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Great Lakes Article:

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.

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