Water diversions hot topic: Lakes agreement
loopholes to be plugged
By Stephanie MacLellan
The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal
Published July 12, 2005
Ontario could join eight states and Quebec in a new deal
that would ban diversions of water from the Great Lakes
and the basin waters that feed into them.
The revisions to the Great Lakes Charter Annex would
also beef up water conservation measures and protect the
quality of water in the lakes through source water protection,
said Kevin Wilson, an assistant to the deputy minister
of the Ministry of Natural Resources.
At a public meeting Monday in Thunder Bay, a small crowd
heard about the proposed changes to the agreement, now
in its second round of public hearings.
There have been agreements between Canada and the United
States to protect the Great Lakes since 1909, but they
have loopholes that have allowed for major diversions,
and they don’t protect the basin, the audience was told.
“This is filling a gap in the protection that’s there,
so all of us can be protected,” Wilson said.
Water diversion has become a major concern for the Great
Lakes area, with global warming and a ballooning population
in the southwestern United States, where water is scarce,
Wilson said. Since only one per cent of Great Lakes water
is renewed through precipitation, there could be vast
consequences for the lakes if more than that is removed.
Under the new agreement, diversions would only be made
to communities that straddle the basin boundaries, or
are located in counties that sit on the border. Those
diversions must meet a list of standards, and be approved
by a review panel of regional representatives.
Lake Superior isn’t under the same kind of population
pressures as the southern Great Lakes, Wilson said. But
he thinks the agreement will provide protection for Superior
down the road.
“This is a basin-wide agreement, so we can get the broadest
protection as we can for the basin as a whole,” he said.
Some of the residents who attended the meeting expressed
concerns that Ontario and Quebec would be overpowered
by the eight states in the agreement.
Heather Woodbeck said she was concerned qualifying terms
like “significant withdrawals” and “reasonable water supply
alternative” have too much room for interpretation.
“You seem to be putting a lot of faith in public input,
and regional reviews,” she said. “I just don’t feel from
what’s up there, there’s a lot of teeth to this thing.”
Wilson recognized the draft agreement isn’t the ideal,
but said it’s an improvement on the status quo.
After the public consultation stage, the ministry will
evaluate the findings and suggest changes as needed. Ontario
will then return to negotiations with Quebec and the states
to reach a final agreement, and after it is endorsed,
it will be enacted into the laws of each jurisdiction.
It will likely take a couple of years before the agreement
becomes law, Wilson said.