Great Lakes region fearful of losing
By John Flesher
Chicago Sun Times
Published November 21st, 2004
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- When a Canadian company floated
the idea of hauling Lake Superior water aboard huge tankers
to parched sections of Asia, the reaction hereabouts resembled
the fury of the region's infamous November gales.
''Back Off Suckers,'' warned billboards along Michigan
highways that depicted outsiders sipping from the Great
Lakes with gigantic straws. Politicians on both sides
of the border voiced outrage. Before long, the Canadian
agency that had issued a permit for the Superior shipments
In the six years since, no other proposal has surfaced
to divert Great Lakes water to arid places. Yet many believe
grabs are inevitable as the global water crisis worsens.
Of particular concern is the western United States.
Lake levels remain low
''There are threats, and they promise to increase over
time,'' said David Naftzger, executive director of the
Council of Great Lakes Governors.
Although vast enough to spread a 91/2-foot-deep sheet
across the continental United States, the lake system
is heavily burdened. Nearly 40 million people live in
the region, and its $2 trillion economy features water-dependent
industries such as auto manufacturing, shipping, tourism
Lake levels haven't fully recovered from a dropoff several
years ago caused by drought and a warming trend. Climate
change could push them even lower, scientists say.
''Despite their size, they're extremely fragile,'' said
Cheryl Mendoza, watershed conservation manager for the
Chicago-based Lake Michigan Federation.
Three years after agreeing to regulate large-scale water
withdrawals, the Council of Great Lakes Governors released
a detailed plan in July. The region's eight U.S. states
and two Canadian provinces plan to vote on a revised version
Activists split on governors' plan
Some environmentalists praise the plan for requiring
that any new diversion of water outside the Great Lakes
drainage basin meet conservation standards. But critics
say there's a flaw: The plan concedes such diversions
could happen instead of just banning them.
For all the worries that water from the lakes will one
day spout from Las Vegas fountains, the biggest threat
may be closer to home.
Water diversions already take place within the Great
Lakes region itself -- and pressure is mounting for more.
By far the biggest is at Chicago, which diverts Lake
Michigan water to its municipal system and the Mississippi
River. The U.S. Supreme Court limited the volume to 3,200
cubic feet per second, but some fear the city will try
to boost the flow.
''If Chicago were to fully utilize their canal system
now, they could lower all the Great Lakes by up to six
inches,'' David Ramsay, the Ontario natural resources
minister, said recently.