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Great Lakes Article:

Lansing moves to protect Lakes
By Jim Lynch
The Detroit News
Published December 6, 2007


LANSING -- Michigan legislators moved a step closer to enacting a measure that could prevent states outside the region from raiding the area's most valuable resource -- the Great Lakes.

Committees in the Senate and House approved the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact on Wednesday. The legislation, once approved by all eight of the Great Lakes states and the U.S. Congress, would put authority over water diversions in the hands of those states.

"This is important in order to ensure the sustainable use of the Great Lakes waters in the future," said David Naftzger, executive director of the Council of Great Lakes Governors. "It protects against any long-distance, large-scale diversions."'

The Senate's action comes amid a tough year for states in the Southeast and Southwest, which have been battered by extended droughts, water rationing and wildfires for months. Those hardships have had some officials looking to the Great Lakes as a potential source of relief.

In the most publicized foray into the issue, presidential candidate and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson briefly targeted the Great Lakes region in an October interview.

"I believe the Western states and Eastern states have not been talking to each other when it comes to proper use of our water resources," he told the Las Vegas Sun. "I want a national water policy. We need a dialogue between states to deal with issues like water conservation, water reuse technology, water delivery and water production. States like Wisconsin are awash in water."

Illinois and Minnesota have passed the Great Lakes compact, while New York officials are closing in on full approval. The remaining states are at various stages in the process. Similar legislation is in the works on the Canadian side of the lakes in Ottawa and Quebec.

Sen. Patty Birkholz, R-Saugatuck Township, helped spearhead the legislative effort on the Great Lakes Compact.

"Michigan needs more stringent, yet reasonable, laws in place to protect our waters for environmental, economic and aesthetic reasons," Birkholz said in a release Wednesday. "The compact is such a proposal. It is imperative that it be adopted for the good of Michigan citizens, organizations and businesses that rely on a healthy and accessible water resource."

Birkholz hopes to have a version of the legislation passed by both houses of the legislature and on Gov. Jennifer Granholm's desk by the end of January.

Noah Hall, a diversion expert at the National Wildlife Federation and an assistant law professor at Wayne State University, considers the compact the most important tool the Great Lakes states have in keeping their waters within the basin. And with those states facing a potential loss of power in Congress once the 2010 Census is completed, getting the compact in place quickly is paramount.

"Once that is done, the compact could be overturned by an act of Congress," he said. "But Congress has never revoked or rescinded an interstate water agreement."

You can reach Jim Lynch at (586) 468-0520 or jlynch@detnews.com.

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