Great Lakes Environmental Directory Great Lakes Great Lakes environment Great Lakes grants exotic species water pollution water export drilling environment Great Lakes pollution Superior Michigan Huron Erie Ontario ecology Great Lakes issues wetlands Great Lakes wetlands Great Lakes Great Lakes environment Great Lakes watershed water quality exotic species Great Lakes grants water pollution water export oil gas drilling environment environmental Great Lakes pollution Lake Superior Lake Michigan Lake Huron Lake Erie Lake Ontario Great Lakes ecology Great Lakes issues Great Lakes wetlands Great Lakes Resources Great Lakes activist Great Lakes environmental organizations Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat air pollution alien species threatened rare endangered species ecological Great Lakes information Success Stories Great Lakes Directory Home/News Great Lakes Calendar Great Lakes jobs/volunteering Search Great Lakes Organizations Take Action! Contact Us Resources/Links Great Lakes Issues Great Lakes News Article About Us Networking Services

Great Lakes Article:

Hands off Great Lakes
Are the Council of Great Lakes Governors planning to sell out our water?
By Elizabeth May
Toronto Star
Published September 17th, 2004

As an environmentalist with more than 30 years of activism under my belt, I am generally not vulnerable to complacency. But if there is any area of environmental concern I tend to feel is well in hand it is the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes have a strong governance structure. The International Joint Commission, a binational agency created by the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty, has been a voice for conservation, for cleaner water, reducing pollution, and for the ecological integrity of the lakes.

There are serious issues of ongoing pollution of the lakes that engage Sierra Club volunteers on both sides of the border. No one could be complacent about the issue of Great Lakes pollution. But there was, I thought, no chance that anyone would suggest selling off Great Lakes water.

The IJC and the Canadian federal government have clear, unequivocal positions against any diversion of water from the Great Lakes Basin. I thought that meant no diversions would take place. I was wrong.

For the last few years, something called the Council of Great Lakes Governors and Premiers have been developing a plan for diversions.

They call it the Implementing Agreement for Annex 2001. You have probably never heard of it. It was placed for public consultation on July 19 with a deadline for comments within 90 days Oct. 18.

It is the product of three years of negotiation, primarily among the Great Lakes governors. The 40 million residents of the basin who depend on its waters get 90 days to figure it out.

(After Oct. 18, the agreements can be approved and sent to the U.S. Congress for legislation and enacted as law by the provinces on the Canadian side.)

One of the experts who has analyzed the agreement, Ralph Pentland, calls it tantamount to a "Water for sale" sign over the Great Lakes.

Pentland is not some wild-eyed radical. He was Canadian co-chair of the IJC study board on the issue of Great Lakes' diversions and consumptive uses and before that for nearly two decades was director of Environment Canada's water policy.

Pentland has compared the impact of the decision about to be taken over the future of the Great Lakes with another potential Aral Sea disaster.

The Aral Sea in central Asia was once famous as the third largest lake in the world. It is now famous for the stark images of rusting hulks of freighters stranded in a toxic dust bowl where fish once swam. The lake is now too toxic and salty for fish and has shrunk in area by more than 60 per cent.

In Pentland's view, the agreement between the governors and premiers places the Great Lakes on a "slippery slope." The comparison to the fate of the Aral Sea is not hyperbole.

For the first time in history, this agreement would open the Lakes to water diversions based on the premise that customers for Great Lakes water from outside the Great Lakes Basin have to be treated equally to those inside the basin. Water takings would happen one permit at a time.

The language of the agreement imposes conditions and claims to be about protecting the waters of the Great Lakes.

But, in reality, the tests of when a diversion is appropriate are subjective. If a user claims that they cannot manage, even with aggressive water conservation measures that can be enough to open the taps.

The agreement claims that any water taken out of the basin must be put back in. But it is simply not possible to replace bulk water transfers within the lake system, or to engage in effective trade-offs between different lake ecosystem components. Moreover, once the waters of the Great Lakes are up for sale, the impact of trade agreements will take over.

What had been a slippery slope will be greased by trade rules.

The Great Lakes already face significant threats to both quantity and quality.

A major factor will be the impacts of climate change. At this point, even with aggressive implementation of Kyoto, growing climatic instability cannot be avoided. Humanity has already changed the chemistry of the global atmosphere, increasing the absolute proportion of greenhouse gases by more than 30 per cent.

This is not reversible except over centuries. So, while we must reduce fossil fuel use at a much more accelerated rate than that to which we are committed under Kyoto, we also have to face the fact that the climate is changing.

Dropping water levels in the lakes will be part of our future. Water shortages and droughts will as well. Deciding in 2004 that it is a good business proposition to allow the transfer of tens of millions of gallons of water a day from the Great Lakes is nothing short of reckless.

It is not too late. Just say "No" to bulk water diversions from the Great Lakes.

Elizabeth May is the executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada.


This information is posted for nonprofit educational purposes, in accordance with U.S. Code Title 17, Chapter 1,Sec. 107 copyright laws.
For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for
purposes of your own that go beyond "fair use," you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Great Lakes environmental information

Return to Great Lakes Directory Home/ Site Map