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Great Lakes Article:

Great Lakes water siphoning at risk
By Diane Kubiak
Post-Tribune (NW Indiana)
Published August 23rd, 2004

Michigan City — If what’s in that ubiquitous plastic water bottle is a commodity, the Great Lakes may need more protection than current international trade agreements provide.

That’s one impetus for “Annex 2001,” a legislative guideline being developed by the Council of Great Lakes Governors and others for protecting the Great Lakes and its watershed from depletion, exploitation and further damage. The council is seeing public comment on its current draft document through Oct. 18.

The threats are many, immediate and not all local, explained Cheryl Mendoza of the Lake Michigan Federation, who met with a roundtable of area environmentalists at the Save the Dunes Council headquarters here on Barker Road last week.

Imagine the outrage and concern, she said, when an Asian tanker began mining water out of Lake Superior in full view of Canadians. Imagine the shock and fear that followed, she added, when the tankers argued that free-trade agreements allowed them to treat water as any other commodity. If you can sell it, you can’t interfere with its free trade.

While the eight Great Lakes governors and two Canadian premiers have agreed the lakes need to be protected, their vehicle for protecting it, the Great Lakes Charter Annex Agreement in 2001, “Annex 2001” for short, might need more teeth, maintains Mendoza. The lakes, she said, hold 20 percent of the world’s available fresh surface water and 95 percent of the fresh water in the United States.

The agreement, on line at www.speakongreatlakes.org, is designed to meet the goals of the Canadian-American agreement: To prevent or minimize water loss through the implementation of conservation measures which are environmentally sound and economically feasible; to prevent adverse individual or cumulative actions which impact the quantity or quality of the water or natural resources dependent on the Great Lakes Basin and to require users to improve the waters or the water dependent resources in the basin.

The waters in the Great Lakes are glacial deposits from the last ice age. Only 1 percent of what is taken is now returned, said Mendoza.

“It’s a world-class resource,” she said. “It deserves world-class protection.”

She said the draft, although a major step, is weak on several points and may not, if implemented as is, achieve the goals of Annex 2001. The best time to change it is now, she said, before it goes to state assemblies and the U.S. Congress.

“Our fight now is to try and get improvement back in,” she said, saying the draft needs to be more clear on who has to do how much and why. Right now the line is at 5 million gallons a day.

Environmentalist Herb Read said that was too lenient and does not deal with the cumulative effects of smaller operations. He said Asia should look at cleaning up its own water systems before it mines water from the Great Lakes.

Lee Botts, a local environmentalist, said the mere anticipation of the agreement has already had an impact. “It has forced the states, including Indiana, to do a much better job of accounting for water use.” She said Illinois had the best data at a recent conference she attended in Toronto.

“Don’t forget Indianapolis doesn’t think we border the Great Lakes,” said Jack Harris of Valparaiso, a member of the Northwest Indiana Steelheaders. He noted that President Bush, campaigning in Traverse City, Mich., indicated his support by telling people there the Great Lakes were not for sale.

Botts said the initial statements from Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign, seen by some as negative, were quickly modified with a next-morning news release.

“There’s been a lot more communication with his campaign since then,” she said.

Mendez said the draft currently discriminates between “in-basin” and “out-of-basin” users and that such discriminatory language may put the whole document at odds with free trade agreements.

 

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