Water diversions mostly prohibited
under revised Great Lakes plan
By John Flesher
Associated Press Writer
Published on Newsday.com on: June 30, 2005
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- A revised plan for protecting
the Great Lakes carries a warning for thirsty regions
dreaming of tapping into the nation's biggest supply of
surface fresh water: Forget it.
New or expanded diversions outside the drainage basin
would be prohibited in most cases under a proposal released
Thursday by the Council of Great Lakes Governors, which
represents the eight states and two Canadian provinces
adjacent to the lakes. The only diversions eligible for
consideration would be to areas straddling the boundary
of the basin, which sprawls more than 750 miles from the
St. Lawrence River to beyond the western shore of Lake
Meanwhile, the states and provinces would oversee large-scale
water use within their own jurisdictions, based on standards
that emphasize conservation.
The plan is an update of a regulatory framework known
as Annex 2001, a regionwide strategy for safeguarding
the lakes as the growing worldwide water shortage makes
them a tempting target.
"One of the things we believe these agreements do
is to send a clear message to other regions of the country
that diversions of Great Lakes water ... is not the easy
answer to their growing water problems," said Sam
Speck, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources
and chairman of a staff group that developed the plan.
An initial version was released a year ago, and has been
altered in response to more than 10,000 public comments.
Council staffers will accept comments for 60 days on
the latest version and could make additional changes before
submitting it to the governors for their consideration.
They emphasized the states and provinces had not reached
"It is a work in progress," Speck said.
Perhaps the most significant change from the 2004 version
is the approach to out-of-basin diversions. The previous
policy drew sharp criticism from some environmentalists
and Canadian officials.
It would have allowed new diversions _ or expansions
of existing ones _ averaging 1 million gallons a day over
120 days if they met required criteria and were approved
by all eight U.S. states. Supporters said the standards
were so tough that few, if any, diversions would be permitted.
But critics weren't convinced.
The latest version would outlaw diversions but make exceptions
for cities, towns and counties partly within the basin
and partly outside it.
Diversions to "straddling counties" would require
approval of all eight states. Straddling cities would
need permission only from their state, but could use the
lakes only for a public water supply and would have to
return all water not consumed to the basin.
David Ramsay, Ontario's natural resources minister, said
he preferred a total ban on diversions but realized a
few U.S. communities partly within the basin had contaminated
groundwater and needed help.
"For U.S. states, the practical solution for this
problem was to allow a limited exception for near-basin
communities," Ramsay said, according to Canadian
Press. "Ontario recognizes this reality and we negotiated
hard to limit the types of exemptions and require them
the toughest possible tests to restrict them."
Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said the new language
on diversions was encouraging. "The Great Lakes are
our most precious natural resource and it is critical
that we act responsibly to protect them," she said.
The previous version's acceptance of limited diversions
was based on legal advice _ disputed by some experts _
that a ban could be struck down by U.S. or international
courts as an illegal restriction on commerce.
But supporters said the updated approach would have a
good chance of surviving a court challenge.
"The prohibition on diversions is part of a comprehensive
water management policy, including strict standards for
in-basin use," said Noah Hall, a National Wildlife
Federation attorney. "Because we're cleaning up our
proverbial house, it gives us the legal authority to prohibit
diversions out of the region."
Another crucial change in the plan gives the states and
provinces more authority to regulate in-basin water use.
Previously, some large-scale withdrawals would have needed
a permit from a regional agency, which drew complaints
from business interests such as the Council of Great Lakes
George Kuper, president of the council, said Thursday
the group was studying the updated plan and wasn't ready
to give a detailed assessment.
"It has some aspects that I like and some that I'm
concerned about," Kuper said.
Environmentalists mostly praised the revised plan but
complained about some changes, including deletion of a
previous requirement that large water users take steps
to "improve" the ecosystem.