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Great Lakes Article:

States, Canadian officials sign pact to protect Great Lakes
By Amy F. Bailey
Associated Press, The Repository, Canton OH
Published July 21, 2004

It would be nearly impossible to divert large amounts of water from the Great Lakes to other areas of the country under provisions of a sweeping interstate pact and international agreement aimed at protecting and improving the water system.

The proposed Great Lakes Charter Annex, released Monday, only would allow new or increased withdrawals on any of the five Great Lakes if water immediately were returned and the condition of the lakes were improved.

The measure would leave the door open for Great Lakes water to be shipped to areas in the region that are outside the basin but prevent it from heading to other areas, such as the Southwest.

“That’s intentional,” said Noah Hall, senior manager of Great Lakes Water Resource Program of the National Wildlife Federation. “We basically want to do everything that’s possible to stop diversion that is going to hurt water levels.”

Akron wins withdrawal rights

A few municipalities in the region — Akron, Ohio, and Pleasant Prairie, Wis. — have received approval to withdraw water outside the basin.

The proposed agreement would require new or increased diversions by municipalities to return cleaned waste water to the lakes to limit any drawdown of the fresh water supply.

The agreement would require the eight Great Lakes governors, in consultation with the premiers of Ontario and Quebec, to unanimously approve any new diversion that would take outside the basin an average 1 million gallons a day over a 120-day period.

A super-majority vote among the Great Lakes governors — 6-2 — would be needed for a new or expanded withdrawal within the basin that results in a loss of an average 5 million gallons a day over 120 days.

Other, smaller proposed diversions would be reviewed by the jurisdictions where they were recommended.

The proposed agreement is the result of three years of work by the Great Lakes governors and an advisory group of environmentalists and representatives of local government, business and agriculture.

Effort began in 2001

In 2001, the premieres of Ontario and Quebec and the governors of the eight Great Lakes states — Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — agreed to create by 2004 a binding agreement for lake diversion and conservation.

Monday’s release of the Great Lakes Compact starts the clock on a 90-day public comment period.

The Council of Great Lakes Governors will hold public hearings on the proposal on Sept. 8 in Chicago and on Sept. 20 in Toronto.

Each of the Great Lakes states also may hold their own public hearings on the proposed agreement during the 90-day comment period.

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, co-chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, said Monday he hopes a final agreement will be signed by the governors in the region early next year.

But it could be another few years before the agreement becomes law because it must be approved by Congress and the legislatures in each of the Great Lakes states.

The proposal would require regional review for diversions that take out an average of 5 million gallons a day over a 120-day period. States would have 10 years to create and institute a review program for smaller withdrawals.

Although there is no immediate threat of diversion from the Great Lakes, environmentalists and a few governors in the region have said it’s important to have a set of standards and regulations over withdrawals.

They point to population shifts from the Midwest to the Southwest, which increases that region’s need for water and gives it more representation, and more influence, in Congress.

Attempts already logged

“There have already been attempts to divert Great Lakes water out of the region. ... We expect those types of efforts could well increase,” Taft said during a teleconference with Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, also a co-chairman of the Council of Great Lakes Governors.

The proposed agreement is expected to face opposition.

Scott Piggott, manager of the Michigan Farm Bureau’s Agricultural Ecology Department, said he is worried the new regulations will impinge on farmers’ ability to use water.

“We’re not in short supply of water,” Piggott said. “It’s hard to tell farmers they need to be cautious of something when it’s so plentiful.”

The proposal not only would make it difficult for areas outside the basin to divert water from the Great Lakes, it would require conservation by those who live and work in the basin.

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