Ten Threats: Demand for Drinking Water Increasing

  • Water diversion is an increasing threat to the Great Lakes. As communities grow so does the demand. (Photo by Brandon Bankston)

We’re continuing the series, Ten Threats to the Great Lakes. Our field guide through the series is Lester Graham. He says our next report looks at where the demand for water will be greatest:

Transcript

We’re continuing the series Ten Threats to the Great Lakes. Our field
guide through the series is Lester Graham. He says our next report looks
at where the demand for water will be greatest.


Right around the Great Lakes is where there’s going to be more demand
for drinking water. Water officials say as cities and suburbs grow, so
does the need for water. Some towns very near the Great Lakes say they
need lake water right now, but in some cases they might not get it. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Christina Shockley reports:


People who live around the Great Lakes have long used the lakes’ water
for transportation, industry, and drinking water. Most of the water we
use, gets cleaned up and goes back in the lakes.


That’s because the Great Lakes basin is like a bowl. All the water used
by communities inside that bowl returns to the lakes in the form of
groundwater, storm water runoff, and treated wastewater, but recently, thirsty
communities just outside the basin—outside that bowl—have shown an
interest in Great Lakes water.


Dave Dempsey is a Great Lakes advisor to the environmental group
“Clean Water Action.”


“We are going to be seeing all along the fringe areas of the Great Lakes
basin all the way from New York state to Minnesota, communities that
are growing and have difficulty obtaining adequate water from nearby
streams or ground water.”


Treated water from those communities won’t naturally go back to the
basin. Treated wastewater and run-off from communities outside the
Great Lakes basin goes into the Mississippi River system, or rivers in the
east and finally the Atlantic Ocean.


The Great Lakes are not renewable. Anything that’s taken away has to be
returned. For example, when nature takes water through evaporation, it
returns it in the form of rain or melted snow. When cities take it away, it
has to be returned in the form of cleaned-up wastewater to maintain that
careful balance.


Dave Dempsey says the lakes are like a big giant savings account, and
we withdraw and replace only one percent each year.


“So, if we should ever begin to take more than one percent of that
volume on an annual basis for human use or other uses, we’ll begin to
draw them down permanently, we’ll be depleting the bank account.”


Some of the citiesthat want Great Lakes water are only a few miles from
the shoreline. One of the most unique water diversion requests might come
from the City of Waukesha, in southeastern Wisconsin. The city is just 20 miles
from Lake Michigan. Waukesha is close enough to smell the lake, but it
sits outside the Great Lakes basin. Waukesha needs to find another
water source because it’s current source – wells—are contaminated with
radium.


Dan Duchniak is Waukesha’s water manager. He says due to the city’s
unique geology, it’s already using Great Lakes water. He says it taps an
underground aquifer that eventually recharges Lake Michigan.


“Water that would be going to Lake Michigan is now coming from Lake
Michigan…. our aquifer is not contributing to the Great Lakes any more,
it’s pulling away from the Great Lakes.”


Officials from the eight Great Lakes states and Ontario and Quebec
recently approved a set of rules that will ultimately decide who can use
Great Lakes water. The new rules will allow Waukesha—and some
other communities just outside the basin—to request Great Lakes water,
and drafters say Waukesha will get “extra credit” if it can prove it’s
using Lake Michigan water now.


Environmentalists are still concerned that water taken from the Lakes be
returned directly to the Lakes, but some say even that could be harmful.


Art Brooks is a Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of
Wisconsin- Milwaukee. He says the water we put back still carries some
bi-products of human waste.


“No treatment plant gets 100 percent of the nutrients out of the water,
and domestic sewage has high concentrations of ammonia and
phosphates. Returning that directly to the lake could enhance the growth
of algae in the lake.”


That pollution could contribute to a growing problem of dead zones in
some areas of the Great Lakes. Brooks and environmentalists concede
that just one or two diversions would not harm the Great Lakes, but they
say one diversion could open the floodgates to several other requests, and
letting a lot of cities tap Great Lakes water could be damaging.


Derek Sheer of the environmental group “Clean Wisconsin” says some
out-of-basin communities have already been allowed to tap Great Lakes
water under the old rules.


“The area just outside of Cleveland–Akron, Ohio– has a diversion
outside of the Great Lakes basin, so they’re utilizing Great Lakes water
but they’re putting it back.”


There are several communities that take Great Lakes water, but they, too,
pump it back. The new water rules still need to be ok-ed by the legislature of
each Great Lakes state, and Congress. Since the rules are considered a
baseline, environmental interests throughout the region say they’ll lobby
for even stricter rules on diversions.


For the GLRC, I’m Christina Shockley..

Related Links

Ten Threats: Bottled Water Diversion Debate

  • Some bottling companies, such as Besco, sell water, but keep it in the Great Lakes basin. Some others bottle it and ship it out of the region in great quantities. (Photo by Lester Graham)

Experts say one of the Ten Threats to the Great Lakes is water withdrawal. Water is taken from the Great Lakes for agriculture, industry, and public drinking supplies. Lester Graham reports there are many ways that water is used and shipped out of the Great Lakes basin, but few are more controversial than bottled water:

Transcript

Experts say one of the Ten Threats to the Great Lakes is water
withdrawal. Water is taken from the Great Lakes for agriculture,
industry, and public drinking supplies. Lester Graham reports there are
many ways that water is used and shipped out of the Great Lakes basin,
but few are more controversial than bottled water:


(Sound of bottling plant)


I’m watching big clear-blue water bottles, the kind you see on water coolers, are
bouncing along on a conveyer to be washed and then filled with water.
Chuck Swartzle is the President of Besco Water Treatment…


“Uh, we treat it – it’s well water – we treat it, purify it with reverse
osmosis, sanitize it, filter it and bottle it.”


Besco also bottles water in smaller containers, the kind you might buy at
the convenience store.


All of Besco’s customers are within the Great Lakes basin, so the water
will eventually make its way back to the lakes, but some bottlers
distribute water far outside the basin.


One of Pepsico’s Aquafina bottled water plants gets its water from the
Detroit River, which connects the upper Great Lakes to the lower lakes.
Aquafina’s bottled water is distributed inside and outside the basin. That
means Great Lakes water is being trucked away. It’s a net loss of water to the
basin.


That’s not anything new. Water from the Great Lakes basin in the form
of beer from Milwaukee or milk from Minnesota or any of the other
products you can think of that are mostly water are shipped far and wide
and have been for a long time, but some environmentalists say trucking bottled water
away is different. They argue it’s a lot like a recent attempt to take tanker ships
of Lake Superior water to Asia. It’s not like a value-added product that’s made
from water, it’s just water.


Bill Lobenherz is a lobbyist for the Michigan Soft Drink Association.
He says bottled water is a value-added product, just like the many others.


“Indeed, there’s a lot more water in lumber, for example, Christmas
trees, and sometimes a lot less value added to it too. You don’t have to
do that much to cut it and ship it. Cherries, baby food and other non-
consumable products like paint. What about the water we have to put in
the automobile radiators? I really don’t know that there is a distinction
there. It seems to be more of a misplaced perception than it is any kind
of environmental reality.”


“I guess I’m having a hard time getting my head around the difference
shipping water out in a truck-load of bottles and shipping it out by
tanker. What’s the real difference there?”


“I think the difference is that there’s the fear that if it’s by tanker in those
quantities, that it could be abused. If it’s in bottles, it’s really quite
controllable, because there’s so much more value added to put it in small
bottles.”


Not everyone is buying that argument.


Dave Dempsey is the Great Lakes advisor for the environmental group Clean Water Action.
He says the most recent debates about water withdrawals started when that shipping company
planned to take about 156-million gallons a year to Asia. Dempsey says a single new bottled
water plant trucks away even more than that.


“The Nestle’ project, a single project in Michigan that has been sited and
is operating takes 168-million gallons per year. So, the volumes can be
greater in bottles than in tankers.”


But that’s still not that much water compared to other uses.


According to figures in a report by the Great Lakes Commission, the
cities and industries around the Great Lakes withdraw more than 43
billion gallons a day. Much of it is used and returned to the lakes, but
nearly two billion gallons a day is lost. It’s not returned to the lakes
because it evaporates or it’s incorporated into products. Two billion
gallons a day makes the Nestle’ bottled water plant’s 168-million gallons
a year seem minor.


But Dave Dempsey argues there’s a more sinister concern. He believes
if water is treated like any other commodity, large corporations that can
profit from it will begin to horde it, and control it.


“You will hear bottled water companies say that they’re just another user
like a farmer or a manufacturer or even a city water supply, but they’re
not because they’re asserting private ownership of a public resource and
if we essentially allow that by not putting controls on the water-for-sale
industry now, I’m afraid the Great Lakes may become the world’s largest
privately owned reservoir.”


A recent agreement between the states and provinces around the Great
Lakes allows bottled water to be shipped out in bottles as large as five-
gallons, but some environmentalists say that’s a slippery slope. They say
corporations will soon be asking why just five gallons? Why not 55-
gallon barrels? And then, tankers.


The bottling industry says the environmentalists are making a big deal
out of nothing, and would do better spending their time teaching
everyone to conserve water better instead of complaining about someone
in another state quenching their thirst with a bottle of water from the
Great Lakes.


For the GLRC, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

Ten Threats: Southwest After Great Lakes Water?

  • This billboard was displayed along several major highways in Michigan. The sponsors were hoping to raise awareness about water diversion, but do these arid states really pose a threat to the Great Lakes? (Photo courtesy of Central Michigan Life )

We’re continuing our series on the Great Lakes. One of the Ten Threats to the Great Lakes that experts identified was water withdrawals. Our guide in this series, Lester Graham, says the next report looks at one of the myths of water withdrawals:

Transcript

We’re continuing our series on the Great Lakes. One of the Ten Threats
to the Great Lakes that experts identified was water withdrawals. Our
guide in this series, Lester Graham, says the next report looks at one of
the myths of water withdrawals.

Environmentalists and policy makers say a thirsty world could pose a
major threat to the Great Lakes. Water wars have been predicted in arid
parts of the globe, and some say the laws of supply and demand might
one-day lead to a raid on the region’s fresh water. Reporter Mark Brush takes a
closer look at one claim: that states in the southwest will one day come
after the Great Lakes water… and finds that it might just be H2O hype…


Taking water out of the Great Lakes is a hot button issue, and no one is
more aware of this than politicians looking for votes. In the 2004
campaign, President Bush used the issue to rally a crowd in Traverse
City, Michigan:


“My position is clear. We are never going to allow the diversion of
Great Lakes water.”


(Sound of applause)


The issue taps into people’s emotions. People get outraged when they think
of someone taking water out of the Lakes – especially when they’ve seen lake
levels dropping over the years, and the region’s political leaders have listened
to those concerns. The states and provinces that surround the world’s largest fresh
water system are working on a compact that will prevent water diversions.


But where is the threat to Great Lakes water coming from? We
conducted an informal poll on the streets of Ann Arbor, and we asked
people: “who wants water from the Great Lakes?” Six out of the ten
people we talked to pointed to the west:


(Sound of street)


“Las Vegas, the Southwest.”


“Probably the dry states in the West. Arizona, Nevada.”


“I think the west should keep their damn hands off our water.”


But do the arid states in the West really pose a threat to Great Lakes
water? It turns out – this same question was asked more than twenty
years ago.


In the 1980s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers studied the possibility of
moving Lake Superior water to the Missouri River. It’s a distance of
about six hundred miles. Farmers in the High Plains states were hoping
to use this water to irrigate their crops.


Jonathan Bulkley is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at
the University of Michigan. Bulkley and his colleagues analyzed this
diversion plan, and he says the whole project would have been too
expensive:


“We found it would take seven 1000 megawatt power plants dedicated to
lifting the water, because water needs to be lifted to reach these distant
locations, and in addition there would have to be conveyance structures
built to transport the water, and our conclusion was the total cost would
far exceed the value of the water.”


In other words, Bulkley found that it would be cheaper for these states to
find other sources of water – or to find ways to conserve the water they
had left, and this was a diversion of only 600 miles. A diversion all the
way to the Southwest would mean piping the water almost twice that
distance.


“We are always looking for extra water – everyone in the Southwest is
looking for extra water.”


Bob Barrett is a spokesperson for the Central Arizona Project. It’s one of
the biggest water suppliers in the Southwest. The Project pulls water
from the Colorado River and delivers it to southern Arizona. Barrett
says he can’t imagine a situation where Great Lakes water is pumped for
more than a thousand miles to the Colorado River:


“Most people don’t realize it, but a gallon of water weighs about eight
pounds, and if you’re going to push that up and over the Rocky
Mountains you’re going to need a lot of power. (Laughs) So, it’s a good
idea, but I don’t see how anybody could pay for it.”


But some observers say even though it might not happen today – it could
happen in the future. They point to a fast-growing population and a fast-
dwindling fresh water supply in the southwest. They say that
combination could drive engineers and policy makers to devise a way to
get Great Lakes water.


But Barrett says for states like Arizona, California, and even Texas – it
would be cheaper for them to build desalinization plants… these plants
convert ocean water into drinking water:


“I mean why should Texas build for a canal and then have to maintain it
from the Great Lakes down to the state of Texas when they can go to the
Gulf Coast and build several desalinization plants, and then just pipe it
wherever they need it?”


So, a large-scale water diversion to the southwest seems unlikely.
Experts say water from the Great Lakes is much more likely to go to
cities and towns right on the edge of the basin, but as legislators move to
tighten restrictions on diversions – even these places will
have a hard time getting access to the water.


For the GLRC, I’m Mark Brush.

Related Links

Ten Threats: Farmers Wasting Water?

  • A farm in Manistee County, Michigan using an irrigation system. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Land Use Institute)

In the Great Lakes region, farmers are one of the biggest users of water. They
pump water from underground aquifers or from lakes and streams to irrigate their
crops or water livestock. Agriculture has been criticized for its large withdrawals
of water. Farmers say they want to be recognized in a Great Lakes water use
agreement as efficient water users, but as Erin Toner reports… it’s unclear
whether that’s true:

Transcript

The series, Ten Threats to the Great Lakes is now looking at the threat of water withdrawals from the Great Lakes. Our guide through the series is Lester Graham. He says a lot of businesses and homes use water from the basin, but one group says its use is especially efficient.


In the Great Lakes region, farmers are one of the biggest users of water. They
pump water from underground aquifers or from lakes and streams to irrigate their
crops or water livestock. Agriculture has been criticized for its large withdrawals
of water. Farmers say they want to be recognized in a Great Lakes water use
agreement as efficient water users, but as Erin Toner reports… it’s unclear
whether that’s true:


Scott Piggott is the sixth generation to grow up on his dad’s cattle farm in a small
town in central Michigan. He says not everything on the farm is perfect, but he
says he grew up knowing that you have to do things right to protect the
environment.


“If we don’t begin to stand up and say, look, this is what we’re doing to protect
the environment, I think more people will continue to say, hey, they’re not telling
us what they’re doing, they must be doing something wrong.”


Piggott also works for the Michigan Farm Bureau. He says his goal is to make
sure every farm in his state is doing everything it can to protect the environment,
including conserving water they use for irrigation.


But Piggott and the farm bureau oppose broad regulations for large water users,
such as farmers. That’s proposed in a draft of a Great Lakes regional water use
agreement. Piggott argues the agreement should treat farmers differently because
the water they use goes right back into the ground.


Piggott said in a Farm Bureau press release that, “95 percent of the water that
touches a farm field seeps into the soil providing aquifer recharge.”


Later, he qualified his statement.


“It is estimated that 95 percent of the water that touches an open, pervious space
seeps into the soils and a portion of that, which I would infer that, it does provide
aquifer recharge, but necessarily does all 95 percent of it go towards aquifer
recharge. I think that might be debated. The quote could probably be stronger in
a given direction, but I stand by it.”


Piggott says his information is based on Environmental Protection Agency
estimates. But is his 95 percent figure true?


Jon Bartholic is with Michigan State University. He’s done research on water
use on farms. He says of all the water that falls on a farm – that’s rainfall and
irrigation – about 70 percent of it evaporates.


“So the remaining part, 30, 40 percent depending where you are. It might be
almost 0 percent, if you’ve got clay soil and it’s all run off, is there to potentially
to go back and recharge the aquifer.”


Bartholic’s estimate is that 30 to 40 percent potentially flows back into the Great
Lakes basin and its aquifers – that’s nowhere near 95 percent. Bartholic says farmers
do consume water.


“Clearly, farmers are being very conscientious about their water use, but, yes, if
you use water for crops and have economic value, there is some consumptive
usage of that water.”


Other water experts in the region say the issue is complicated. A lot of factors
effect how much water used to irrigate crops actually gets back to the aquifer.
Although one expert says at best the 95-percent estimate is “theoretically
possible” if conditions were perfect.


Conditions are rarely perfect.


Mark Muller is director of the Environment and Agriculture Program with the
Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy in Minneapolis. Muller says it’s
generally agreed that right now there’s plenty of groundwater in the Great Lakes
region, but he says there is still reason for concern. That’s because in other areas of the
country, aquifers thought to be plentiful have gone dry.


Muller says managing Great Lakes water resources is important for the close to
40-million people who rely on the basin for their drinking water. He says
managing that water correctly is also crucial to sustaining the region’s farming
industry.


“Industry and agriculture is going to look at the Great Lakes basin as a place
where they should set up shop. So, I think we should realize that we have a very
valuable resource that’s only going to become more valuable in future years.”


Muller adds that public opinion is very important to shaping the Great Lakes
regional water use agreement. He says any misleading information, from any of
the stakeholders, is just not helpful. That’s why the farm bureau’s claim that 95-
percent of the water used for irrigation recharges the aquifers is more important than
just an optimistic viewpoint. It’s seen by some as a public relations spin.


For the GLRC, I’m Erin Toner.

Related Links

Thirsty City Waits for Water Diversion Law

  • Diversion of water from the Great Lakes is a controversial issue. Many worry that diversion could affect life in the ecosystem. Others worry about obtaining sources of fresh water for drinking. (Photo by Brandon Bankston)

Great Lakes governors and their counterparts in Canada are working on a legal agreement called Annex 2001. The document will determine how water from the Great Lakes will be used and who gets to use it. Controversy has already erupted over the possibility of one city’s bid for the water. The city is looking toward the completed Annex for guidance. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Christina Shockley reports:

Transcript

Great Lakes governors and their counterparts in Canada are working
on a legal agreement called Annex 2001. The document will determine how
water from the Great Lakes will be used and who gets to use it. Controversy
has already erupted over the possibility of one city’s bid for the water.
The city is looking toward the completed Annex for guidance. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Christina Shockley reports:


Dan Duchniak says he’s an environmentalist.


“We have the low-flow showerheads in our house, we have the low-flow faucets, we have the high-efficiency washers and dryers, our kids know about those, you know, they think they’re fun.”


But Duchniak is in the middle of a bitter fight with other environmentalists and officials over his area’s largest natural resource: water from Lake Michigan. Duchniak is the water manager for the City of Waukesha, Wisconsin. It’s just west of Milwaukee. Waukesha is only about 20 miles from the Lake Michigan shore. Right now, Waukesha gets its water from wells that tap an aquifer deep within the ground. But Duchniak says the wells won’t sustain the long-term needs of the city.


“As the water levels drop, the water quality degrades, and what happens is we’ve seen an increase in different water quality parameters, one of those being radium.”


And radium is a health problem. In very high doses, radium can cause bone cancer. To solve its water problems, the City of Waukesha might ask for access to Lake Michigan water. But even though the community considers the lake part of its back yard, there’s a major problem. Even though it’s close, Waukesha sits outside the Great Lakes basin.


That means the area’s ditches and streams drain away from the lake. Rain water runoff and treated water from the sewer system flow toward the Mississippi River Basin. The governors and premiers might include a rule in the Annex 2001 that says communities sitting outside the Great Lakes basin must return treated water to the lake, if they use it.


Engineers who study water in the area say Waukesha could make the case that the city is already using Great Lakes water. That’s because the city’s wells tap into water beneath the surface that supply water to Lake Michigan. But environmentalists say that argument isn’t going to fly. Derek Sheer is with the environmental group “Clean Wisconsin.” He says Waukesha would be pumping a lot more water directly from the lake than the underground aquifer would replace.


“They’re not returning 13 million gallons of water back to the Great Lakes by any stretch of the imagination.”


But the city of Waukesha knows that if the finalized Annex 2001 looks anything like the early drafts, the city would have to return most of the water it uses back to the lake. Waukesha’s water manager, Dan Duchniak says that could be done in a combination of ways. The city could pump it back to the lake, pump it to a nearby stream that flows to the lake, or stop using the ground water completely and let it flow back to the lake.


People on both sides of the water issue seem to agree on one thing: because of the huge amount of water in the Great Lakes system, and its natural ebb and flow, the amount of water the City of Waukesha would take would not harm the Great Lakes’ ecosystem. Even if it’s not pumped back.


Art Brooks is a professor at the Center for Great Lakes Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.


“The amount of water they intend to withdraw would probably lower the level of Lake Michigan on the order of a millimeter or so, probably less that five millimeters per year.”


But it’s not just Waukesha that has environmentalists worried. Professor Brooks and environmentalist Derek Sheer say if Waukesha gains access to Great Lakes water, it could set a dangerous precedent. Sheer doesn’t want other states and countries to start withdrawing Great Lakes water.


“If Waukesha and Arizona and Georgia and all these other places start pumping large amounts of water out of the basin, we could see a dramatic lowering of the water in the lakes.”


The city of Waukesha says it needs the water and would abide by whatever the Annex 2001 agreement sets down. And Waukesha’s water manager, Dan Duchniak, says that includes what it determines about return flow. He says arguing about the issue right now is a waste of time, since the Annex isn’t done. Beyond that, Duchniak says Waukesha is part of the Great Lakes system, and is not about to suck the lakes dry.


“Lake Michigan is in our back yard. We can see Lake Michigan from here. We’re not that far away from it.”


The experts say Waukesha would only be the first in line to ask for Great Lakes water. With suburbs sprawling away from the big cities on the lakes more and more towns will be eyeing the Great Lakes when demand for water exceeds their underground supplies.


A draft of the Annex could be ready this year, but it will most likely go through a lengthy series of votes before it becomes law.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Christina Shockley.

Related Links

Tribal Governments Demand Role in Annex 2001

  • Water diversions from the Great Lakes concern many people, including Native Americans. Some are worried that their voices aren't being given equal weight. (Photo by Bartlomiej Stoinski)

Tribal and First Nation governments from the Great Lakes region say they’re being left out of negotiations to craft a sweeping new framework for regulating Great Lakes water. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports:

Transcript

Tribal and First Nation governments from the Great Lakes region say they’re being left out of negotiations to craft a sweeping new framework for regulating Great Lakes water. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Sarah Hulett reports:


Representatives from about 75 Native American communities in the U.S. and Canada are demanding a more prominent role in the decision-making process for the agreement known as Annex 2001. The agreement aims to limit Great Lakes diversion. But many tribal groups say the draft agreement is weak.


The Council of Great Lakes Governors says it plans to invite tribal groups to a forum shortly after the New Year. Frank Ettawageshik is the tribal chair of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, in northern michigan. Ettawageshik says he has yet to see the offer. But he says tribal governments don’t just want to be consulted as Indian communities.


“Of course, the governments are made up of many communities. But it’s not just a matter of wanting community input. It’s a matter of wanting input at a government-to-government level.”


The Council of Great Lakes Governors is handling Annex negotiations. The eight governors and two premiers are expected to sign the agreement sometime next year.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Sarah Hulett.

Related Links

Point: Agreements Will Help Protect Great Lakes

  • The proposed Annex 2001 agreement is the subject of lively debate as to whether it will help or hinder the conservation of the Great Lakes (Photo by Jeremy Lounds)

In 1998, an Ontario company wanted to sell Lake Superior water overseas. Their proposal raised fears that Great Lakes water could be diverted with little oversight. Now, officials from the eight states and two provinces in the region have come up with two proposed agreements that would regulate new water diversion requests. The proposed agreements are known as the Annex 2001 Implementing Agreements. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Cameron Davis says the agreements are a good first step in protecting a cherished resource:

Transcript

In 1998 an Ontario company wanted to sell Lake Superior water overseas. Their
proposal raised fears that Great Lakes water could be diverted with little oversight.
Now, officials from the eight states and two provinces in the region have come up with
two proposed agreements that would regulate new water diversion requests. The proposed
agreements are known as the Annex 2001 Implementing Agreements. Great Lakes Radio Consortium
commentator Cameron Davis says the agreements are a good first step in protecting a cherished
resource:


When I was growing up, my family and I used to go to the beach every Sunday. As I stood
looking out over Lake Michigan, I was awed at how it seemed to go on forever. Today I know
better. The Great Lakes are a gift left from the glaciers thousands of years ago. That’s
because less than 1% of Great Lakes water is renewed every year from rainfall, snowmelt,
and groundwater recharge.


Two proposed agreements by the states and provinces would make diversions of Great Lakes water
to places outside of the Great Lakes a virtual impossibility.


The agreements look to be a vast improvement over current laws. First, federal law in the U.S.
allows a diversion only if every Great Lakes Governor approves. That seems like a tough standard
to meet, but in fact, it’s already allowed two diversions of Great Lakes water to take place. In
the 1990’s, diversions were approved to Pleasant Prairie in Wisconsin and another one to Akron,
Ohio. The water was used for municipal supplies.


Second, the proposed agreements are an improvement over the Boundary Waters Treaty – a pact
signed between the U.S. and Canada almost 100 years ago. The treaty doesn’t cover one very
important Great Lake: Lake Michigan. Because Lake Michigan is solely within the U.S. and not
shared with Canada, the treaty leaves the lake unprotected. This is a problem because Lake
Michigan is directly connected to Lake Huron. So water diverted out of Lake Michigan means
water diverted out of Lake Huron.


The agreements are a good first step, but they need to be stronger. For example, they require
regional approval for diversions of water that go outside of the basin of more than one million
gallons per day, but they don’t require regional approval for withdrawals of up to 5 million
gallons per day that stay in the Great Lakes. In addition, the draft agreements need to do a
better job at requiring water conservation before potential water withdrawals can be considered.


We have a choice. We can be against the agreements and keep the status quo or work to make
them even stronger. We need to work to protect our region’s water so that our kids can continue
to look out over the Great Lakes and see them for what they are: vast, magnificent, but fragile
natural treasures.


Host Tag: Cameron Davis is the executive director of the Lake Michigan Federation.

Related Links

Counterpoint: Agreements Will Invite More Diversions

  • The proposed Annex 2001 agreement is the subject of lively debate as to whether it will help or hinder the conservation of the Great Lakes (Photo by Jeremy Lounds)

Officials from the eight states and two provinces in the region have proposed two agreements that would regulate the use of Great Lakes water. They’re known as the Annex 2001 Implementing Agreements. Response to the proposed agreements has generally been positive. But for some in the region, they’re seen as a slippery slope. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne Elston is worried that the proposed agreements will lead to unlimited diversions in the future:

Transcript

Officials from the eight states and two provinces in the region have proposed two agreements
that would regulate the use of Great Lakes water. They’re known as the Annex 2001 Implementing
Agreements. Response to the proposed agreements has generally been positive. But for some in
the region, they’re seen as a slippery slope. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne
Elston is worried that the proposed agreements will lead to unlimited diversions in the future:


In theory, the proposed Agreements are supposed to provide a framework for using the water of the
Great Lakes. In reality, they’re about as leaky as a sunken lake freighter. The framework’s
there, but they fail to impose an overall limit on the volume of water that can be diverted,
or who can take it.


Not only that, but proposals to take less than a million gallons per day out of the basin won’t
require a region-wide review, several of these smaller withdrawals could eventually add up to a
whole lot of water. And whether it’s one large pipe or a lot of tiny ones, the end result is the
same.


Given that the Great Lakes basin contains 20% of all the fresh water on the planet, diverting
some of it shouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, only 1% of that water is renewed each year.
It would be a good idea to first figure out how much water can be taken without disrupting the
ecological balance of the Lakes. Only once that’s been done should we be looking at allowing
large-scale withdrawals.


And then there’s the threat of trade challenges. Each state or province that approves a water
taking permit won’t be paid directly for the water. Instead they’ll recieve a funding to upgrade
sewage treatment plants or to improve local habitats for example. Recently, a Canadian non-profit
asked for legal opinion about the Agreements. The response was that linking the approval process
to funding for public works basically means that the water is being sold, and under the terms of
NAFTA, once you’ve identified something as a commodity, you can’t restrict its sale.


Canadians should be particularly concerned about these Agreements. The Council of Great Lakes
Governors drafted them. And although the premiers of Ontario and Quebec have signed off on them,
in the end, neither province has the right to veto the decisions made by the Council. In my book,
that’s a lot like being invited to dinner and then being asked to leave before the main course.
And the reverse is true too. If Ontario or Quebec approves a withdrawal, states in the U.S.
wouldn’t have the ability to veto the decision. We share these lakes. If we are all called on
to protect the Great Lakes, then we all need to have an equal voice. That’s why our federal
representatives in Washington D.C. and Ottawa need to draw up a binding international agreement
on water withdrawals.


If nothing else, the proposed Agreements have made it clear that the Great Lakes must be
protected. And with 40 million users already relying on this irreplaceable resource, we clearly
need something better than these Agreements currently have to offer.


Host Tag: Suzanne Elston is a syndicated columnist living in Courtice, Ontario.

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Diverting Great Lakes Water to Cities

  • Fast-growing cities beyond the Great Lakes basin want to withdraw water from the lakes. The Council of the Great Lakes Governors is considering allowing more to do so. (Photo: Sleeping Bear Dunes, Lake Michigan, by Lester Graham)

More cities and businesses outside the Great Lakes basin want to take water from the Lakes. Great Lakes governors and provincial leaders are working on proposed new rules to control water diversions. Their proposal is expected to be released this month. Some say there’s a chance that more communities just outside the basin will get some water from the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach has the story:

Transcript

More cities and businesses outside the Great Lakes basin want to take water from the Lakes. Great Lakes governors and provincial leaders are working on proposed new rules to control water diversions. Their proposal is expected to be released this month. Some say there’s a chance that more communities just outside the basin will get some lake water. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach has the story.


Only a few communities outside the Great Lakes Basin currently get water from the Lakes, but some inland cities are growing and running short on groundwater supplies. One such city is Waukesha, Wisconsin. Waukesha is 25 miles away from Lake Michigan. The city is on the far side of the sub-continental divide that separates the Great Lakes basin from the basin where surface waters drain to the Mississippi river.


(pump house noise for a few seconds, then fade under)


At the sunset pumping station in Waukesha, blue-painted pumps push groundwater from a large storage tank towards the homes of some of the city’s 65-thousand residents. Waukesha’s population has grown about 30 percent over the last two decades, so water utility general manager Dan Duchniak says the city is pumping more water than it used to…especially during dry periods when people water their lawns.


“When we did not have all the rain we had, we had our peak days around 10-11 million gallons a day – now around 12-13 million gallons a day. It goes up couple hundred thousand gallons per year.”


(gradually fade pump noise out)


No one in Waukesha is doing without tap water, but the groundwater table has dropped 300 feet over the last 50 years. And there’s another problem. Waukesha’s water supply is tainted by radium, a naturally occurring contaminant that could cause cancer. One of Waukesha’s long-term ideas for improving its water is to abandon the city wells and pump in up to twenty million gallons a day from Lake Michigan. In a complicated argument, hydrologists say Waukesha’s groundwater aquifer and the lake are connected anyway, so Dan Duchniak says a pipeline to the lake would not be a new withdrawal of water, and would actually help restore the original natural system.


“All we’re saying to make it real simple right now we have a vertical straw that is pulling water from the aquifer that has its tributary to the Great Lakes, we just want to take that water and make it horizontal for the better of the environment all around us.”


Duchniak has the ear of Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle. Governor Doyle is the new Chair of the Council of Great Lakes Governors. Among other things the council decides on water withdrawals from the Great Lakes. The governors of the eight Great Lakes states and leaders of Quebec and Ontario are expected to soon release a proposal called annex 2001. If passed, it will update rules on diverting great lakes water. Governor Doyle says he opposes sending water out of the Midwest, but he says short-distance diversions might be okay, if there’s a drop for drop return of clean water. Doyle acknowledges he needs unanimous agreement.


“There’s no reason for a governor of another state to approve even a small diversion unless they have some real confidence that the Great Lakes will be protected. That’s the way we protect it. Every single governor needs to approve.”


Governor Doyle says any change in diversion policy is years away. Still, environmental groups are closely watching for the annex 2001 proposal. Reg Gilbert is with Great Lakes United. He says before any more diversions are allowed, the plan should include more guidelines for water conservation. he says the lakes are too important to put them at risk by withdrawing too much water.


“Both our quality of life and a significant part of our economics come from a good functioning Great Lakes and if the rules for protecting it require it being difficult to divert water even those communities that want to divert that water might want to think twice and see it’s in the best interest of the whole region to have pretty strong rules… even if it makes it a little bit harder for some communities to get the water they need.”


Gilbert says he’s also looking for a plan that will pass muster with international trade courts that have questioned the legality of great lakes officials controlling the local waters. Gilbert’s hoping a lot of people will weigh in with their ideas during an upcoming comment period.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Chuck Quirmbach

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