New hearings possible on use of Great
By Tom Henry
Published January 17th, 2005
The Canadian government's cool reaction to a U.S.-led
plan for curbing Great Lakes diversions and bulk withdrawals
could reopen public hearings on the debate this summer.
At stake is how the United States and Canada view their
relationship with each other in regard to the freshwater
lakes as North America is expected to face its greatest
water crisis this century. The lakes hold 20 percent of
the Earth's fresh surface water.
While much attention has focused on the potential for
water exports to southern California, Arizona, and other
parched Sunbelt states, many officials view the growing
needs of near-shoreline communities in states such as
Ohio and Wisconsin as a more immediate threat.
Suburban Milwaukee and other parts of southeastern Wisconsin
lie just outside the water basin and are running particularly
low on drinkable groundwater. To a lesser degree, so are
parts of northern Ohio, including western Lucas County.
Canadian officials, some of whom have admitted being
skeptical of U.S. motives, view the plan, called Annex
2001, as being too weak.
The annex is a proposed set of amendments to a 1985 charter
among governors, written to close legal loopholes created
by changes in international law. Gov. Bob Taft, co-chairman
of the Chicago-based Council of Great Lakes Governors,
put Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Sam
Speck in charge of drafting it in June, 2001. One of Mr.
Speck's advisers, Ohio DNR water chief Dick Bartz, has
had a key role in the process. Ontario and Quebec premiers
have had representation, something which they were not
afforded by Great Lakes governors in 1985.
In comments recently submitted on behalf of its federal
government, the Canadian Consulate General told the gubernatorial
council the proposed agreements "are too permissive,"
in part because there is no ceiling for withdrawals by
"Stronger agreements and greater precision are required
to afford the highest possible level of protection,"
the statement said.
The consulate's office questioned why anticipated effects
of global warming were not taken into account. "The
proposed agreements are silent on climate change,"
The consulate general's comments are similar to those
issued in a Nov. 26 report by the Committee on Environment
and Sustainable Development in Canada's House of Commons.
That report, written in the wake of unexpected parliamentary
hearings, said the committee "recommends in the strongest
of terms" that Annex 2001 be redone because it is
not strong enough.
David Naftzger, the gubernatorial council's executive
director, told The Blade that negotiations are ongoing
and that substantial changes are expected.
"The goal is to have more finalized agreements this
summer," he said. "We anticipate there will
be opportunities for the public to review and comment
on more finalized agreements."
The set of documents generated more than 10,000 comments
during a 90-day period that ended in October. Several
activists objected to the timing, citing how that comment
period was held during the heat of President Bush's successful
re-election campaign and that of his opponent, U.S. Sen.
John Kerry (D., Mass.).
Mr. Naftzger said it was not certain yet whether a new
90-day comment period would be scheduled or whether a
different type of format would be used to collect opinions.
Mr. Bartz said the tenor of the debate is causing officials
involved with the annex to pause and reflect upon the
direction that it's going.
"We are still optimistic we will get something signed,"
he said, adding that mid-July is now seen as the probable