We must protect our Great Lakes
By Emily Green and Jeff Potter
The Capital Times
Published July 16, 2004
When considering the Great Lakes, so many words come
to mind ... magnificent, valuable, inspiring and, yes,
The Great Lakes have played a defining role in Wisconsin's
history and still support important economic activities
- including agriculture, commercial and sport fisheries,
recreation and tourism.
Yet this incredible natural resource is threatened. Pollution
is closing our beaches and contaminating our fish. Invasive
species and irresponsible development are threatening
the survival of our native wildlife. And some private
interests are actually pushing to buy and sell Great Lakes
water for a profit.
Now, more than any time in recent memory, Wisconsinites
have a chance to guarantee the long-term protection and
sound management of Great Lakes water, ensuring that these
treasures are not sold to the highest bidder and that
they are protected for generations to come.
This month, the U.S. governors and Canadian premiers
of all 10 states and provinces that border the Great Lakes
will release a draft of what could be a globally unique
and important agreement for the long-term protection of
Great Lakes water. The draft will be released for 90 days
of public comment, which will greatly affect the terms
of the final agreement.
Known as the Great Lakes Charter Annex, or Annex 2001,
this binding agreement would set standards for future
diversions and withdrawals of water from the lakes to
areas outside of the Great Lakes drainage basin, areas
as close as Waukesha and as far away as Arizona.In Wisconsin,
the drainage basin covers nearly one-third of the eastern
and northern coastal areas of the state. Despite its proximity
to Lake Michigan, Waukesha is not inside the Great Lakes
drainage basin, meaning rain that falls in Waukesha ultimately
drains into the Mississippi River, not into the Great
Water withdrawals diverted to communities outside of
the basin area can permanently pull water out of the Great
Lakes watershed, harming the natural balance of water
inflows and outflows. And if we sell Lake Michigan water
to Waukesha without having strong standards in place,
U.S. commerce law will force us to say yes when Arizona
wants to buy Great Lakes water.
The Great Lakes are vast, but they aren't infinite -
only 1 percent of the water in the lakes is renewed by
rainfall and snowmelt every year. The remaining 99 percent
is a one-time gift from the retreating glaciers of the
world's last ice age. More pipelines into the Great Lakes
without protective standards threaten the future health
and supply of fresh water in the Great Lakes drainage
basin - it's not a sustainable solution for communities
that are using water faster than it can be replenished.
As former Republican Congressman Dick Armey said several
years ago, "I'm from Texas and down there we understand
that whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting
over. If we get (control of) it in Washington, we're not
going to be buying it. We'll be stealing it. You are going
to have to protect your Great Lakes."
Speak up to protect your Great Lakes when the governors
release their draft agreement later this month! Please
see www.greatlakesforever.org for more information about
the agreement, the schedule of public hearings and information
on how you can comment.
Emily Green directs the Great Lakes Program for the Sierra
Club, while Jeffrey Potter is director of communications
programs for the Biodiversity Project.