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Great Lakes Article:

Great Lakes group on track for deal to control water sales
The Toledo Blade

Despite leadership changes, Great Lakes governors and premiers are on track to meet their self-imposed deadline for finalizing a 2001 agreement that calls for local controls on the amount of water that can be diverted or exported in bulk from the lakes.

"I think we’ve got a pretty good consensus among all the states and provinces," said Sam Speck, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, who has helped shepherd the proposal on behalf of the Council of Great Lakes Governors.

Gov. Bob Taft is the chairman of the governors’ council, which agreed in 2001 that the region needed to adopt its own standard for withdrawals from the Great Lakes, the world’s largest source of fresh surface water.

Called Annex 2001, the principal concept was signed June 18, 2001, by a different set of governors at a ceremony in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Details for implementing it were left up to current governors and premiers, with a suggested deadline of three years, or June of 2004.

Five of the eight Great Lakes states have new governors; Canada also has installed a new premier in one of its two Great Lakes provinces.

Though it initially slowed down the process, the transition should not hold up finalization of the agreement by June, Mr. Speck said.

One of the biggest tests will come this fall, when a working group helping to implement details will issue a major report for public review, officials said.

Among other things, the annex calls for no major withdrawals or exports unless the same amount of water can be returned to the lakes in better quality, so there’s a net improvement of the system.

Industry has been reluctant to embrace the annex because of that requirement, claiming it is vague and could set a precedent that results in an unfair regulatory burden for the region. It has worried if the annex could hamper industry expansion or construction of new facilities along the lakes, such as power plants.

George Kuper, president of the Ann Arbor-based Council of Great Lakes Industries, which represents some of the region’s biggest companies, said yesterday the proposed annex is "based on faulty guidance and is unnecessary." But he said industry is willing to participate, to help bolster efforts for local control. "We don’t want federal control more than anyone else will," he said.

He said the working group’s report will weigh heavily on industry’s position.

Mr. Speck said concerns cited by industry are being smoothed out with an emphasis on best management practices for water withdrawals.

The annex was drafted largely as a show of strength: Governors and premiers have said they wanted the two nations to see that the lakes can be managed locally, instead of from Washington and Ottawa.

Governors saw a need to update a nonbinding agreement on water withdrawals that had been signed in 1985. The reasons were multifold: global water shortages, an expanding population, rising Earth temperatures, and changes in international law. Some people view the latter as a right to trade water on the open market like oil, timber, or another commodity.

The clincher was a 1998 effort to export Lake Superior water to Asia, officials have said. Acting on a legal opinion they received in 1999, governors drafted the annex.

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