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Great Lakes Article:

Water diversion accord on hold
Tom Henry
Toledo Blade

A member of Gov. Bob Taft's cabinet involved in efforts to curb diversions and bulk exports of Great Lakes water said yesterday that officials will tread lightly on the subject until they get more feedback from the region's new governors.

Sam Speck, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said at a water conference at the University of Toledo that he has no doubt the new mix of leadership will support such efforts.

But he admitted that progress toward implementing an international pact signed in Niagara Falls last year is in a holding pattern.

"Let's not kid ourselves - we are facing enormous challenges," Mr. Speck said. The governor assigned him to help work out details of the Annex 2001 agreement signed on June 18, 2001, by Great Lakes governors and two Canadian premiers.

The agreement would attempt to close loopholes that legal experts claim have arisen for water exports under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff, and other changes in international trade law.

States and provinces were given a self-imposed deadline of up to three years to agree on a method for implementing the details. Congress and Canada's Parliament will be asked to ratify the final document.

Democrats won Republican-held gubernatorial seats in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Pennsylvania on Nov. 5. Republican Tim Pawlenty won the gubernatorial seat in Minnesota held by Independent Jesse Ventura. The only states in the region where changes did not occur were Ohio, New York, and Indiana. Mr. Taft and another GOP incumbent, George Pataki, were re-elected, while Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon, a Republican, is not up for re-election until 2004.

Mr. Speck told The Blade that the general concept of keeping Great Lakes water within the region is not controversial, but that there will be a lot of work in getting new leadership "up to speed" on how the agreement would achieve that goal.

The conference was the second major symposium of its kind sponsored in two years by UT's Legal Institute of the Great Lakes, part of the university's law school.

Control of the lakes rose to prominence as an international issue in 1998 after a Canadian company called the Nova Group secured a permit from Ontario to ship a limited amount of Lake Superior water to Asia. The permit eventually was relinquished by the group after an outcry on both sides of the border. Jonathan Gee, a policy manager for Environment Canada, said the Nova case was "largely the result of poorly coordinated decision-making."

No diversion and bulk export applications are pending in the region, prompting Tom Hays, a West Toledo lawyer, to ask why the issue is portrayed as a crisis. "We're not about responding to a crisis. We're about averting a crisis," said Dr. Michael Donahue, president and chief executive officer of the Great Lakes Commission. The commission is a bi-national government agency in Ann Arbor that helps coordinate policy.

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