Bottled water exports OK under proposed
By John Flesher
The Associated Press
Published on NEPA News on October 12, 2005
Bottled water from the Great Lakes basin could be shipped
elsewhere for sale unless prohibited by state law under
a compromise water protection blueprint crafted by an
industry coalition and an environmentalist group.
The National Wildlife Federation and the Council of Great
Lakes Industries included the provision in a package of
suggested changes to a water use agreement that the region's
eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces have been
haggling over since 2001.
With a December deadline approaching, state and provincial
officials asked the two groups _ representing interests
often sharply at odds _ to seek common ground on issues
that have been holding up a settlement.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the compromise
worked out by the industry council and the wildlife federation.
They submitted it to the government negotiating team,
which is holding its final scheduled round of face-to-face
talks this week in Chicago.
"We don't know how the negotiators will receive the
compromise that we worked out," Andy Buchsbaum, director
of the federation's Great Lakes office, said Wednesday.
"They may accept it, may reject it, may modify it."
The plan drew a mixed reaction from other environmentalist
leaders. Some were particularly unhappy about the bottled
water provision, which they believe could set legal precedents
that could open the door to large-scale bulk water diversions.
"Once you punch a hole in the Great Lakes basin to
allow diversion of some water, it gets bigger over time,"
said Jim Olson, an environmental attorney in Traverse
City who represents a citizens group fighting the Ice
Mountain Spring Water bottling plant in Mecosta County.
"It will be difficult for the state to ever plug
Buchsbaum acknowledged the bottled water provision "was
something we did not prevail on" in negotiations
with the industry council, which represents about two
dozen companies including Consumers Energy and Dow Chemical
"We need more protections against bottled water exports,"
he said. "That said, it's not the biggest threat
to the Great Lakes. Massive, large-scale diversions through
pipelines and canals are a much bigger threat." So
are some industrial uses of water within the basin, he
The industry council also made concessions, including
stronger requirements for state water conservation programs,
The Council of Great Lakes Governors agreed four years
ago to develop a plan for shielding the waters from diversion
to arid locations and encouraging conservation within
the region. The negotiating team is working on a binding
compact between the eight states and a separate agreement
that would include Ontario and Quebec, known together
as Annex 2001.
The council released a draft of both documents last year
and a revised version in June. It has a December deadline
for agreeing on a final plan to present to the governors,
who would forward it to their legislatures for consideration.
Sam Speck, director of the Ohio Department of Natural
Resources and chairman of the negotiating team, said Tuesday
the proposals from the wildlife federation and industry
council were among many offered by groups that have given
advice over the years.
The fact that one group of business and environmentalist
leaders could bridge their differences "bodes well
for building consensus" among others whose support
will be needed to put the Annex agreements into law, Speck
But if the bottled water provision is any indication,
it's far from certain that environmental and conservation
groups will unite behind the compromise.
Many environmentalists contend bottled water shipped outside
the basin should be classified as a "diversion,"
which the compact would disallow in most cases, although
exceptions would be made for communities and counties
that straddle the basin boundary.
"We don't make distinctions between whether water
is diverted in a tanker, in a pipe or in a bottle,"
said Mike Shriberg, director of the Public Interest Research
Group in Michigan.
Nestle Waters North America Inc., parent company of the
Mecosta County bottling operation, insists bottled water
is a food product like soft drinks and should be regulated
"The common understanding of a diversion is a pipeline
or canal carrying bulk water to other places for various
uses, including manufacturing," spokeswoman Deborah
Muchmore said. "Bottled water is not used in that
way. It's simply a beverage."
Under the proposal by the wildlife federation and industry
council, bottled water would be classified as a "product,"
not a diversion. But the states and provinces could impose
strict regulations on bottled water and even prohibit
The plan would allow the moratorium on new or expanded
bottled water exports that Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm
imposed in May, according to a memo distributed by the
But Olson wasn't convinced.
"The state should not sign such an agreement because
it would privatize a public resource," he said.