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 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
“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,”
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