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Great Lakes Article:

New water-use plan gets Duluth hearing
GREAT LAKES: The plan, which will be reviewed on Thursday, seeks to toughen up on water diversions.
By John Myers
Duluth News Tribune
Published August 17, 2005


A plan to limit how much Great Lakes water can be removed from the region will be reviewed at a Thursday hearing in Duluth as it awaits consideration by eight regional governors and Congress.

The new water-use plan, unveiled in July, is considered tougher than the governors' original 2004 plan. Changes were made after more than 10,000 comments were submitted, most saying the original plan didn't go far enough to stop out-of-region diversions or to promote water conservation.

While the earlier plan limited out-of-region diversions, the new version essentially bans bulk diversions, with limited exceptions.

At a Duluth hearing last October, participants said the lakes' water should be protected for environmental, recreational, cultural and economic reasons.

"The negotiators listened to the public and incorporated their comments into the agreement," said Julie O'Leary of Duluth, a board member of Great Lakes United. The plan "is a big improvement over last summer's version because it makes diversion out of the Great Lakes Basin very unlikely, and also addresses water conservation within the basin."

While some praise the revised plan as being tougher, others note that it still allows unlimited shipping of water as long as it's in small bottles and not in ships. Others complain that it drops any mention of large water-users helping to pay for Great Lakes cleanup efforts.

The bottled-water issue could become critical now that Nestle Waters has challenged the governors' existing water-diversion law.

"It's a challenge to get everyone to agree, with eight different states and governors, especially when you get changes in administrations. And it's hard when you have so many special circumstances, like communities that sit half-in and half-out of the watershed, or just outside," said Kent Lokkeseome, Waters Division director of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "It's not as easy as simply saying 'no diversions.' That would never work."

Thursday's hearing will begin with an open house and provide time for verbal and written comments to be submitted.

The plan will have little or no impact on Minnesota because the state has ample water outside the Great Lakes watershed. It could affect communities in eastern Wisconsin that officially sit outside the Great Lakes watershed but which are thirsty for new water sources.

The new plan also calls for the eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces to adopt common standards governing water use within the states. It increases commitments to reduce water use and bolster conservation in the Great Lakes watershed. And it further recognizes tribal rights and involvement.

The plan allows exceptions for diversion to communities outside the Great Lakes watershed but within counties that lie at least partly in the Great Lakes basin.


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JOHN MYERS covers the environment, natural resources and general news. He can be reached at (218) 723-5344 or at jmyers@duluthnews.com.

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