Industry poses threat to water
Officials try to bolster regional control
By Tom Henry
The Toledo Blade
Great Lakes governors and premiers hope to strengthen
regional control over the worldís largest source of fresh
surface water in the coming year to head off any proposals
to divert water to other parts of North America or the
But the leaders of Ohio, Michigan, and six other U.S.
states as well as the two Canadian provinces bordering
the Great Lakes could find that the intensive legal maneuvering
they began in earnest two summers ago soon will be challenged
- if not downright obstructed - by industry.
"Thereís a great interest on industryís part of
reopening all of this," said George Kuper of the
Council of Great Lakes Industries about an agreement known
as Annex 2001, which attempts to limit water usage from
the lakes to near-shoreline communities. The Ann Arbor-based
council represents some of the regionís largest employers.
Mr. Kuper claims state and provincial leaders were steered
into the agreement by "bum legal advice" they
received after a small company called the Nova Group made
history in 1998 by securing a permit from Ontario to ship
up to 156 million gallons of Lake Superior water a year
for sale to Asian markets.
That amount would have been hardly a drop in Lake Superiorís
enormous bucket: The lake system loses more water than
that to evaporation every 24 hours. But the Nova case
triggered a precedent over water rights because it was
the first time a permit had been granted for such a bulk
transport or diversion.
Engineering studies have been done over the years to
explore the possibility of diverting Great Lakes water
to the arid Southwest and other regions - only to stop
dead in their tracks because of political pressure and
Nova eventually relinquished its permit but not its right
to renew its effort if such projects are ever sanctioned.
The Annex 2001 agreement is a vehicle governors and premiers
have chosen in hopes of keeping that scenario from being
Officials began working on the document in 1999 after
legal experts told them the Nova case demonstrated how
vulnerable the Great Lakes could be to changes in international
law, especially under the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The experts warned that water - like oil and timber -
arguably could be viewed as a tradable commodity on global
Annex 2001 would update a 1985 nonbinding charter that
Great Lakes governors had signed among themselves to limit
water diversions and withdrawals. The new Annex document
would include the premiers of Quebec and Ontario.
The 1985 charter - viewed by some experts as a "gentlemenís
agreement" - was reinforced by Congress in 1986 with
passage of a law that has more teeth, the Water Resources
Development Act. It requires any diversion outside the
Great Lakes to be approved by each of the Great Lakes
The governors and premiers held a summit on June 18,
2001, in Niagara Falls to pledge that they would move
forward with the annex. They gave themselves three years
to work out details. A final draft is expected to be released
for three months of public comment this fall, with the
final signing expected by June 18, 2004.
Annex 2001 goes beyond simply putting limits on exports
and withdrawals. The proposed agreement would require
new users to return as much water as they take out, with
the quality of whatís returned resulting in a net-effect
improvement on the system.
"Itís more innovative than just ĎDo no harm,í"
said Cameron Davis, executive director of the Chicago-based
Lake Michigan Federation environmental group.
But to Mr. Kuper, itís also vague. Taken literally, he
said, it could inhibit large water users - such as large
manufacturers or power plants - from building along the
"If thereís a question if youíre ever going to get
your water permit, youíre not going to build your plant
in the Great Lakes region," Mr. Kuper said.
Russ Van Herik, executive director of the Great Lakes
Protection Fund, a $100 million endowment that Great Lakes
states established years ago to help fund research, called
Mr. Kuperís argument an industry scare tactic and said
the annex will not impede new construction.
He said Annex 2001 is important for national leaders
in Washington and Ottawa to know that lake-water usage
issues can be resolved at the regional level. Control
will become more important as the Earthís population continues
to expand and the effects of global warming deplete fresh
water supplies this century, officials said.
Mr. Davis pointed out that water rights are especially
controversial in this part of North America because the
Great Lakes are used for far more than drinking water
or irrigation. They are vital to the regionís manufacturing
hub, as well as its tourism and the fish ecology that
supports the recreation base of its economy.
"The issue is not if we are going to run out of
water," he said. "The issue is one of distribution
- whoís got it, who doesnít, and how itís going to be
Frank Quinn, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
hydrologist who has studied Great Lakes water levels since
the early 1960s, said the idea of diverting Great Lakes
water to the Southwest or even the closer, heavily-populated
Northeast is not far-fetched.
"The Northeast is perennially short of water. It
would be relatively easy to take water out of Lake Ontario
and put it in the Hudson River," he said.
Whether itís the Northeast or the Southwest, any pressure
to divert water outside the region likely will come from
the United States - not Canada - according to David de
Launay, director of the lands and waters branch of the
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. The country not
only has vast water resources, but 9.5 million of its
11 million people live within the Great Lakes basin.
Canada wants nothing to do with any effort to "re-engineer
the plumbing of North America," he said.