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Great Lakes Article:

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, vulnerable.

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 Lakes.

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 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.

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