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Great Lakes Article:

Great Lakes agreement nears completion
By Leith Dunick
Thunder Bay News Source
Published September 16th, 2004

If Lake Superior emptied its banks and flooded North America, the continent would be covered by a foot of water.

This isn’t stopping an environmental group from working with both the Canadian and American governments to all but prevent future withdrawals from all five Great Lakes. Bob Olsgard of the Lake Superior Waterkeepers said the binding agreements, which complement the 2001 Annex to the Great Lakes Charter, will apply to any new project undertaken once the deal is signed and approved by both the Canadian and U.S. governments. Olsgard, a native of Ashland, Wisc., said developers and municipalities will have to follow strict guidelines in order to make use of the water.

“They have to show that there is no harm to the system whatsoever, they have to show that they are employing the best practices in the world in terms of conservation and, and this is kind of new, they have to actually show that they are going to improve the system so that when all is said and done the water they are withdrawing from is better than before they started,” Olsgard said.

They will also be required to return an equal amount of water to the system, which may prove to be too costly for most to accomplish and is the key component in the deal, said Olsgard.

A proposal in Wakashaw, Wisc asks to move 20 million gallons a day to new strip malls and subdivisions, while in Ontario new developers just outside the Lake Huron and Lake Ontario basins will soon be looking for water sources and be forced to go through this process if they want to use Great Lakes water, a hassle they may no longer wish to undertake.

A variety of pipeline proposals to ship water to the Midwestern and southwestern United States have been on the drawing board for years, something the conservationist fears could cause irreparable harm to the tenuous Great Lakes Basin ecosystem. And in 1998 the Ontario government quietly handed out a permit to Sault Ste. Marie’s Nova Group, allowing them to ship billions of gallons of water to Asia. No public hearing was held and unless a local newspaper uncovered the scheme, the company would have continued to withdraw 600 million litres a year out of the lake until 2003.

Olsgard is convinced the new agreement and its clauses, which will require approval on both sides of the border, will prevent this from happening ever again.

“We think this return flow provision in this agreement makes it difficult, if not impossible, to actually permit one of those pipelines,” he said, adding it also essentially eliminates bottled water companies from setting up shop along the Great Lakes shores. The practice is banned and legally defensible in Ontario and Quebec, but successful ventures have been made in Michigan.

“We are very concerned about that, that that sort of potential is there and will continue to be there. We think these agreements effectively prevent that from happening.”

Olsgard said while it may look like the Great Lakes are an abundant water resource, in actual fact the system is only able to replace about one inch of surface water a year. Approximately 55 billion gallons of water are withdrawn from the Great Lakes each day, with approximately 2.7 billion gallons consumed and/or lost to the system. Current regulations, which were set in 1998, restrict the ability to prevent diversions, including water’s inclusion the North American Free Trade Agreement.

According to lawyers who have looked at draft copies of the new agreement, they will stand up to challenges under NAFTA.

Under the agreement, Canadians will have standing to deny withdrawals proposed south of the border, which is why Olsgard said it’s important for Canadians to look at the agreement and provide feedback before it is sent for ratification and becomes a binding interstate compact under the United States Congress.

Several Canadians have called for an outright ban on future Great Lakes water usage, but Olsgard said given the fact there are already federal laws on the book allowing for re—plumbing structures in other watersheds it wouldn’t stand up.

“Because we have that legal structure already it was felt that setting up an outright ban would actually be counter to precedent and then NAFTA could challenge that,” he said.

Olsgard gave a presentation to a gathering of about 20 people in Thunder Bay last week and encouraged them to provide feedback on the proposal. Environmental groups have already provided a list of eight likes and 12 dislikes.

Likes include the environmental standards and improved diversion protection, while dislikes include the 10-year phase-in of in-basin standards and the current definition of the return flow water standards.

Members of the public are also invited to make comments in writing to the Ontario Bill of Rights Registry between now and Oct. 18 when the submissions will be looked at and the agreement will be rewritten in its final stage. Statements should be addressed to Paula Thompson, senior policy advisor, MNR Water Resources Section, Lands and Waters Branch, 300 Water Street, P.O. Box 7000, Peterborough, ON, K9J 8M5 and refer to the EBR registry number PB04E6018.

By Leith Dunick tb source


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