2004 could be Year of the Lakes
Friends of Great Lakes hope for preservation efforts next
By Corydon Ireland
Democrat and Chronicle
At an Albany news conference Tuesday, a coalition of
state and national environmental groups said that 2004
will be the most important year for the Great Lakes since
the 1972 passage of the Clean Water Act.
Coming within the year is a fight in Congress over billions
of dollars in funds for Great Lakes cleanup. One bill
in the House of Representatives, the Great Lakes Restoration
Financing Act of 2003 (H.R. 2720), is co-sponsored by
Rep. Tom Reynolds, R-Clarence, Erie County. It calls for
funding of up to $4 billion from 2004 through 2008. A
Senate counterpart (S. 1398) would provide $6 billion
over 10 years.
The federal funding would be modeled on the $8 billion
allocated almost a decade ago to restore and protect the
A second major issue in 2004, the group said, is water
diversion. By June, the eight Great Lakes state governors
and two Canadian provincial officials are expected to
sign Annex 2001, a major amendment to the 1985 Great Lakes
Charter. It would spell out a mechanism for controlling
the diversion of water from the Great Lakes. Public hearings
on the proposed amendment could come as early as March.
"Itís not hyperbolic to say 2004 is a really important
year," with major action possible on both water quality
and water diversion initiatives, said Jeff Jones of the
Albany-based Environmental Advocates of New York. Joining
him were the Buffalo-based Great Lakes United, an international
group focusing on public input, and the National Wildlife
Federation, the largest U.S. conservation group, which
has a Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The impetus for Annex 2001 came in 1998, when the Province
of Ontario issued a permit (later withdrawn) that would
have allowed the Nova Group, a Canadian business, to extract
60 million gallons of water a year for sale in Asia. The
resulting uproar over bulk water removals led to a review
The prospect of massive diversions of Great Lakes water
to a thirsty world market "was a wake up call for
policymakers and citizens of all kinds," said Dave
Higby, Great Lakes project director for Environmental
Advocates of New York.
It was also a sign, he said, that three present protections
against Great Lakes water diversions are not strong enough.
One of them, the federal Water Resources Development Act
of 1986, requires all eight U.S. Great Lakes governors
to approve large exports of water.
Among the eight states, rules for diversion vary.
New York requires that all water withdrawals of more
than 100,000 gallons per day over 30 days be registered.
The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which
identifies water as a commodity, was also "a major
motivating factor" in the need for updated protections,
said Higby. Before international trade pressures for fresh
water pick up even more, he said, "we have to get
our own house in order."
Noah Hall, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation,
said action in 2004 would help protect "a national
treasure" that is also the regionís main engine of
economic development. Sport fishing alone, he said, props
up a business sector worth $7 billion a year.
Invasive species in the Great Lakes have cost U.S. industry
$10 billion in the last decade, said Hall.
In addition, coastal habitat is disappearing, and 31
toxic hotspots on the U.S. side alone would cost at least
$8 billion to clean up.
One of these so-called "areas of concern" is
the Rochester Embayment, an area of polluted sediments
comprising the last six miles of the Genesee River and
an adjacent 35 square miles of Lake Ontario.
Under the Reynolds bill, the federal Environmental Protection
Agency would appoint a special master who would direct
the cleanup in each area.
The coalition of conservation groups will by March identify
the top 10 Great Lakes restoration projects in New York
that should be addressed first with new federal funding.
The Rochester-based Center for Environmental Information
will be helping to name regional candidate projects.
Two likely ones are the Rochester Embayment and the watershed
protecting Hemlock and Canadice lakes, which supply drinking
water to Rochester.
The coalition estimated that among the eight Great Lakes
states, New York might receive up to 20 percent of the
Current U.S. restoration programs for the lakes - 148
federal and 51 state programs - are scattered, uncoordinated
and "drastically and habitually underfunded,"
An April 2003 report by the General Accounting Offices
said such programs are in disarray.