Great Lakes Water Diversion
By Gerry Rising
Buffalo Sunday News
Published May 1, 2005
We have many problems in this region but we also have
a world-recognized resource at hand, our Great Lakes.
While the South and West are starved for fresh water,
we seem to have a limitless supply.
Or do we?
A year ago Canadian journalist Andrew Nikiforuk wrote
a position paper titled "Political Diversions: Annex
2001 and the Future of the Great Lakes." For us living
within the Great Lakes watershed, this is arguably the
most important document ever written, yet I have met no
one who knows it exists. In fact, I doubt if many readers
have heard of Annex 2001, the compact entered into by
eight states and two Canadian provinces to protect the
Great Lakes Basin. I urge everyone to obtain and read
Nikiforuk's position paper. It may be obtained from <www.powi.ca/nikiforuk_June2004.pdf>.
In this column I will address only a few of the issues
According to Nikiforuk, Annex 2001 is not the protection
compact that it purports to be. He describes it as "a
water taking permit system" with the stress on "taking".
It establishes the conditions that must be met before,
to use his metaphor, users can "put a straw into
Great Lakes waters."
The conditions water withdrawers must meet sound good.
They must prove that there is no reasonable alternative
or significant impact, guarantee a return flow, prepare
water conservation plans, meet applicable laws, request
only a reasonable quantity of water and agree to "resource
improvement." Trouble arises, however, in their implementation.
Annex 2001 comes with no associated management plan and
a Council of State Governors decides on removals.
One critic of Annex 2001 calls it "a way to get
to yes" on removal. Apparently seven of the eight
governors (including ours) are pro-diversion. And without
a mechanism in place, Nikiforuk poses this scenario: "a
thirsty Wisconsin (outside the basin) will build a pipeline
to Lake Michigan and an angry Michigan will then sue Wisconsin.
The Supreme Court will appoint a federal marshal to resolve
the issue. Given the shifting tides of political power
in the United States (as the population moves from the
northeast to a thirsty southwest) no one in the Great
Lakes region wants to see that happen." This scenario
could turn the Great Lakes from a regional to a national
resource with little concern for its future.
Still worse, data suggest that, far from serving as a
limitless resource, our Great Lakes are already endangered.
While most of us agree that we should be anti-diversion,
few of us recognize key water abusers within the system
such as groundwater pumping, agricultural run-off and
urban sprawl. We are arguably the world's most careless
water users. Nikiforuk asks, "How can we curb demand
outside the Basin if we cannot curb demand within?"
Even without outside withdrawals, the lakes are threatened.
One projection of future within-basin use together with
global warming is a drop in their water levels of three
to five feet, a drop that would reduce Niagara Falls to
Surely we should all be concerned.
Now factor in our local legislators studying the possibility
of introducing a water bottling plant in this region.
Great idea? Hardly.
Nikiforuk cites the case of a Nestle (former Perrier)
bottling plant in Mecosta, Michigan. A local group and
several First Nations tried to stop this activity in federal
court because it would compromise water levels and starve
aquatic life in the region. Judge Lawrence Root of the
49th Circuit found for the plaintiffs, but Michigan waived
the judge's stop bottling order, and Nestle exports about
a million dollars worth of Michigan water a day. Nikiforuk
says that the Nestle case "suggests that water will
go to the most powerful bidder" and asks, "Can
you improve a resource by taking more of it and then writing
I applaud former Buffalo mayor Jimmy Griffin for his
characterization of bottled water as "the biggest
rip-off the public has ever endured." Our free faucet
water equals bottled water in quality and taste yet many
local citizens spend the equivalent of half their annual
taxes for it each year.
This is simply nonsense. We must protect our Great Lakes
and we don't need this kind of straw -- in Michigan or
here -- in one of the world's most valuable resources,
a resource that just happens to be ours to protect.