Diversion ban watered down to meet
From Canadian Press
Published in the Toronto Star June 30, 2005
Pressure from thirsty American states forced Canada's
lakeside provinces to dilute a ban on water diversion
from the Great Lakes, Ontario's natural resources minister
said today as critics denounced proposed protection measures
David Ramsay said he pushed hard to refuse any water
diversion from the fresh water resource, but could not
ignore the fact that a handful of U.S. communities located
partly inside the basin have contaminated groundwater.
"We wanted a ban on diversions but we've always
known that the issue of near-basin communities was a challenge
for American neighbours," Ramsay said as he released
a draft agreement on protection measures.
"For U.S. states, the practical solution for this
problem was to allow a limited exception for near-basin
communities. Ontario recognizes this reality and we negotiated
hard to limit the types of exemptions and require them
the toughest possible tests to restrict them."
Ramsay said communities seeking water from the basin
would have to pass as many as 14 tests to be considered
eligible. The water may only be used for a public water
supply and all water withdrawn must be returned to the
Great Lakes basin.
The community must also prove there is no other possible
source of water and that its water demand cannot be met
through conservation efforts. The withdrawal must also
not significantly harm the ecosystem, Ramsay said.
The draft agreement, involving Ontario and Quebec and
seven of the eight U.S. states that border the Great Lakes,
outlines common standards for the use and protection of
Among the projects that would be excluded is the controversial
Chicago Diversion, which siphons billions of litres of
lake water into the Mississippi River and is considered
to be the largest withdrawal from the Great Lakes, said
Eduardo Sousa of the Council of Canadians.
Illinois hopes to substantially increase the project
within the next few years, threatening the sustainability
of the Great Lakes, notes the citizens' watchdog group.
"These agreements make special allowances for the
biggest diversion to go on completely unchecked,"
said Sousa, calling for a total ban on diversions without
"If we're going to protect the Great Lakes, this
diversion must be included in the overall management plan
and be subject to restrictions."
He likened the threat to a contentious water diversion
project in North Dakota meant to ease chronic flooding
that has forced more than 300 American families out of
their homes in the past decade.
Manitoba has long maintained that the Devils Lake outlet
could bring foreign fish, plants and additional pollution,
such as phosphorus and mercury, into the Red River and
ultimately Lake Winnipeg.
Ramsay said the agreement is a significant improvement
over a previous deal Ontario refused to sign last year.
That deal limited the quantity of diversions but never
limited the number of diversions.
Environmental lawyer Steven Shrybman complained that
the proposal significantly weakens Canadian sovereignty
over the shared waters.
"This agreement seriously jeopardizes Canada's ability
to protect the Great Lakes," Shrybman said. "Neither
Canada nor the provinces would be able to veto diversions,
regardless of their duration, scale, or impact on the
waters of this shared ecosystem."
Quebec Environment Minister Thomas Mulcair said he was
pleased the draft prohibits water diversions outside the
Great Lakes Basin and the St. Lawrence River.
Although Quebec's territory includes a relatively small
part of the basin, it is most downstream from the Great
Lakes and is therefore particularly susceptible to any
adverse affects to the ecosystem.
The Canadian Environmental Law Association estimated
it could take five years or more for the agreement to
pass all eight state legislatures and the U.S. Congress,
and longer before it is fully implemented.
It warned that in the meantime, the Great Lakes states
will continue to lose political power and congressional
seats to the thirsty U.S. southwest.
"If we fail to get something in place by the fall
of 2005, we and coming generations of Great Lakes residents
will be facing climate change and drought in North America
with an empty tool box," said spokeswoman Sarah Miller.
Criticism also came from the 42 First Nations Chiefs
of the Anishinabek Nation, who denounced the plan for
failing to give lakeside aboriginals a voice in how the
lakes are managed.
They vowed to take "whatever political or legal
action is required to protect rights and jurisdiction"
over the Great Lakes.
"In most cases our treaties do not cede ownership
over waterbeds or lands under the water," said Grand
Council Chief John Beaucage. ``We intend to take back
control over what has always been ours."
The proposed measures are being put under public scrutiny
in Ontario over the next two months, but Sousa noted that
only 12 days have been set aside for public meetings.
Most comments are being solicited over the Internet.
In Ontario, public meetings will be held over 10 days
beginning Tuesday in Windsor, St. Catharines, London,
Kitchener, Kingston, Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and
In Quebec, two sessions will be held — on July 26 in
Montreal and on July 28 in Quebec City.