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Great Lakes Article:

Great Lakes Water Diversions

From Northeast Midwest Institute
Posted 10/16/2002


The proposal to transfer groundwater from Lake Michigan's hydrologic system for mining purposes and the "Nova Group" permit issued by Ontario for the bulk export of Lake Superior water to Asian markets have highlighted inadequacies in existing arrangements for managing Great Lakes water diversions.

The Great Lakes Task Forces have organized Capitol Hill briefings on Great Lakes water diversions, and Northeast-Midwest Institute staff have testified on the issue before the International Joint Commission. Leaders of the Great Lakes Task Forces in September 1999 asked the United States Trade Representative to ensure that international trade agreements do not interfere with long-term protection of the Great Lakes.

The current system for approving withdrawals, as legislated in the Water Resources Development Acts of 1986 and 2000, prohibits any diversion or export of Great Lakes water outside of the basin unless all 8 Great Lakes Governors consent. The eight Great Lakes states handle in basin water withdrawals from the Great Lakes basin in several different ways.

Indiana does not require a permit for any water withdrawals, either groundwater or surface water. State law does not allow water to be diverted from within the Great Lakes basin for use outside of the basin, unless the diversion is approved by the Governors of each Great Lakes state; however, because the state does not require permits, it has difficulty identifying withdrawals that might be diverted out of the basin.

Illinois is legally limited in the amount of water that it can divert from the Great Lakes. Therefore, the state has developed a permitting process to allocate its share of Lake Michigan water, giving first priority to maintaining minimum flows in the Sanitary and Ship Canal and to certain residential, commercial or industrial users. The state considers the conservation practices of applicants when issuing permits.

Michigan does not regulate water withdrawals. However, the state requires community public water supply systems and certain large water users such as thermoelectric power plants and irrigated golf courses to submit water withdrawal reports.

Minnesota requires a water use permit from all users withdrawing more than 10,000 gallons per day (gpd) or 1 million gallons per year. Also, any interbasin water diversion of more than 2 million gpd requires permission of the legislature and an environmental assessment. Furthermore, a diversion or consumptive use of more than 5 million gallons/day average from the Great Lakes basin also requires approval from additional state agencies and the other Great Lakes states and provinces.

New York requires registration of all withdrawals from the Great Lakes Basin that exceed 100,000 gpd averaged over a 30-day period. New York will consult with other Great Lakes States on any new withdrawal that will result in a 5 million gpd loss (30 day average) to the basin. Any interbasin diversions from the Great Lakes require the approval of the governor and the legislature.

Pennsylvania does not have any system for permitting or notification of water withdrawals.

Ohio requires the owner of any facility with the capacity to withdraw more than 100,000 gpd to register that facility with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Also, the state may designate an area as a ground water stress area, establish a threshold withdrawal capacity for that area, and require registration for any withdrawals above this threshold.

Wisconsin requires reporting of any water withdrawal over 100,000 gpd (30 day average). A permit is required if the total water lost from the basin is greater than 2 million gpd (30 day average). A diversion or consumptive use of 5 million gpd or greater requires consultation with the other Great Lakes states.

At the end of the 106th Congress, WRDA 2000 amended the authority given to the Great Lakes Governors to manage Great Lakes water withdrawals so that a better framework for dealing with Great Lakes basin withdrawals would be created. The Great Lakes Governors responded by proposing an amendment to the Great Lakes Charter. Annex 2001 calls for the establishment of a standard that would be used in reviewing water withdrawals that involve both the export of water outside the Great Lakes basin and water withdrawals within the basin. This new standard, which will be based on the principles of the Annex, would be created through a separate binding agreement among states and provinces. The principles of the Annex state that any Great Lakes water withdrawal proposal inside or outside the basin (1) must implement reasonable water conservation measures, (2) will not cause significant adverse impacts, and (3) will result in an improvement to the resource. There will be an exception for withdrawals with de minimus impact.

The implementation of the Annex is a two-step process. The first step will be to apply the standard to out of basin withdrawals reviewed by the governors pursuant to WRDA. Once this Annex is signed by the governors, the governors would then abide by the de minimus framework of the Annex for withdrawals outside the basin. The governors are expected to sign the Annex around May. The second step will require state and federal legislation to approve an interstate compact creating a standard for all withdrawals. The states and provinces must draft this standard in 3 years. Once authorized by state and federal legislation, this new standard will apply to all new and expanded withdrawals in and outside the Great Lakes basin. Existing uses are expected to be grandfathered but will be required to meet the new standard when additional withdrawals or capacity are requested.

This information is posted for nonprofit educational purposes, in accordance with U.S. Code Title 17, Chapter 1,Sec. 107 copyright laws.

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