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Great Lakes Article:

8 states pitch plan to divert Great Lakes water
News Staff News, Canada
Published September 20th, 2004

They may not go bone dry, but environmentalists are warning a plan to divert more Great Lakes water to the United States could be a significant drain on the massive freshwater basin.

"Effectively it's putting a for sale sign on our Great Lakes," said Sara Ehrhardt, water campaigner for the Council of Canadians.

Famous for being the world's largest freshwater ecosystem, the Great Lakes provide drinking water for a third of all Canadians, as well as some 35 million Americans.

For the past six years, a Canada-imposed moratorium has put a plug in attempts to divert any more water than was already flowing south.

But now, the eight American states bordering the Great Lakes are proposing new guidelines that would turn the taps on new and increased diversions.

Organized under the banner of the Council of Great Lakes Governors, the lakeside states are proposing a series of agreements -- known as the Implementing Agreement for Annex 2001 -- that would allow new, limited, strictly-controlled diversions.

According to Ohio's director of natural resources, the states are simply trying to exercise their sovereign rights.

"There are no standards for diversions now," Sam Speck says. "Canada doesn't have any voice in diversions states want to make."

Nevertheless, Ontario has already signed on.

David de Launey of the province's Ministry of Natural Resources says Ontarians shouldn't be alarmed the government is at the table.

"Ontario's purpose here is to prevent large-scale or long-range diversions," de Launey says.

Even if small-scale diversions are allowed, however, some experts fear it won't take for the trickle to grow into a torrent.

Water consultant Ralph Pentland told CTV News that, combined with the effects of climate change, dramatically expanded diversion could send water levels plummeting between five and 10 feet.

"That would virtually destroy the navigation industry, virtually destroy the hydro power industry, destroy all fish wildlife and recreation."

Decrying the proposed agreements, the Council of Canadians warns the changes could open the door to unlimited, long-distance water diversion that are directed exclusively by U.S. authorities.

"Our federal government is abdicating its responsibility to protect Canada's shared waters and is allowing U.S. economic development interests to set the agenda for Great Lakes water management," the Council said in a statement.

The new guidelines are not yet a fait accompli -- as governors are yet to sign. Then, the scheme still needs the approval of the U.S. Congress, as well as the legislatures in each of the participating states.

The Canadian government has yet to float its opinion on the controversy.

With files from CTV's Peter Murphy

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