the Great Lakes tub
Northwest Indiana Times
There simply won't be enough fresh water for households,
cities, the environment or even for growing food in just
two decades unless rusty policies and short-sighted priorities
are soon changed.
This warning comes from "Global Water Outlook to 2025:
Averting an Impending Crisis," a new report compiled by
two nonprofit watchdog groups -- the International Food
Policy Research Institute and the International Water
Using high-tech computer modeling, the report
projects that daily global water use for households, industry
and agriculture will increase by at least 50 percent in
the next 20 years. Couple that with rapid population growth
and urbanization in developing countries, and water may
become Earth's new liquid gold, making gasoline crunches
seem frivolous by comparison.
"Water is not like oil. There is no substitute," said
Mark Rosegrant, lead author of the report.
And if this crisis plays out even near projections, the
Great Lakes Basin -- the world's largest system of fresh
water -- could be in high demand for arid U.S. regions
like the Southwest and other countries.
"This report is right on target," said Cameron Davis,
director of the Lake Michigan Federation, the oldest citizens'
Great Lakes group on the continent. "We have the same
amount of (usable) water in the world, but more and more
people are using it."
According to Lake Michigan Federation data, at least 55
percent more water than is now available will be needed
to satisfy the growing global population by 2025. And
thirst is not just a third-world problem.
Los Angeles is moving toward privatizing public drinking
water, and parts of North America's largest aquifer, the
Ogallala Aquifer in the Midwest, are being depleted.
"The biggest danger we face here in the U.S. is in believing
shortages of clean water are problems that only exist
in far-away places, that it's not something we have to
worry about," Davis said. "If we let ourselves believe
that, there are a lot of things that could come back to
Despite just 1 percent of the Earth's water is fresh water
-- for human use -- and the Great Lakes contain one-fifth
of the world's fresh surface water, there are some critics
who maintain a looming crisis is hatched from a Chicken
But Rosegrant disagrees.
"The report points out the potential crisis, but it also
points to real solutions," Rosegrant said. "It is not
a scare-mongering approach."
The report is part of a larger, three-year, $1 million
study funded mostly by government donors, he said.
On the Lake Michigan front
Locally, the notion of a crisis is far from science fiction,
as water-starved residents from The Pines in Porter County
to Rosemont, Ill., can attest. Some homeowners, like in
Winfield, have even been forced to ration water because
of an unreliable underground aquifer.
And last week, more than 20 mayors of Great Lakes cities
met in Chicago to draft long-term plans to protect the
overburdened basin region, which serves about 40 million
people. The mayors joined forces to seek a stronger voice
with such issues like water withdrawal from the lakes.
Also, bottled water sales in the United States have tripled
in the past decade, with much of that designer water siphoned
from the Great Lakes. Perrier's new $100 million
bottling plant in Mecosta County, Mich., pumps out about
125,000 gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan alone.
Jane Elder, director of the Biodiversity Project in Madison,
Wis., said region residents feel strongly about protecting
the Great Lakes, but they have a hard time viewing the
lakes as a finite resource.
"There's little contention that we're facing a global
fresh water crisis, and the future of the Great Lakes
will be affected by the increased demand for fresh water,"
But, Elder noted, even the Great Lakes have their limits
-- "it isn't just some big bathtub waiting to be drained."
The Great Lakes could come under heightened pressure to
export water to other states and even other countries
because current U.S. law and international trade agreements,
like the North America Free Trade Agreement, see the export
of water as a hot commodity.
"Currently, more than 1 billion people around the world
do not have access to a safe water supply," said Joachim
von Braun, director of the International Food Policy Research
Large-scale withdrawal 'laughable'
To regulate harmful water withdrawals that don't take
the basin's environment into account, the Council of Great
Lakes Governors is working on a set of standards called
the Great Lakes Charter Annex 2001. The annex, an amendment
to the Great Lakes Charter of 1985, has a deadline of
"Existing state, national and international laws and treaties
are not strong enough to prevent such withdrawals," Davis
said. "Annex 2001 has the potential to revolutionize the
way we regulate water use."
If these eight states look at the long view, the Great
Lakes will continue to give us drinking water, recreation
and jobs, he said. But if a short view is taken, "we'll
slowly use the Great Lakes up."
Diverting water from the Great Lakes has been an issue
of interest and controversy dating back to the 1800s.
A future global population spurt or even climate changes
could prompt renewed requests for shipments of Great Lakes
water to meet short-term humanitarian needs.
But Peter Johnson, senior program manager for the Council
of Great Lakes Governors, said there is no financial sense
in shipping water to other countries or piping it across
the continent to cities like Los Angeles.
"To people who are experts on this issue, the idea of
large scale withdrawals is laughable," he said. "It would
be unbelievably expensive and an extraordinarily complex
Some observers, like local environmental activist Lee
Botts, say one scenario to a possible water crisis is
the possibility that it would attract people -- and economic
interests -- to the Great Lakes region.
"Even with lower levels, we will still have one of the
planet's best and largest water supplies," she said.
In other words, if the water can't go to the people, the
people will come to the water.