The Future of the Great Lakes
Council revises policy on Great Lakes diversion
Guidelines still aim to exert regional control over water
By Tom Henry
Published July 1, 2005
A revised set of modern-era proposals to thwart any future
Great Lakes diversion or bulk export plans was released
yesterday by the Council of Great Lakes Governors, of
which Gov. Bob Taft is co-chairman.
The public comment period ends Aug. 29.
Collectively known as Annex 2001, the documents continue
to have the same broad goal of establishing regional control
of the world's largest source of fresh drinking water.
Great Lakes governors and premiers pledged to do just
that when the process began at a summit near the shores
of Niagara Falls, N.Y., on June 18, 2001.
But for as simple as regional collaboration sounds, officials
have found that the pathway can be cluttered with legal
obstacles and contentious lobbying beyond the usual business-environmental
clashes when it comes to managing a vital resource such
In November, Canada's House of Commons took the unusual
step of thrusting itself into a regional collaborative
effort when it issued a committee report that recommended
"in the strongest of terms" that the set of
proposals under consideration be redone.
So it was back to the drawing board for the gubernatorial
council's Water Management Working Group, headed by Ohio
Department of Natural Resources Director Sam Speck.
The revised version was issued yesterday. Among its highlights:
-A ban on diversions, with limited exceptions. Those
include humanitarian aid, firefighting, and extenuating
circumstances for parched counties that abut the natural
Canadians wanted similar language four years ago, but
were told by U.S. officials that an outright ban would
be unconstitutional in this country.
-A removal of the largely undefined requirement for ecosystem
improvements by those who draw excessive amounts of water.
-More authority at the state and provincial level for
decisions affecting water usage within the Great Lakes
-A 90-day average for determining whether water withdrawals
should apply to farmers who irrigate their crops and other
seasonal operations, such as watering golf courses.
The previous set of proposals allowed for water usage
to be monitored over any given 120-day period, a more
flexible standard. The latter was endorsed by the Ohio
Farm Bureau and other agricultural groups.
Reaction was mixed.
Support was expressed by large environmental groups,
such as the Ohio Environmental Council, Great Lakes United,
the Alliance for the Great Lakes, and the National Wildlife
One of Canada's most vocal opponents, an activist group
called the Council of Canadians, said it continues to
George Kuper, of the Ann Arbor-based Council of Great
Lakes Industries, which represents some of the region's
largest manufacturers, said he continues to be troubled
by the proposal to regulate new industries that use 100,000
gallons or more of water a day. He said that could make
it harder for the region to attract jobs.
Annex 2001 is a proposed update of a 1985 charter that
governors signed to hold the line against diversions and
withdrawals. A legal team commissioned by the gubernatorial
council said an update was needed to keep pace with changes
in international law under the North American Free Trade
Agreement, known as NAFTA, and the General Agreement on
Tariffs and Trade, known as GATT.
Governors hired the legal team for advice after a small
group of Canadian businessmen, known as the Nova Group,
secured a permit from Ontario in 1998 to export Lake Superior
water to Asia. The permit eventually was relinquished,
but officials said the case exposed the region's vulnerability.
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