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Great Lakes Article:

Kaptur presents wide-ranging Lake Erie strategy
By Tom Henry
Toledo Blade
Published May 10, 2005

Nearly $5 million of federal funds will be used to help western Lake Erie communities in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana put together one of the largest water inventories ever attempted on a regional basis, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur said yesterday.

The project is to help communities from Fort Wayne, Ind., to Sandusky fend off threats from outsiders as water becomes more scarce, while uniting the region with a common set of goals for issues such as groundwater depletion, megafarm runoff, and flood control, she said.

Miss Kaptur (D., Toledo) announced plans for a collective big-picture look at the region's water sources at the beginning of a daylong symposium at Toledo's Erie Street Market. The event, devoted to western Lake Erie issues, was attended by nearly 150 officials.

She envisions a regional water report covering territory from as far north as Michigan's Hillsdale, Lenawee, and Branch counties, and nearly as far south as Sidney, Ohio.

Several communities, such as Fort Wayne, are an hour's drive or more from the Lake Erie shoreline. But they have something in common with shoreline communities: tributaries.

Miss Kaptur says the eight rivers that serve as western Lake Erie's major watersheds - the Maumee, Ottawa, Tiffin, St. Joseph, St. Marys, Auglaize, Blanchard, and Portage - should be covered by the report. The document could be used to improve regional planning efforts in the tri-state area.

"We must know how much water flows through our watershed, and we must know how it flows," Miss Kaptur said.

She said the report could defend the region from future threats, such as water diversions or bulk exports to other parts of the country, while helping officials deal with issues of more immediate concern and closer to home, such as urban sprawl.

It could help scholars at the University of Toledo's Legal Institute of the Great Lakes learn how they could better apply Western water laws dating to the 1850s to the Great Lakes.

Miss Kaptur said the Great Lakes region has been blessed with abundant water for so long that officials in this part of the country are "neophytes" in comparison to those in the West who have spent much of their careers studying water laws.

"We are like little babes in the woods. Trust my word on that," she said.

Some matching funds from nonfederal sources would likely have to be included in the regional water report, officials said.

Allocations by the federal government, starting in fiscal year 2001, have reached nearly $5 million. Still unspent, the money was directed to two agencies that will coordinate the effort, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service. Records show the Corps has received five allotments of $100,000 to $210,000, while the conservation service has received four of $1 million each.

Regional cooperation on water issues needs to be expanded and enhanced, given the growing population, the decline in available fresh water, and the prospect of more congressional seats going to thirsty Sun Belt states after the 2010 Census, officials said.

Phil Closius, University of Toledo law college dean, said Albert Einstein predicted in 1955 that access to fresh water would be mankind's greatest challenge in the 21st century.

"The national water crisis is already here," Mr. Closius said.

He and others said water is viewed as a tradeable commodity under the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Great Lakes will invariably face pressure from outsiders, especially with dry cities such as Las Vegas, San Antonio, and Phoenix among those experiencing the most rapid growth.

"This problem is not going to go away," he said. "I think it is inevitable their eyes will turn to the Great Lakes at some point."

Andrea Gerlak, a University of Arizona water law researcher, said many Western cities rely on water from the Colorado River, which she described as the nation's most litigated and most regulated stream.

One city is Las Vegas, which is growing by a staggering 6,000 people a month. Legal battles over water rights are legendary and longstanding in the arid triangle where Nevada, Arizona, and California meet.

They are expected to get considerably worse if Southern California's demand for water increases by 40 percent over the next two decades as some officials have predicted, she said.

Contact Tom Henry at:
or 419-724-6079.

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