Kaptur presents wide-ranging Lake Erie
By Tom Henry
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
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
"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
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
"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,
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