Global warming predictions rouse Great Lakes lobbying
By Tom Henry
Published November 28, 2007
Dire predictions about Earth's warming climate yesterday inspired a national activist group to step up its lobbying for the proposed eight-state Great Lakes water compact.
The National Wildlife Federation, which has successfully courted the Council of Great Lakes Industries and supported state officials who wrote the proposal, said the region needs to get more serious about asserting control over the lakes because of invariable pressures coming from climate change.
Noah Hall, an environmental law professor at Wayne State University who used to be employed by the wildlife federation, said that curbing greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants, motor vehicles, and other sources is only one way area leaders can protect the Great Lakes from climate change.
He said the other is through the binding compact that was spearheaded by former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, a Republican. It has been endorsed by his successor, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, although Ohio remains one of six states left to approve it before the region can send it off to Congress for ratification.
The proposed compact would, among other things, create a regional water authority to ward off attempts at shipping or otherwise transporting Great Lakes water outside of its natural basin. That nearly happened in 1998, when the Canadian-based Nova Group tried to ship Lake Superior water to Asia.
"What the compact will do is give the states the legal policy they need," Mr. Hall said. "It's now time for policymakers to address climate change on two fronts: [Carbon dioxide] emissions and to prepare ourselves for a new climate-change reality. The compact is an example of the latter."
The lakes, which hold 20 percent of the Earth's fresh surface water, will become more coveted if forecasts by the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pan out. With longer periods of warmth, there will be more evaporation and more interest in the lakes, Mr. Hall said.
"A lot of attention in Washington right now is on [carbon dioxide] emissions, which is important. But we shouldn't let it get ahead of adaptive policies," he said.
Mr. Hall and others explained their vision for a new climate-change reality and adaptive policies during an hour-long conference call with Great Lakes environmental writers.
The activist group synthesized the latest findings of the intergovernmental panel, which consists of hundreds of scientists who report to the World Meteorological Organization and the U.N. Environment Programme. It is the panel that shared this year's Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.
The intergovernmental panel forecasts higher average temperatures in the Great Lakes region by 2050 - possibly up to 9 degrees warmer in the spring - if nothing is done to substantially combat greenhouses gases soon, causing a 4.5-foot drop in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron because of evaporation outpacing rain and snow.
Lake Huron feeds Lake Erie. Officials long have stated that every inch of a drop in water level in western Lake Erie is costly because it is the warmest, shallowest, most productive, and most ecologically fragile part of the Great Lakes.
Shallower water means more costs for the shipping industry and less revenue for the Port of Toledo.
Ships either have to lighten their loads or have more dredging done. And western Lake Erie already is the most phosphorus-rich, algae-impacted part of the lakes.
Higher lake temperatures likely would lead to more algae and less oxygen in the water - the latter of which would hurt fish production, a staple for the region's tourism economy.
The region should be on guard for what likely would become a growing interest in the lakes by outsiders, according to the 41-page wildlife federation report released yesterday.
"Climate change is going to produce this one-two punch on the Great Lakes," Mr. Hall said. "The lakes will be under stress themselves, plus under pressure from other areas [that want] to divert."
One of the region's top networking bodies for scientists, the International Association for Great Lakes Research, agreed the lakes are at a crossroads.
It issued a three-page fact sheet that highlighted problems caused by invasive species, contaminated sediments, loss of wetlands and shoreline habitat, and pollution.
But it failed to make direct references to climate change or the proposed water compact.
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