expected over Great Lakes water
Easy, unlimited access may be over, one expert reports
By Tom Henry
The Toledo Blade
CHICAGO - Even in the water-rich Great Lakes region, the
days of unlimited access to the resource could be over.
"There will be no uncontested future water withdrawals
in the Great Lakes basin," Russell Van Herik, of
the Great Lakes Protection Fund, predicted yesterday at
a major conference attended by 650 people from 30 countries.
He spoke at DePaul Universityís Lincoln Park campus during
a joint symposium by the International Association for
Great Lakes Research and the International Lake Environment
Mr. Herick and others have been concerned for years about
the possibility that some of the regionís water someday
could be diverted to other parts of North America or shipped
to other parts of the world despite the enormous costs
that make such ideas seem remote.
Mr. Herick is executive director of a multi-state agency
that governors formed to help fund Great Lakes research.
"We are seeing some conflicts. More states are paying
attention to water use," said Dick Bartz, an Ohio
Department of Natural Resources official who has advised
Gov. Bob Taft and Ohio DNR Director Sam Speck on the issue.
Fearing a showdown could be inevitable as global water
shortages become more acute, the regionís eight governors
and two Canadian premiers met in Niagara Falls, N.Y.,
two years ago this month to start working on a plan intended
to head off such threats by tightening legal loopholes.
But to meet the test of international trade law, officials
feel they need to prove water is being used conservatively
within the region itself. They went beyond merely requiring
that future users do no harm to the lake ecology by proposing
that a benefit be achieved.
The proposal, called Annex 2001, has drawn mixed reaction
from major industries as well as sprawling bedroom communities
just outside the basin that might not have access to clean
ground water. It is expected to be finalized and sent
to Congress in 2004.
While Mr. Herik pointed out yesterday that there is "no
crisis in the Great Lakes right now," he said the
governors and premiers are trying to head off the kind
of situation that has been draining the former Soviet
Unionís Aral Sea since the 1960s.
"Theyíre spending capital trying to get in front
of a crisis that is happening to the Aral Sea," he
The Aral Sea is a fraction of what it once was because
"The present situation is like what it was in medieval
times," Dr. Nick Aladin, of the Russian Academy of
Science, told conference attendees. He said it could someday
look like the Dead Sea in Israel.
Some 600 scientific presentations are being made at the
conference, several of which explore the dynamics of the
Maumee River and western Lake Erie.
Scientists said they canít yet explain why Lake Erieís
central basin became so depleted of oxygen that portions
of it became known as a "dead zone" two summers
ago. But they said similar conditions appear to have existed
for years to varying degrees and that the so-called "dead
zone" can shift from year to year.
They have blamed zebra mussels for many of the ecological
impacts on Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes. But they
said there is no evidence that the thumbnail-sized mollusk
- a species from the Caspian Sea that came over in the
ballast water of foreign ships in the late 1980s - is
solely responsible for the dead zone.
Officials said, however, they are keeping an eye on the
unexplained increases in phosphorus the Maumee River has
had since 1997. The nutrient, which typically gets into
the river via farm runoff and sewage discharges, helps
One type of algae that has been making a comeback is
a toxic form known as microcystis. It has the same toxin
that killed dozens of people in Brazil in the mid 1990s.
That type of algae was seen in Lake Erieís western basin
a few years ago for the first time since the 1970s. It
now can be found on the east side of the lake as well,
The conference began Sunday night and runs through tomorrow.