Missed on Water Security Pact
could spell trouble for international agreement to safeguard
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service
Posted on 09/27/2002
Governors and Canadian premiers, who have been working
on a far-reaching agreement to ensure that international
trade agreements, diversions, and other 21st century threats
do not drain the Great Lakes, missed a self-imposed deadline
in June to open the water-security pact for public review,
state officials have confirmed.
The missed deadline, say state executives and environmental
leaders, almost certainly means even more significant
delays in completing comprehensive safeguards for Great
Lakes water, which has come under a new generation of
risks caused by demographic, climatic, and geopolitical
"We're not going to make it," said Matt Hare,
the natural resources and environmental policy coordinator
for Michigan's Republican Governor John Engler. "We've
got 10 different jurisdictions and I could give you 10
different reasons why but we have a very challenging project
and we have encountered a number of issues that have forced
us to slow down and be more thorough."
The missed deadline affects the so-called "Annex
2001" agreement, an important new provision of the
Great Lakes Charter, which the eight Great Lakes states
and two Canadian provinces signed in 1985 to manage the
world's largest supply of surface fresh water.
Work on the new provision to the charter began in 1998
to counter powerful new global trends, which have made
clean, fresh water an increasingly scarce and valuable
resource. Among them are international trade laws, which
make it easier for private corporations to gain control
of public natural resources.
Negotiators from the eight Great Lakes states and two
Canadian provinces spent more than two years to develop
a novel system for reviewing and approving water withdrawals.
The proposed agreement is based on three key principles:
- Conservation is good and should accompany future
- A withdrawal should not - either individually or cumulatively
- harm the Great Lakes ecosystem.
- A proposed withdrawal should actually improve the
Great Lakes ecosystem.
The governors and premiers agreed on these overarching
principles in June 2001 - thus the name of the water security
pact. They also agreed to make them more specific and
present a more detailed proposal for public review by
the end of June 2002. They wanted to formally adopt a
revised agreement by November 2002, before gubernatorial
elections in seven of the eight Great Lakes states alters
the region's leadership and causes lengthy delays.
It is not yet clear how missing the June deadline will
affect ratification of Annex 2001, said government officials
and observers. Under the best case scenario, the delay
provides negotiators more opportunity to develop an even
more solid and legally defensible plan to guide future
water use decisions, as well as build broad-based political
and citizen support for its implementation.
"Annex 2001 is an astounding document," said
Reg Gilbert, the senior coordinator for Great Lakes United,
an international coalition founded in 1982 to preserve
and protect the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River ecosystem.
"The system it proposes for judging water withdrawals
is quite good. It suggests the leaders are willing to
do something that's never been done before. We hope the
delay is just little glitches."
Under the worst case scenario, the change in state leadership
and staff could diminish the collective sense of urgency
to secure Great Lakes water, and cause drastic reductions
in political will and momentum.
A prosperous future for the Great Lakes region, say experts,
depends on clear and consistent rules to guide water use.
In addition to the introduction of companies like Perrier,
America's leading water bottler, fluctuating lake levels,
changing climate cycles, increasing global demand for
water, even raging fires in the drought-stricken American
West provide motivation to get safeguards in place. The
urgency makes it safer for leaders to take bold steps
to secure an increasingly valuable natural resource.
"Hopefully this doesn't mean the process is losing
momentum," said Sarah Miller, a water policy coordinator
with the Canadian Environmental Law Association who has
worked closely on Annex 2001. "This is a hugely important
issue and if we fail to resolve it ourselves, others outside
of the Great Lakes basin will resolve it for us. We must
be proactive, not reactive."
It was intense public reaction to a proposed water diversion
from Lake Superior that triggered the Annex 2001 process.
The Nova Group, a Canadian company, received permission
in 1998 to scoop 156 million gallons of Lake Superior
water each year and ship it in tankers to Asia.
The business venture - though ultimately turned away -
highlighted the growing global demand for clean, fresh
water and exposed how vulnerable the Great Lakes basin
is to world water markets. It also encouraged leaders
to launch a cooperative project to reform regional water
Efforts to keep Annex 2001 on schedule, said state officials,
have been slowed as budget shortfalls limit travel, summer
vacations fill already busy schedules, and further analysis
of Great Lakes science, culture, and politics reveal the
complexity of the problem.
Those close to Annex 2001 say they hope the process will
get back on track before the November elections. Representatives
from industry, agriculture, and the environmental community
still must reach consensus on several critical issues.
- Defining reasonable water conservation practices.
- Determining how to make an agreement legally enforceable
across the boundaries of eight states, two provinces,
as well as the entire United States and Canada.
- Deciding what constitutes an improvement to Great
"What we need is a series of two to three day negotiating
sessions held every couple weeks for several months,"
said Mr. Gilbert of Great Lakes United. "That would
get it done."
Negotiators next meet in late July in Chicago.
"Annex 2001 is not on the rocks yet, but we must
be vigilant," added Ms. Miller. "People haven't
realized that the world has come knocking on our door.
And it will continue to knock until we make some significant
choices and a serious long term commitment to protecting
Great Lakes water."
Andy Guy, a journalist covering Great Lakes issues
and co-author of Liquid Gold Rush, a seminal 2001
report on groundwater use in Michigan, manages the Michigan
Land Use Institute's office in Grand Rapids. Reach him