Potential Great Lakes Water "Harvest"
Milwuakee Journal Sentinel
LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Imagine the Great Lakes as great
field of water. Each winter, experts would measure
snowfall to determine how much of the farm could be "harvested"
This is the vision of Tom Bell, who would like to see
the United States and Canada share farming responsibilities
and revenue from the Great Lakes.
"It would be like a farmer getting grain out of the fields,"
said Tom Bell, president and publisher of U.S. Water News,
a Kansas-based trade publication. "If he has a good
harvest, he sells it. If there is a small harvest, he
doesn't sell as much.
"There is so much water that goes out to sea that's unused,
why not sell it?"
With below-average water levels, the Great Lakes wouldn't
yield much of a harvest this year. And no one is
certain if the region's water wealth is ever "unused"
inside or even outside the system. Scientists who can
track Great Lakes water for 10 months after it mixes with
the ocean aren't even sure what role it plays there.
"The ecosystem's complexity eludes us," David Dempsey,
program director for the Michigan Environmental Council,
told Booth Newspapers. "I'm saying no diversions
until we can fully understand the impacts and become better
But for the first time in decades, there may be a softening
in the region's reluctance to let others share in the
4.5 billion gallons of Great Lakes water that daily flow
to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence River.
A plan last year by a Canadian company to ship Lake Superior
water to Asia prompted the U.S. and Canada to ask the
International Joint Commission to look at Great Lakes
water policy. The group, which oversees the countries'
shared water resources, will recommend policies on Great
Lakes water use in August.
A recently published survey of Michigan lawmakers found
that more than half could conceive of when it would be
OK to send Great Lakes water elsewhere. The scenarios
include emergency help for communities with contaminated
water, diversions that don't affect water levels and uses
where the same amount of water is returned to the Great
A 1986 federal law gives Michigan the upper hand in approving
diversions. Any of the Great Lakes governors can
veto a request to move water outside of the basin where
water drains to the lakes. Michigan, almost wholly within
the basin, can easily turn down other states'proposals.
That's why the attitudes of the Michigan lawmakers are
significant, said Jim Hill, the Central Michigan University
professor who did the survey.
"There is even ground in our state where we could begin
to develop a platform for a policy for evaluating diversion
prospects," said Hill, a former member of the Michigan
Natural Resources Commission.
By 2025, more than 3 billion people in 52 countries will
suffer from chronic water shortages, according to reports
on World Bank predictions. Global thirst doubles every
During the IJC hearings, researchers reported on the
use of giant, flexible bladders that can be filled with
water and pulled by tugboats.
"The advantage to it is that you don't need a big port
or a big ship," said Thomas Baldini, who chairs the U.S.
section of the IJC.
Global Water Corp., a British Columbia-based company,
already has a permit to ship water overseas from Sitka,
Alaska. The group hopes to ship 5 billion gallons
of water a year, treat and bottle it in parched countries
and sell it as Alaska Glacier Ice Water.
Some worry about the environmental impact of imported
water on arid communities.
"You get these people talking about water-rich and water-poor
countries and that is incredible nonsense from an ecosystem
view," said Mary Durfee, who chairs a binational advisory
group on Lake Superior.
"Places have the water they need for the ecosystems that
exist there," said Durfee, a social science professor
at Michigan Technological University. "You can put
massive quantities of water in the desert and ruin ecosystems."
The pressure is on now to create a policy that isn't
based simply on the whims of Great Lakes governors, Hill
Congress, which granted governors veto authority, can
easily take it away, he said. And migrating populations
mean that congressional power is moving South, where water
"We have a lot of good reason to do this now, while we
control the process, rather than wait for the process
to be taken away," Hill