to stave off future duels and protect their largest water resource.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich in August became the second governor to ratify the Great Lakes--St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, a piece of legislation supporters are calling "unprecedented" in its protection of the eight Great Lakes states' most valuable water source.
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty was the first to sign the compact into law, in February. The other governors that make up the Council of Great Lakes Governors -- from Indiana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin -- are working on making the compact state law, said Peter Johnson, Council of Great Lakes Governors program director.
The eight governors, and two Canadian premiers, in Ontario and Quebec, have been working on a protective agreement for some time, Johnson said. The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact is just the "latest and ultimate act" to sustain this water source, he said.
"We're seeing how important water is across the country. The governors got ahead on this one," Johnson said from his Chicago office. "They're trying to resolve disputes before they happen.
"I've heard it said many times that we're trying to fix the roof while the sun is still shining."
The primary goal of the compact, according to Johnson, is to insure that Great Lakes water resource authority stays in the region. It should not be in the hands of the courts or Congress, he noted.
The legislation creates a common standard for reviewing water withdrawals, Johnson said.
"In the compact, there's a general prohibition on diversions" outside the region, he said. Special exceptions can be made for communities or counties that border the Great Lakes--St. Lawrence River Basin.
The compact provides extra protection if in the future, for example, western states want Lake Michigan water piped out to them, said Dan Injerd, chief of Lake Michigan Management for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Office of Water Resources.
"The agreement that the states have forged is an attempt to provide a stronger front to be able to resist any kind of scheme like" that, he said.
Lake Michigan is not Illinois' lake, Injerd said, just as the other Great Lakes do not belong to one particular state. So, a shared water source must be handled with a great deal of cooperation among its users, he said.
"In terms of other relationships with the other Great Lakes states, Illinois has always recognized we're one of eight," Injerd said.
And much like the southern states are duking it out amongst themselves, the Great Lakes states don't want to appeal to a higher court.
"Going to the U.S. Supreme Court is really a big deal," in terms of time, money and effort involved, he said. "I think today there's a greater recognition that the states are probably much better off sitting down with a mediator and hammering out their own solution."
Once all eight Great Lakes states have ratified the compact, it must be approved by Congress.
Ontario and Québec can't sign federal legislation, Injerd noted. Their participation comes in the form of a non-binding, good-faith agreement.
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact can be found on the Council of Great Lakes Governors Web site, www.cglg.org.