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Great Lakes Article:

Diversion ban watered down to meet U.S. needs
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 as inadequate.

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 The water may only be used for a public water supply and all water withdrawn must be returned to the Great Lakes basin.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 water.

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 exceptions.

"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 Toronto.

In Quebec, two sessions will be held on July 26 in Montreal and on July 28 in Quebec City.

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