Climate change, water sharing could damage Great Lakes
By Kris Turner
Posted November 27, 2007
(AXcess News) Washington - Midwesterners might be known for their manners, but when it comes to sharing water, they have some issues.
As climate change affects the Great Lakes, it's important to ensure the fresh water bodies are protected from being pillaged by dry parts of the country, a report released by the National Wildlife Federation on Tuesday concluded. The Great Lakes contain about 20 percent of the world's fresh water.
"If we had to, we could find a way to live without oil," said Molly Flanagan, the federation's Great Lakes Water Resources program manager. "No matter how hard we try, none of us could survive more than three days without water."
Most climate models predict that the water levels in the Great Lakes will fall during the next century, the report stated. It pointed to increased temperatures, lake evaporation and shortened winters as the cause. The levels in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron could drop by as much as 4.5 feet.
To protect the water, governors from eight states bordering the Great Lakes have joined to urge their state legislatures to pass a Great Lakes compact and send it to the federal government for final approval. Illinois and Minnesota are the only states to adopt it.
Under the compact, each state would have a stake in protecting the water, and the federal government could step in when needed.
The Great Lakes won't last forever if heavily tapped, said Jill Watson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. "Everybody is vying for it," she said. "They want to pull the water from the Great Lakes, to say, New Mexico. This is not a local issue."
Climate change will have a two-punch effect on the Great Lakes, said Noah Hall, a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. Other states will look to the Great Lakes as a water source when the country experiences drought, which could damage the lakes, because they most likely will have low water levels, he said.
If temperatures rise and water levels fall in the Great Lakes, they could become more susceptible to species that aren't native to the area, such as zebra muscles, which damaging boats and structures in the water, the report stated. Additionally, invasive plant life might grow in shoreline areas.
"The existing legal structure is totally inadequate to protect against diversion to other parts of the country," said Hall, who supports the compact and helped prepare the report.
States considering the compact are Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and Indiana. Ohio and Wisconsin do not have the compact under consideration.
The compact could have an adverse affect on Michigan, said Russ Harding, director of the property rights network for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland, Mich. The compact restricts how much water states can use, which could prevent companies from locating in Michigan to use the water.
"We will make it difficult to use water in the state," he said. "It has important economic ramifications. We are giving up the sovereignty to make those decisions."
By heading off problems before they arise, the Great Lakes can remain stable, said Flanagan. The eight states can set an example for the rest of the country by banding together to protect an important natural resource.
"The lakes support our way of life," she said.
Source: Scripps Howard Foundation Wire