Campaign generates new focus on Great
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
“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
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
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 email@example.com.