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Great Lakes water usage agreement on track
Port Clinton News Herald

COLUMBUS -- The director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said the Great Lakes states are on track to develop a binding agreement controlling how much water can be taken from the lakes.

Sam Speck is working with officials in eight states and two Canadian provinces to develop a binding agreement that "assures the sustainability of water of the Great Lakes." The lakes make up the world's largest supply of freshwater.

The process began when nine governors and two Canadian premiers signed a charter annex in June 2001. The states agreed to develop an interstate compact, setting across-the-board standards for water usage.

But that was the easy part. The details of such an agreement have been difficult to develop, Speck said, as he deals with states that have different priorities, and different political parties running the governors' offices and legislatures.

He said the effort was slowed somewhat by the 2002 election. Five of the eight Great Lake states had changes in the governor's office, meaning new administrations had to get up to speed.

He still expects an agreement to be ready for legislation by mid-2004. He has held eight hearings in Ohio on the matter, and is now making monthly trips to Chicago to hammer out the plan.

"Nobody is going to get everything they want in this," he said, adding that the compact must be meaningful, yet flexible enough to handle changing times.

For years, environmental groups have sounded off concerns over the threats of over-usage of the Great Lakes, particularly when proposals have popped up to ship the water west.

The Ohio Environmental Council on Monday presented Speck with more than 1,000 signed postcards and petitions in support of increased protections for Lake Erie water supplies.

"Current laws are not strong enough to protect Lake Erie," said Molly Flanagan, water program associate for the council. "Without stronger protection, the Great Lakes' vast water supply could be siphoned off and fritted away."

Lake Erie's water level, according to state officials, is about nine to 10 inches below its long-term average, and is down about one inch from last summer.

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