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Great Lakes Article:

Campaign generates new focus on Great Lakes
By George Weeks
The Detroit News
Published August 22nd, 2004

President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry, after some tepid earlier words, have strong ones opposing the diversion of water from the Great Lakes.

On last week’s visit to the Lake Michigan town of Traverse City, Bush said:

“We’ve got to use our resources wisely, like water. It starts with keeping the Great Lakes water in the Great Lakes Basin.

“You might remember what my opponent said earlier this year about Great Lakes water diversion. He said it would be a ‘delicate balancing act.’ It sounds just like him. My position is clear: We’re never going to allow diversion of Great Lakes water.”

Kerry in February told the Free Press that “national needs” required the balancing act. His aides quickly said then he was in fact “unequivocal” in opposing diversion. They’re now touting Kerry’s votes on Great Lakes issues and seeking to discredit Bush’s stance.

In July 2001, Bush told Canadian reporters: “Water will forever be an issue in the United States, particularly the Western United States.” Noting talk of piping water to the parch belt, he said: “That’s a possibility. I would be open to any discussions. Our nation must develop a comprehensive water strategy as we head — particularly as these Western states continued to grow.”

The important thing now is that the Great Lakes are getting more attention than they have in previous presidential campaigns — and the candidates are saying things that might help spur federal and state efforts to protect and restore the lakes.

In 1986, Kerry voted for the Water Resources Development Act that prohibits “water from being diverted from any portion of the Great Lakes within the United States unless such diversion is approved by the governor of each of the Great Lakes States.” He also voted in 2000 to strengthen this act.

But the same act that gives governors their veto power also created an obligation for the states to put in place new water withdrawal standards.

The act, says Ann Arbor-based Noah Hall of the National Wildlife Federation, lacks enforcement provisions and “is totally inadequate to protect our water for the future. ... What Congress gives, Congress can take away. With growing populations and political power in the Southwest and West, we need strong state authority to protect the Great Lakes.”

The proposed Great Lakes Basin Water Resources Compact, just released by eight governors and the premiers of two Canadian provinces, would provide strong state authority. Administrator Michael Leavitt of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and chairman of Bush’s new Great Lakes Task Force, told me the administration wants the states to have power to block diversion through such a compact.

Public meetings on the compact, which must be signed by the governors and approved by the legislatures and Congress, will be held in five cities, starting Aug. 30 in St. Clair Shores.

Hall, of the Wildlife Federation, gives Bush credit for “such a clear promise” on diversion. Gov. Jennifer Granholm also welcomes Bush’s declaration, noting in the same breath that Kerry also opposes diversion.

Granholm, miffed that the GOP-ruled Legislature has yet to act on the Water Legacy Act she proposed more than six months ago, says Bush’s comments should “make it easy” for Republicans to act on her proposal.

They should. Among other things, it would require permits for future withdrawals of ground water greater than 100,000 gallons per day. Michigan, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality, is the only Great Lakes state lacking comprehensive standards on ground water pumping.

It’s good to get promises from Bush and Kerry. But presidents have no magic wand for water management. Action is needed within and among the states.

George Weeks is The News’ politics columnist. Reach him at (517) 371-3660 or

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